We are, or course, well into the Midterm election post-mortem period.
On the one hand, we have the Republicans, who are pleased to have limited their midterm losses (as of this date) to 31 seats in the House while solidifying their grip on the Senate with 2 pickups.
Having won the right to hold hearings and howl about Donald Trump’s policies, expect lots of Democrat drama and endless House investigations starting next year. However, that will pretty much be the beginning and end of the Democratic agenda and accomplishments for the next two years—unless they are willing to hold their noses and work cooperatively with President Trump. Stymied in the Senate and vexed by the veto pen, the dreams of true-blue progressives for a government that is far more expansive and expensive will remain beyond reach. Seeking to embarrass the school bully whenever possible will be all they can hope to do until 2020.
Perhaps most important to Republicans, their stranglehold on the Senate confirmation process will allow them to continue to put a deeply conservative stamp on the Supreme Court and federal judiciary, which will be a legacy that will live for decades beyond the end of Donald Trump’s presidency.
On the other hand, we have the Democrats asking a familiar existential question: What happened? Just a few short months ago Democrat candidates seemed poised to sweep away Republican office holders like a sharp scythe cutting down the tall grass. Why the Democrats failed to close the deal will be the subject of much public and private discussion. Given that the norm since 1908 is that the party holding the White House has lost 30 House seats and 4 more in the Senate, Democrat gains for 2018 are well in the range of average to below average. Just as a point of comparison, the scorecard for Barack Obama’s first term Midterm was the devastating losses of 63 House seats and 6 Senate seats. Republicans are obviously letting out a sigh of relief today after the many predictions of a similar Election Day catastrophe befalling them failed to materialize.
An additional worry for the Democrats going forward is that the trinity of charismatic progressive candidates who were supposed to be the core of the next generation of leadership for the party—Beto O’Rourke in Texas, Andrew Gillum in Florida, and Stacey Abrams in Georgia—all struggled mightily in their races (1 loss and 2 still in limbo). Now facing the prospect of being stuck with their same ossified leadership going forward, the bench for a 2020 challenge to Donald Trump still looks very thin indeed, although many are actively exploring the possibility of somehow recycling Mr. O’Rourke for a national run buoyed by his amazing fundraising magic.
However, it must be noted that the Democrats did begin the road to bouncing back from their catastrophic state level losses during the Obama administration, when their representation at the state level sank to lows not seen since the 1920’s. Perhaps when you hit rock bottom you have nowhere to go but up, but additional governorships and state legislative seats will allow Democrats to roll out some of their healthcare, environmental, and economic agenda on a smaller scale, which will provide useful laboratories for testing the differences between high-minded theory and blunt reality when it comes to the troublesome balance between taxing, spending, and debt.
I have a couple of theories regarding why, despite throwing every resource they had into this year’s elections, the Democrats managed to not even meet the historic norm for midterm electoral success—and this against a President whom they believe to be an unmitigated disaster.
First and foremost, Democrats forgot the lesson of 2016: Insulting Donald Trump is like punching a brick wall—the pain is yours and yours alone. After mistakenly believing that hurling invective at Donald Trump was sufficient to win two years ago, the deafening rage of today’s bug-eyed haters of his politics and personality again managed to obliterate any possibility of rational discussion of Democrat policies that might provide feasible alternatives. Moreover, the stream of snark and shabbiness from those who could barely keep their heads from exploding at every Trumpian tweet both enlivened his loyal base and fed perfectly into his strategy of convincing independents that crazed and crazy Democrats could not be trusted with the keys to the family car. It is worth also remembering that if the most visible spokespeople for your cause are late night comedians and oddball D-list actors and celebrities, you’ve got a major problem with your political messaging going forward.
Speaking of message, this brings attention to the second problem that the Democrats had during this election: Resistance is not enough. I pay a great deal of attention to politics, and I would have a very hard time explaining the party’s platform—beyond impeaching Donald Trump. Spiteful promises of retribution mashed up with high-flown rhetoric and sanctimonious virtue-signaling are not the same as actionable plans to reach an objective. In addition, making multiple promises of new programs and benefits—most of which have the word “free” baked inside them—but offering no specifics regarding actual financial execution (aside from raising taxes on the “one-percent”) does not inspire voter confidence.
I also suspect that the wild nomination hearings of Judge Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court were a huge turn-off for many swing voters. The venom displayed likely startled those who still entertained the fantasy that Democrat Senators were respectable members of a great deliberate body instead of a gaggle of craven careerists who mug for the cameras in order to excite potential campaign donors. One’s assessment of the final Senate confirmation vote is, of course, wholly a function of one’s political leanings, but the process was not one prone to engender great faith in the Democrat Party and its grasp of either evidentiary standards or the legal presumption of innocence.
This election also might be the point at which we need to finally admit that political polling is, for all its supposed science, no more reliable at predicting electoral outcomes than the Farmer’s Almanac is at predicting the season’s weather. The stupendously confident failures of 2016 morphed into the careful hedging of 2018—but to no great benefit. On the whole, the many, many predicted outcomes, which seemed to change daily, bore but a passing resemblance to the actual results, and the supposed clarity was more akin to blind guesswork in many cases.
However, much more importantly, we can now see that many voters beyond the confines of liberal redoubts clustered on the coasts and college towns just aren’t buying wholeheartedly into what the Democrats are trying to sell, which will continue to cap their national electoral ambitions in 2020 and beyond.
Democratic Socialism? Expedited illegal immigration? Massive tax increases? Increased regulation? Globalized government? Yet larger bureaucracies? More scolding by legislatively-mandated scolds? None of these are issues likely to excite anyone other than the already faithful, who have an almost mystical belief in the power of big government to improve our lives—despite much evidence to the contrary.
Russian internet trolls are not to blame for the Democrat “Blue Wave” washing out to sea this time around, although I predict a whole series of new House hearings that will try to revive the rotting corpse of Russia-gate and demand that Robert Mueller be empowered to continue his investigations until he finally finds the elusive evidence that Donald Trump is a KGB stooge who gets down on his knees and prays to a statue of Vladimir Putin every night. Unfortunately, untilthat day comes—or Democrats end up losing the House again in 2020—we can expect that unsubstantiated allegations, innuendo, and angry diatribes will be the chosen language of President Trump’s not-very-loyal opposition as they struggle to remain relevant during the years ahead.