I had hoped last night would be a repudiation of divisiveness, that the angels of our better nature would have set the path to a brighter day.
But it didn’t. Just the opposite, as with a few exceptions (see ya Kobach!) more moderate/establishment Republicans went down and Trump-style firebrands won. So the question becomes, where do we go from here?
There’s a lot to smile about
The House is blue, and that alone may make a huge difference. In one of my more optimistic posts I said an election night where we take the House based solely on suburban seats would be a mild disappointment but still worth taking, and with that coming to fruition ‘mild disappointment’ still feels about right. On policy, Democrats will continue playing defense but can at least keep the vilest impulses of Donald Trump from becoming law.
Governor’s mansions flipped blue in seven states (maybe eight if Georgia goes to a runoff), and that will have an effect on the next round of redistricting. Those offices will be especially valuable if Democrats can keep and even maintain the gains they made in state houses in two years and can undo Republican gerrymandering.
With a fairer map, a seven-point win in the generic ballot could have been another dozen or so seats.
There are new questions and a different political reality to deal with this morning. One is a more Trumpian Senate that will be emboldened to move farther away from the ideal of ‘the world’s most deliberative body’. While there’s still chances Democrats hold Florida and flip Arizona and Mississippi, it’s more likely zero of those are blue, which makes retaking the chamber in 2020 a very uphill climb.
We’re about to enter the initial stages of the Presidential race, and with it a time of dueling priorities for many big names. How many politicians will cast votes based on how it will play in Iowa instead of their own state or district?
The elephant in the room is Democrats still don’t have a method to adapt and thrive in the ‘fake news’ era. When push comes to shove, Fox News and its offspring are much closer to propaganda outlets then sources of news. But 30% of the country will believe their stories or just not care if they’re true so long as the talking points make liberals look bad. What can be done about that?
The path forward
Yesterday has conclusions that are both blindingly obvious and much more nuanced. At the top level, conservatives voted for Republicans and expanded their lead in the Senate, while liberals (and independents) voted for Democrats and won enough seats to take the House.
Those are the headlines and that reality will drive politics and policy for the next two years.
Beneath that, results are more mixed:
1) Conservative Idaho, Nebraska and Utah voted to expand Medicaid while simultaneously voting for Congressmen and Senators who would like to cut the program.
2) Florida hugely voted to restore felon voting rights – a major liberal initiative – but narrowly voted Republican for governor and (probably) Senate.
3) If Brian Kemp holds on in Georgia it can pretty clearly be chalked up to disenfranchising voters, but Ted Cruz won Texas fair and square. Does that mean Democrats failed to reach young and new voters, or were those efforts successful but just not enough? For the record, I’d go with the latter.
So what does it all mean? We’re a hugely divided country (news flash), but with enough areas up for grabs that things can bounce back and forth.
From a Democratic perspective, the question to rule them all is this: can you win a Senate majority and the Presidency without non-college whites?
We’ll have to look more closely at exit polls for more insight, especially from the Midwest where Democrats did quite well, but the answer seems to be no. The fact remains whites without a college degree are the largest voting bloc in the country, and unless you win overwhelming (and quite frankly unsustainable) margins from every other group, you have to win a reasonable number of votes from that demographic to be in the ballgame. In a lot of less-diverse states, even that won’t be enough.
How to do that without betraying the support of your base? It’s a good question, and finding the right mix of candidates, issues and tone is something Democrats are still searching for.
At least now they can do it while holding the gavel in the House.