The 2018 mid-term elections are history. Who won? Who lost? In my view, there was something positive for both political parties. The Dems can point to their retaking control of the House. (As I write this, final numbers are not available, but it looks like a Dem gain of 30-35 seats.) The GOP can point to the smaller-than-predicted number of seats lost in the House and their expanding control of the Senate. President Trump can point to the many candidates he actively supported who won. But, to me, the biggest winners are the voters. According to the NY Times, Americans cast a record 114 million votes, an astounding total for a midterm. By comparison, in 2014 the total was 83 million. Also, several states shattered turnout records. For example, Floridians cast 8 million votes, compared to 6 million in 2014. The voters spoke, loudly and clearly, and that is good for America and the democratic process.
Now, some random thoughts:
1. The Dems’ recapture of the House means that we have re-established the system of checks and balances that is an integral part of our system of government. In theory, the people are best served when one political party does not control the presidency and both houses of Congress. Of course, in order to make it work both parties must work to find common ground and be willing to compromise.
Which will it be? Compromise or gridlock? Do much, or do nothing? The former would be preferred; the latter would be most disappointing and would greatly enhance Mr. Trump’s re-election prospects in 2020. In 1948 President Harry Truman engineered one of the biggest upsets in history, in large part, by making a campaign issue of the “do nothing” Congress.
The Dems should not get too cocky over retaking the House. One could argue that the Dems gaining “only” 30 or so seats was a victory for the GOP, particularly since some 60 GOP Congressmen did not seek re-election for various reasons. Also, as we all know, the party in power almost always loses ground in the midterm elections. The two exceptions were during the Great Depression and after 9/11. In fact, since 1862 the average loss has been 32 seats. Moreover, Presidents Clinton (1994), Bush (2006) and Obama (2010) lost 52, 30 and 63 seats, respectively, and still won re-election two years later.
2. Whom will the Dems elect as speaker. Former speaker Nancy Pelosi is the favorite, but the progressive wing opposes her. Indeed, during their campaigns some 25 of them publicly pledged NOT to vote for her. To them, she represents the “old” Dem party, and they want to move on. I do not believe that the opposition has coalesced around any one candidate, however, so Pelosi may very well win again.
3. What do the Dems stand for, besides loathing Donald Trump. Now that they control the House they must cease to be the party of “no,” and develop a platform of ideas. Healthcare reform and immigration reform would be good places to start.
4. The Kavanaugh Effect – Dem senators Claire McCaskill (MO), Joe Donnelly (IN), Heidi Heitkamp (ND), Joe Manchin (WVA), and Jon Tester (MT) were in a particularly tough predicament. They were up for re-election in “red” states that Mr. Trump had carried handily in 2016. Their party leaders were pressuring them to vote against Kavanaugh’s confirmation, but by doing so they would be jeopardizing their re-election prospects. In the end, Manchin voted in favor, and the others voted against. Manchin won; Tester barely survived; the others lost. Exit polls confirmed that the Kavanaugh vote was a significant factor. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell opined that the Kavanaugh battle provided an “adrenaline shot” to the GOP base.
5. The Trump Effect – President Trump called the midterms a “tremendous success.” In my view, “tremendous” might be a bit of an exaggeration, but I would agree that they were a success.
Mr. Trump campaigned extensively on behalf of GOP candidates that supported his program, such as Rick Scott and Ron DeSantis in Florida, Josh Hawley in Missouri, and Brian Kemp in Georgia. All four won narrow victories despite being behind in the polls before Mr. Trump got involved. Scott defeated Bill Nelson for the Senate; DeSantis defeated Andrew Gillum for governor, Hawley defeated Claire McCaskill for senator; and Kemp defeated Stacey Abrams for governor of Georgia.
It is worth noting that McCaskill lost despite her 11th hour repudiation of many of the Dem leadership’s liberal policies in a futile attempt to appear more moderate. The voters saw right through her disingenuousness. Kemp overcame extensive support from outside luminaries, such as former President Obama and entertainer Oprah Winfrey. Mr. Trump also gave a big assist to Texas Senator Ted Cruz, who was embroiled in a tough challenge from Beta O’Rourke. Cruz also overcame a strong challenge from the Dem national party machine, which devoted a substantial amount of money and resources in an unsuccessful attempt to unseat him.
Dem charges of racism in Florida and Georgia seem disingenuous to me. You can’t blame every defeat on racism. If you drill down, I would venture to say you would find other reasons for the losses. Perhaps, a more moderate candidate would have stood a better chance of success. Incidentally, how come the Dems are not claiming racism in Michigan where GOP African American John James lost to a white woman? How about Hispanic Ted Cruz’s near defeat? Are the voters in Michigan and Texas racist too?
6. Many women, minorities and veterans won their races, on both sides, which was nice to see. Special kudos to Marsha Blackburn (R), who became the first female senator from the State of Tennessee.
7. I was happy to see Dan Crenshaw, the former seal who lost an eye in combat, and was crudely, cruelly, and tastelessly mocked on SNL on the eve of the election, win his race.
8. Russia investigation – The Dems have been pushing this issue hard for the past two years, but according to exit polls this was largely a non-factor in the minds of voters. They were more concerned with the economy, border security, healthcare and Kavanaugh’s unfair treatment. This was further confirmation that many political leaders do not live in the real world.
9. Investigate/Impeach Trump/Kavanaugh – Let’s not mistake the intentions of the Dem party leadership. Despite what some of them may be saying publicly, they are itching to open investigations into Mr. Trump, and they desperately want to see his tax returns. I’m confident his tax returns have been audited thoroughly by the IRS, so I fail to see what “smoking gun” they expect to find. Obviously, their endgame is impeachment.
This is so ridiculous for several reasons. (1) After two years of investigation that has turned up nothing, most of the electorate has moved on. They are far more concerned with the issues I mentioned above. (2) It is far more difficult to remove someone by impeachment than they believe. A guilty verdict requires a 2/3 vote in the Senate. That is a very high bar, particularly since the GOP has expanded its control of the body. Even the much despised Andrew Johnson was not convicted. (3) Impeaching a duly elected or appointed official just because you disapprove of him and his policies is a very slippery slope. (4) It would be a real loser, politically. The electorate is not stupid. It would see right through the Dems and punish them in the voting booth in 2020. (5) It would do a disservice to the American people as it would distract the government from achieving anything else meaningful. I would advise the Dems to heed the following advice from former Pennsylvania democratic governor Ed Rendell who advises “don’t investigate, legislate.” Moreover, the Dems would be advised to heed the advice of both Mitch McConnell and Newt Gingrich, both of whom denoted yesterday that when the GOP impeached President Bill Clinton in 1998 his approval rating increased and Congress’ decreased. Food for thought.
10. Don’t overlook that the GOP won the governorships of New Hampshire, Iowa and Florida. Typically, the governor controls the political machinery and sets the political tone statewide, and these states are all important jumping off points for the 2020 primary season.
11. In my view, no Dem frontrunner for the 2020 presidential election emerged. All I see so far is the same group of recycled pols: Pelosi, Schumer, Warren, Biden, Harris, Sanders, and Booker. I doubt any of these can beat Mr. Trump.
Even Hillary may resurface, others as well. I can foresee the spectacle of 20 or more candidates crowded onto a stage for the first presidential debate. That would be fun to watch.
The much anticipated “blue wave” was, in the end, a mere trickle. Dem gains were very modest by historical standards. The conventional wisdom of the media wonks was no more accurate than it had been in 2016. Apparently, there is some truth to the theory that GOP supporters are reluctant to advertise their preference to pollsters, but they do vote on election day.
I sincerely hope that the two parties will work together to govern, but I am not holding my breath. Legislative gridlock is a distinct possibility. The moderates in both parties must find a way to control their fringe elements, or else not much substantive will get accomplished. Mr. Trump is renowned as a dealmaker, so let’s see him live up to his reputation.
Furthermore, I wish everyone would turn down the rhetoric a couple of notches. This goes for politicians of both parties, the media and celebrities. Everyone take a deep breath and relax. This is America. There is always another election, another chance to reverse your fortune.
Finally, just because a person may disagree with you, politically, that does not make him evil, stupid, unhinged, a racist, a Nazi, or a misogynist. Once you label someone thusly, it shuts off all debate. They are no longer listening to you. Your comments become so much “white noise.” When people stop talking, they start fighting, which no one wants.