With President Trump primed to go after vulnerable Democratic senators in red states, it’s clear the country’s future hinges on the credibility of what political scientists call the Rich Miller Theorem.
Actually, I may be the only person who calls it that. But I’m hoping the name catches on, if only because I could use the royalties.
Named for Miller, the downstate journalist who publishes the political newsletter Capitol Fax, it posits that loyalty begets loyalty. That is, voters remain loyal to politicians who are loyal to them, even in the face of withering opposition from party bosses.
Like, to name one, our president, who recently announced he’ll spend the summer traveling the country, blasting Democratic incumbents in Senate races in North Dakota, Indiana, Montana, Missouri, and West Virginia.
The Dems have to hold on to all of these seats to have any chance of taking the Senate from the Republicans in November.
Trump plans to fly in and out of these states to hold boisterous rallies.
He’ll slap the Democrats with mocking nicknames while trying to tie them to Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, black football players who don’t stand for the national anthem, the ABC executive who fired Roseanne Barr, and other enemies of his nation.
“He [Trump] is the definer in chief,” Rob Collins, a Republican strategist, told the New York Times. “He comes in, defines the opponent in a way that’s unconventional and unorthodox, but it sticks. He has this gift where he can penetrate armor and sense weakness that then defines the candidate.”
Just reading that gives me heartburn. As an antidote, consider the Rich Miller Theorem.
Miller concocted his theorem to explain why state rep Ken Dunkin, a Democrat, got whupped while state senator Sam McCann, a Republican, was reelected in the March 2016 primaries.
For years, Dunkin represented the Fifth, a long narrow district that runs along the lakefront. He’d probably still be in office, but he broke from Democratic house speaker Michael Madigan (and siding with Governor Bruce Rauner) on legislation having to do with child-care assistance and union issues.
In the primary, his opponent, Juliana Stratton, walloped Dunkin, winning roughly 67 percent of the vote.
Meanwhile, Sam McCann was running for reelection in his downstate district against Bryce Benton, who was backed by Rauner, the Republican Party boss.
Upset that McCann didn’t fully support his anti-union agenda, Rauner and his allies contributed more than $1 million to Benton’s campaign—lots of money for a downstate district.
Yet McCann beat Benton with almost 53 percent of the vote.
Why did one incumbent win and the other lose in the face of party opposition?
Well, as Miller explained, McGann defied a political boss to stand with his people. Namely union members who live in his district.
In contrast, Dunkin broke from one boss (Madigan) to stand with another boss (Rauner), who wanted to make life harder for working people to have child-care assistance.
In short, he was fighting against something his voters wanted.
“The real lesson here is you can get away with breaking from your party only if you’re standing with the people back home,” Miller wrote in a postelection column for Crain’s. “McCann did, Dunkin didn’t.”
I saw a similar syndrome in the 90s with Uptown voters and Alderman Helen Shiller. Back then Shiller was a thorn in the side of Mayor Daley—speaking of party bosses—frequently voting against his budgets.
Come Election Day, Daley dispatched a hulking army of payrollers to try and intimidate Uptown residents into voting for someone—anyone—other than Shiller.
To no avail—as each time Shiller eked out a victory, in part because she convinced enough voters she was willing to defy the boss to stand up for their interests.
Eventually, Shiller and Daley made their peace around the Wilson Yards, a TIF-funded housing/retail project at Montrose and Broadway. Thus, proving the Ben Joravsky Theorem of Chicago politics—there’s no difference so great it can’t be settled with some good old Chicago slush.
Obviously, the embattled Democratic senators up for reelection in November aren’t from Trump’s party. But they’re the sort of nonideological, bring-home-the-bacon Democrats who have been able to appeal to Republican voters. Apparently, their greatest sin is they don’t bow at Trump’s feet—which, come to think of it, is no sin at all.
For the sake of everything from a cleaner environment to a fair-minded Supreme Court, here’s hoping that voters from North Dakota to West Virginia realize the senators, not our president, have their best interests in mind. v