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Why a 'blue wave' in the midterms won't be enough

  • A 'blue wave' is expected to sweep the Democrats to power in Congress in the midterm elections.
  • But that may not be enough to fix the systemic economic and social issues that gave us Donald Trump in the first place.
  • Here's what will be enough.
Protesters hold a placard reading 'Pro America - Anti-Trump'.
Geoffroy Van Der Hasselt | AFP | Getty Images
Protesters hold a placard reading 'Pro America - Anti-Trump'.

A blue wave is coming.

At least, that's what people say, and as November 6th draws closer you hear it more and more.

Some scream it, as if the words, said loudly enough, will drown out the daily torrent of Trump's actions and words. Some whisper it, afraid of encouraging apathy or otherwise jinxing a sure thing.

But is a blue wave likely? And if it comes, what would it mean?

Republicans historically turn out more reliably during midterm elections than Democrats. It's true that, as of today, Republican voters have plenty of reasons to be frustrated with President Trump who has yet to deliver on several of his highest profile proposed policies, including the border wall with Mexico and a true, universal ban on Muslims entering the country "until we figure things out."

Even so, the base that today might be weary of Trump could rally to his defense if they believed they faced some true threat, in the form of a conveniently timed war, terrorist attack, or existential threat to Donald Trump's presidency itself.

Witness the defamation campaign against Special Counsel Robert Mueller that right-wing pundits have thrown themselves into wholeheartedly this year. How will his base respond when Mueller finally releases his findings from the Russia probe? Donald Trump famously said that he could murder someone on 5th Avenue and get away with it. I've seen nothing since his inauguration to make me doubt that.

The Republicans have other reasons to be confident. A recent report projected that the Democrats would need to win the popular vote by almost 11 percentage points to retake the House. This is no coincidence. It is the result of decades of increasingly extreme gerrymandering nationwide that has so perverted our political system that only a near impossible set of variables coming into perfect alignment could allow the people to elect the House they desire.

Factor in voter suppression efforts, social media manipulation from both inside and outside of our country's borders, and racist defunding of polling places in lower socioeconomic areas and the effect is even stronger. The hypothesized wave had better be a big one if it's going to have any chance of breaching the Republicans' gerrymandered levees.

Still, Democrats have been winning special elections by massive margins over the past six months, with candidates routinely beating Hillary Clinton's results by 10-30 points. So let's assume the pattern continues, Democrats show up to vote, and they pull off a wave, retaking the House of Representatives and maybe even the Senate. I'm here to say that a wave is not enough to fix the systemic economic and social issues that gave us Donald Trump in the first place.

A wave is not enough if the DCCC and the DNC continue their scorched earth campaign against progressive primary challengers as they did against Laura Moser in Texas last month, putting their thumb on the scales to ensure that only their favored, milquetoast candidates make it through to the general election. These tactics serve only to turn off the progressive voters that will be so vital come November.

A wave is not enough if, in our own self-congratulatory enthusiasm, we allow it to focus only on the House and the Senate, ignoring the monumentally important task of electing progressives as mayors, to state legislatures, and in oft-overlooked district attorney elections that hold the key to criminal justice reform. Take a look at what Larry Krasner is accomplishing in Philadelphia in combating mass incarceration to see how crucial down ballot elections can be.

A wave is not enough if, by the time it comes, we've squandered the opportunity to shape that wave in primaries across the country. November 6th is important, but we're in the middle of a far more consequential set of elections right now. States are holding primaries for candidates who will soon hope to ride this electoral wave, and if it ends up being as strong as many hope, then these primaries will be where the real work is done. These primaries are where voters will decide not just which party should hold power, but WHY they should hold power, and to what end.

Will the blue wave sweep into power another set of corporate friendly, establishment Democrats who will muddle their way spinelessly through a term or two in office before being inevitably swept back out of power? Or will a new generation of progressives come into office energized and ready to make good on the promise of the wave – that our leaders will finally deliver on the economy, health care, income inequality, the environment, and so many other vital areas?

A wave is not enough, but the right wave – a truly progressive wave – could be exactly what America needs and deserves.

Commentary by John Iadarola, a cohost of The Young Turks and creator of ThinkTank. He will be featured in April in the climate change documentary series True North. Follow him on Twitter @johniadarola.

For more insight from CNBC contributors, follow @CNBCopinion on Twitter.