The great blue wave we heard so much about didn’t wipe out the GOP on Election Day as so many (mostly liberal) pundits had predicted, but the Democrats did win a great big prize. They took control of the House after eight years of GOP rule. And that spells trouble for President Trump. He can expect endless investigations of his presidency, fine tooth comb examination of his tax returns, and maybe even impeachment proceedings.
And anyone paying attention to his combative style over the past two years could have seen the bad news coming. Here’s how the Wall Street Journal put it in a post-election editorial, “[T]wo years ago, before the 2016 election, we wrote that the Republican gamble with Donald Trump was that he would govern in such a way that would cost the House in 2018 and set Democrats up to create a new progressive government in 2020. After Tuesday, and without a Trump course correction, they are halfway there.”
Donald Trump said the midterm elections were about … who else? … Donald Trump. No surprise there because Donald Trump thinks everything is about Donald Trump.
So in a lot of districts GOP candidates had to run with an unpopular president hanging around their necks, a president who defined the race as “a referendum about me” – and so managed to turn 435 House races into a national, mini presidential election, an election he lost. On top of that, Republicans were battling history; the out of power party usually picks up seats in midterm elections.
There were real issues that came into play, of course: The economy, healthcare costs, illegal immigration, how the Democrats treated Judge Brett Kavanaugh. They all mattered. But in the end, Donald Trump mattered more.
(Making the caravan such a big issue, as the president did, seems to have backfired for Republicans. While it rallied the base, it also alienated suburban moderates. As for healthcare, Democrats were able to play on the fears of voters because, despite countless promises, the GOP never repealed Obamacare and didn’t come up with a replacement that might have won over independents.)
Give the president credit for energizing his passionate base or the results might have been worse. The GOP did, after all, pick up a few seats in the Senate. But the president energized more than his supporters; he also super charged the Democratic base, along with more than a few independents and moderate Republicans who were put off by his often crude, tough guy rhetoric.
As Charlie Cook, the political analyst, explained it a few days before the election: “We could have an unemployment rate of zero. We could have the GDP at twice the rate it is, and, you know what? My wife and daughter are still going to really, really, really dislike President Trump and hold that against anybody wearing his color jersey. So it’s not always, always the economy.”
It’s no secret that we’ve become a polarized country. The two sides are dug in – and the chasm between them isn’t likely to narrow. Conservatives worry about caravans heading to our southern border with hopes of crashing through the gates … and the radical changes they see coming to the country they grew up in.
Progressives – too many of them, anyway — see racists behind every corner and a president who encourages them. They think anyone who supports Donald Trump is stupid. They see the alt-right as a bigger threat than ISIS terrorists. Don Lemon, the CNN anchor, flat out said it on his channel. After telling us that, “We have to stop demonizing people” he proceeded to do just that, saying that “the biggest terror threat in this country is white men, most of them radicalized to the right, and we have to start doing something about them. There is no travel ban on them. There is no ban — you know, they had the Muslim ban. There is no white-guy ban. So what do we do about that?”
It’s easy to write Mr. Lemon off as an intellectual lightweight. But he’s hardly the only progressive who thinks that way. When was the last time you heard an elite liberal use the term “white male” in a good way?
As for the midterms, they’re now history. Which means the 2020 presidential race has begun – whether we like it or not. And every prominent Democrat who wants to be president, except for Joe Biden, comes from the progressive wing of the party – whether it’s Bernie Sanders or Kamala Harris or Corey Booker or Kirsten Gillibrand or Elizabeth Warren.
Is this what American voters really want? Or is it just what millennials (who don’t especially like capitalism) want? The Democratic Party has been moving further and further to the left, but has the broad based American electorate moved that far left with them?
We’ll know soon enough.
If Donald Trump could only change his combative, divisive ways, if he could only tone down the rhetoric and reach out to moderates and independents and expand his base, he could make a strong case that he, despite everything we know about him, is the safe, rationale, competent choice against a Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren or Spartacus Booker or any of the other quasi-socialist Democrats in 2020.
But, odds are that he won’t change. He seems incapable of change. If he knew how to bring Americans together instead of dividing them, Nancy Pelosi (or some other liberal Democrat) wouldn’t be the Speaker of the House in two months.