For two years, those turned off by Donald Trump and Republicans’ acquiescence to him have strategized to take back the House of Representatives and even, against great odds, the Senate. A great many worked to make that happen, sending checks out of state, working phone banks, talking up new candidates. Last night, that goal was realized for the House. Finally, we have taken a step toward holding the President and his minions accountable.
In the days leading up to the midterm election, some of us in “the bubble” allowed ourselves to believe that the Democrats could pull out a win in the Senate. But that was not to be. Give the President full credit for bolstering his base in red states, by telling whatever lies and stoking whatever fears seemed necessary at the time. Nine of 11 candidates he rallied with in the week before the election won. His strategy worked in Indiana, Missouri, Tennessee and North Dakota. He still retained the strong loyalty of white males, especially those without college education, and rural voters, while driving away independents and college-educated suburban women who had helped elect him in 2016. Can he win a second term in 2020 just playing to his base? The structure of the electoral college means that millions of anti-Trump popular votes could be wasted. Democrats have their work cut out for them.
Marquee Democrats like Florida’s Andrew Gillum, Georgia’s Stacey Abrams and Texas’ Beto O’Rourke looked to be pulling ahead just before the polls opened. Some observers drank the kool-aid, only to be disappointed this morning. Those emerging stars lost by significantly less than the margin of error. That they and others came close in red states could augur well for the future. But losing now is still losing and, in the case of governors, will hurt with 2021 redistricting.
There are plenty of disturbing notes. Race baiting and well funded big lies still work. The stench of Jim Crow voter suppression is alive in Georgia and elsewhere. Swamp draining and corruption don’t seem to matter despite GOP law-and-order slogans. Republicans easily reelected California’s Duncan Hunter and New York’s Chris Collins, both of whom are under indictment (misuse of campaign funds and felony insider trading, respectively). Trump, who at his press conference today, said he had no regrets regarding campaign tactics, including endorsing a xenophobic and racist political ad that even Fox rejected. He wholeheartedly supported the shamelessly racist and re-elected Iowa Cong. Steve King.
The good news is that a record number of diverse and highly qualified women were elected to the House, though they still hold fewer than a quarter of the seats. Hillary Clinton didn’t win white college-educated voters in 2016; she was rightly pilloried for describing some Trump supporters as “a basket of deplorables.” For many reasons, large numbers of white suburban women opposed returning the Clintons to the White House. This time, significant numbers of those same women voted Democrat. This group must be part of any realignment, but the nation remains toxically divided, and the Democrats failed to make inroads to other parts of the Trump coalition.
Despite regaining control of the House, Democrats are far from holding a decisive balance of power. Doing better than expected in certain Senate races is not the same as winning. By losing seats in the Senate, Democrats leave approval of judiciary appointees in the hands of Senate Republicans and the President, who, following recommendations of the Federalist Society, are remaking the courts in their own hard-right image. It is they who may have the last word on presidential accountability, voting rights, reproductive rights, consumer issues, environmental and safety regulations and more. We will be dealing with that for generations to come.
The answer right now is for Democrats, independents and moderate Republicans to fashion a bipartisan program of incremental improvements to the health care system, which was a driving force in many House races, shape a real drain-the-swamp clean government program and deal with our crumbling infrastructure. But they can’t stop there. The challenge since 2016 has been reaching out and winning over some of the nearly 50 percent of voters who, sad to say, have no buyer’s remorse concerning Trump and still feel he speaks for them.