Republicans understand the fundamentals of electoral politics in a way that should absolutely terrify the Democratic Party. It goes like this: You don’t have to hold the White House, or even Congress, in order to get everything you want.
For years now, billionaire donors like the Koch brothers have known that the best way to influence politics was to do it at the local level and build your way up. When they want to build a fracking well in a small Colorado town, they simply buy the local government. It’s cheap, it’s easy, and it’s effective.
Charles and David Koch have been putting money into state elections for a long time, and the results are always the same. In 2014, they poured tens of thousands of dollars into local school board races in Ohio to prevent teachers from unionizing. They wanted to stop a mass transit system in Nashville, so they starting pouring money into the local government races to kill the plan. And when they were terrified about the lawsuits that they could be facing for environmental destruction, they decided to pump millions of dollars into state court races from the Carolinas to California.
This is how Republican donors keep conservative ideas alive. They buy up school boards, city councils, and county courts to preserve their tax breaks, kill unions, and poison our land, water, and air.
So when the Kochs announced that they would be putting close to a billion dollars into the upcoming election, they weren’t talking about buying a presidency; they were talking about buying local and state governments all over the country.
But that doesn’t mean that they won’t be spending hundreds of millions of dollars to save the political lives of some of their favorite puppets in Washington. They know that Republicans have to defend 24 Senate seats in 2016, while Democrats only have to defend ten. This is enough to completely flip the Senate over to the Democrats, and to give them a filibuster proof majority. They also know that Democrats will be heading to the polls in record numbers since this is also a presidential election year. So the Kochs will concede the presidency in order to keep Republican majorities in the House and Senate because they know that they can completely cripple a Democratic president if they control both Chambers.
We’ll start to see Koch brother inheritance baby money flowing to people like James Inhofe so that they can prevent action on climate change. People like John Boehner will get a few dollars to keep fighting the Iran deal because the Kochs want that Middle East oil. Louie Gohmert will get a handout so that he can continue to fight against any increase in the minimum wage, and so on.
The formula is always the same, but it’s a formula that Democrats have completely ignored for the last decade.
Howard Dean told the Democratic Party back in 2004 that the key to building a sustainable Democratic presence would be to start at the local level, but the beltway insiders of the Party felt like they knew better.
So today, the Democratic Party finds itself at a dangerous disadvantage by ignoring Howard Dean all those years ago. But maybe, as the old guard Democrats retire, the Party will wake up and realize that all elections matter, not just the contest for the White House.