The 2018 midterms have come and gone, and everyone wants to read the elections as a mandate for their preferred policy. Trump and his allies want to see their over-performance as an endorsement of their entire platform. Democrats look at the success of women, minorities, and far left candidates as proof America is ready for progressive policies. What is really going on here? What do the 2018 midterms mean for 2020? Who won and who lost?
On the surface, everyone won something. Democrats took back the house and will likely end up with somewhere in the ballpark of 230 seats. I told you so. Republicans over-performed in the Senate, keeping Arizona (probably), Tennessee, Texas, and flipping North Dakota, Missouri, Florida, and Indiana. They also won by large margins- Marsha Blackburn in Tennessee won by almost 11 points, Mike Braun in Indiana won by more than 8, and Josh Hawley in Missouri won by almost 6. Also, Mitt Romney is now in the Senate. Democrats made gains on the state level, breaking up a couple of Republican “trifectas” (control of State Senate, House, and Governor’s office), and cementing a couple of their own. And while Republicans won high-profile Governor races in Florida and Georgia, Democrats won competitive governor’s races in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Kansas. Republicans still dominate politics in most states, but the Democrat position on the state level improved significantly on Tuesday.
So what does this mean? The obvious losers were anti-Trump Republicans. Mia Love in Utah and Carlos Curbelo in Florida, two of the strongest anti-Trump Republican voices in the House, are gone. The Senate race in Arizona to replace Jeff Flake, the biggest anti-Trump voice in the Senate, was closer for Republicans than it should have been, and some exit polls said Trump’s feuding with Flake sent some voters into the Democrat’s arms. Scott Walker, Republican governor of Wisconsin who had a rocky relationship with the President, lost as well. Even Ted Cruz, who managed to hold his seat and has a good relationship with the President, had a tougher race in Texas, in part because of the bad taste in people’s mouth from his clash with Trump in 2016. Meanwhile, a lot of the bad Republicans, people like Steve King in Iowa and Greg Gianforte in Montana, won re-election. Some anti-Trump conservative pundits, people like George Will and Tom Nichols, said you shouldn’t vote for any Republican as a repudiation of Trump. All that seems to have done is make the GOP more Trump-y.
Another take-away is the success of women, minorities, and progressives. Democratic Socialist Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a 29-year-old Latina who’s about as far left as they come, is the prime example of this. Other examples are the success of Rashid Tlaid in Michigan or Ilhad Oman in Minnesota, the first two Muslim American women to be elected to Congress, or the first Native American woman, Sharice Davids in Kansas. All in all, the next Congress will have a record number of women. Some of the left are pointing to this as proof Democrats ought to run more progressive candidates. But I don’t think that’s true. Oman, Tlaid, and Cortez all won handily in districts they should’ve won. And while the success of women and minorities was mostly Democratic, Republican women succeeded as well. Both Martha McSally and Marsha Blackburn will be the first female Senators from their states, and Republican Young Kim from California’s 39th district became the first Korean American woman in Congress. I don’t think this election is proof all of America is desperately longing for their representatives to be far left progressives and women of color. President Trump’s callousness breeds an environment favorable to female candidates. It’s possible there just statically ought to be more diversity in Congress and the system is slowly approaching that point.
The real success of Democrats was not the Muslim-American woman who won an unopposed race in Michigan. It were moderates in suburban districts. Take Amy Klobuchar, the more mainstream Democrat Senator from Minnesota who won a second Senate term by almost 25 points, the same margin as Elizabeth Warren. The races that gave Democrats control of the House were suburban wins by moderate candidates. Many of them disavowed Nancy Pelosi. Democrats could succeed bigly if they saw their future in people like Klobuchar, not in Ocasio-Cortez. At least for now.
Republicans over-performed, and some might have a tendency to look at this election and think things are going well. The fabled Blue Wave turned out to be an average swell. Republicans gained in the Senate and won major races in Texas, Florida, and Georgia. But the Democrats picked up a lot of ground, primarily on the state level. Republicans used their control of the states as the springboard to national success. Democrats can do the same thing. Control of the states matters, and Democrats biggest gains were in state houses and governor’s offices. Also, the referenda look pretty back for the traditional conservative, even in red states. Recreational pot was legalized in Michigan, and it was legalized for medicinal uses in Utah and Missouri. Utah, Idaho, and Nebraska all expanded Medicare, and Arkansas and Missouri increased their minimum wage. These were far left ideas a decade ago, but they’re becoming mainstream even in red states. Republicans can’t get complacent. There are battles to be fought.
What does this mean going forward? I’m not going to address the House, as I did this in my House Predictions last week. There are two major takeaways. First, the gains the Republicans made in the Senate pretty much guarantee them control of the Senate until at least 2022. By then Ruth Bader Ginsburg will be 89 and Stephen Breyer will be 85. In a political world that revolves around the Supreme Court, this is huge. The future of the Republican judicial agenda got a lot brighter yesterday. Second, President Trump has some work to do if he wants to be re-elected. Democrats gained big in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Michigan. If Trump loses all three of those states, he will probably not be re-elected. Florida looks like it’s becoming a more red state, which is big for Republicans in national races, but if someone tries to say Trump is guaranteed re-election in 2020, the map says otherwise. The White House is very much in play in 2 years.
Three last things:
- First, the polling was pretty good. As I said earlier, Republicans generally over-performed, but that usually happens. Republicans turnout for midterms better than Democrats do. Most of the races that were close had close polls, most races that leaned a certain way went that way.
- Second, personalities matter more in politics than ideas. Beto O’Rourke came close to beating Ted Cruz in Texas, actually outperforming the polling averages, while people like Claire McCaskill and Bill Nelson fell far short. The difference here wasn’t ideological, Beto was just a more exciting candidate than the other guys. Republican ideas lost on the referendum, but their people won the elections. The candidates matter.
- Last, there’s a lot of talk about how much President Trump matters in these races, and whether he hurts or helps vulnerable Republicans. I see that President Trump in person helps, when President Trump is not in the immediate picture it helps Democrats. When Trump is able to go and invest in races, like the Missouri Senate, Tennessee Senate, and the Texas Senate races, Republicans do well. When he’s not around, Republicans are less successful. In a lot of the House races, where Trump didn’t throw rallies, he was more of a club Democrats could wield against Republicans. He helps when he’s there. He hurts when he’s not. Which means Republicans have an advantage in high-profile races, but Democrats have the advantage in smaller races.
A lot of people want to read deep meaning into this election. It took President Trump less than 24 hours to seize the opportunity to make his attorney general resign. Democrats look to it as a repudiation of everything Trump and an embrace of left-wing ideas. Both of these aren’t good takeaways. Things went more or less the way they were suppose to, pretty much everything is still on the table, and whoever wants to win in 2020, Republican or Democrat, has their work cut out for them.
I know I said on Monday I was going to try to be more concise and this was long again. As always please like, follow, and comment. Let me know your thoughts on the midterms, my contact information is in the contact tab at the top. If you have something you want me to write about, let me know. There should be something coming at the start of next week, I think it should be a fun one. Thank you for reading