Wednesday, November 07, 2018

Election 2018: Post-Mortem

We're not 100% "post-" yet, as there are still a decent number of races outstanding. Here in California, the mail vote could yet push around some House race numbers (though Montana just was called for Jon Tester!).

Nonetheless, we've got enough of a picture to give a pretty solid account of yesterday's events. Here are my takeaways:

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Dems winning the House is huge: This was not something to take for granted. Let's not forget, there was a good chunk of time where people thought GOP gerrymandering had placed the House out of Democratic reach. And control of the House doesn't just prevent Congress from ramming through far-right pieces of the Trump agenda. It also gives Democrats a key fulcrum from which to launch investigations into the deep cesspool of corruption that characterizes the Trump administration.

On that score, I actually don't recommend starting with Trump necessarily. There are so many targets to choose from, and if there's one thing I think we learned from how the GOP handled the Benghazi (non-)story, it's that a steady and constant drip-drip-drip of scandal is far more powerful than blowing everything in one shot.

Start with easy marks like Zinke, and the noose will slowly begin to tighten around the inner circle.

This was a continuation, not a reversal, of 2016's trend: One theory about 2016 was that it was a fit of temporary insanity, whereby good-hearted Americans had a bout of temporary insanity or rage or anti-Clinton derangement and chose a President whom they didn't really endorse or even like. Under this view, 2018 would be a "snapback" election, where these voters would revert to form and go back to supporting sensible candidates while repudiating Trump's extremism.

Another theory about 2016 takes Trump voters more seriously. It posits that in certain very conservative parts of the country -- generally more rural, generally less-educated, concentrated in Appalachia and the American southeast -- they liked Trump, and they continue to like Trump. All the lying and racism and extremism and utter off-the-wall demagoguery -- the love it. Meanwhile, other parts of the country -- more suburban, more diverse, and especially in the southwest -- were moving away from Trump and Trumpism.

Last night, I think, decisively ratifies the second theory. By and large, the people who like Trump still like Trump. Rick Scott's numbers in Florida were almost perfectly correlated with the 2016 presidential race. And at the same time, we saw a more decisive shift away from the GOP in the sort of districts where people already didn't like Trump. From what I saw, Democrats did better in Romney-Clinton districts than Obama-Trump ones, which verifies this instinct. And Democrats are continuing to make big strides in Nevada and (yes, even in defeat) Arizona and Texas.

The partial exception to this view is the midwest (where Democrats won governorships in Wisconsin and Michigan, and a decent clutch of House seats as well). But even here, the news was mixed: Democrats lost the Senate races in Indiana and Missouri, the governorship in Iowa (albeit while winning 3 of 4 House seats) and Ohio, and their two pickups in Minnesota House races were offset by at least one and probably two GOP flips (which were some of the only such GOP wins nationwide).

There is a truth that is important for pundits to get through their head: conservative Americans like Trump. He's not an aberration. He's not deus ex machina. He's not someone they begrudgingly tolerate. American conservativism, right now, is Donald Trump. If that's a scary thought -- and it is -- start reporting it like something scary rather than pretending that most Republicans basically pine for Gerald Ford but somehow got sucked into an authoritarian nightmare they wish they could escape from.

State Races Matter

The national focus also has somewhat obscured how Democrats did on the state level. A bucket of governor's mansions have just turned blue -- Maine, Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan, New Mexico, Nevada, and Kansas -- and there were no blue-to-red flips (solid holds in Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Minnesota, Oregon, and Colorado). And it looks like they've turned over at least six state legislative chambers too -- not bad!

Priority #1 in any state with Democratic majority: lock in voting rights. It's embarrassing that a state like New York has a train wreck of a voting system, and it needs to end immediately.

Republicans really did overperform Senate side

Yes, it was a brutally tough map for the Democrats. But Republicans nonetheless exceeded at least gameday expectations. Democrats taking back the Senate was always a longshot, but if the GOP holds onto their leads in Arizona and Florida (likely), then they'll have come close to running the table on their best realistic Senate scenario (with only Montana and Nevada as the blemishes). That's legitimate GOP ammo for the spin cycle. And, of course, it does give Trump the ability to continue to pack the courts with right-wing ideologues, which is substantively terrifying.

The Democratic Party Neither Needs To Pivot Left Nor Pivot Center

The favored post-election parlor of any pundit after an election is to explain why the results decisively demonstrate why a given party needs to adopt the political positions they already supported. Among Democrats, this has typically shaken out along the Bernie/Establishment divide that we're apparently doomed to relive forever because this is The Bad Place.

But the fact is, there was no clear trend in which sort of Democrats were winning and losing last night. A bunch of more conservative voices went down in the Senate, but in states which were already punishing turf. And some progressive darlings -- like Ben Jealous in Maryland and Andrew Gillum in Florida -- lost too. On the other side, some establishment picks did their job and won their race (think Jacky Rosen in Nevada, or Gretchen Whitmer in Michigan). But progressives had their stars too -- Beto O'Rourke's campaign in Texas certainly performed better than Texas's red tint should've allowed, and there were a bunch of more progressive challengers who are among the entering House class. Which is to say: different races are different, and different candidates are good fits for different districts. The Party isn't the enemy here.

What I think has been shown is that the more extreme "Bernie" accusation -- that there were a bunch of winnable races that Democrats were quasi-deliberately letting go Republican because something-something-corporate-money, and if we only ran Real Democrats they'd be ours -- has been decisively refuted (I don't think Ben Jealous necessarily did worse than Rushern Baker would have done in Maryland, but he certainly didn't do better). But that was a colossally stupid take anyway. Which probably means it still won't die the death it deserves.

Briefly on Beto -- Yes, He Deserves Praise

This isn't even a hot take anymore but obviously O'Rourke deserves a ton of credit for how he performed in his race against Ted Cruz. I'm seeing some mockery from the usual conservative suspects on this, since he lost, but that's a dumb take. Yes a loss is a loss, and yes everyone hates Ted Cruz, and yes Texas has been slowly purpling. But a sub-three point victory in a statewide race in Texas (by contrast, Governor Greg Abbott -- no political superstar -- won reelection by 13 points) is a monster performance. And his tailwind likely carried a few House races over the finish line as well.

The New Redemption is (Sort of) Upon Us

I'm by no means the first to come up with the idea that we're going through a "second redemption" to undo the "second reconstruction" that was the civil rights era. But I think there is something to be said about the re-energizing of White racist attitudes that's occurred in America over the last few years. People have talked a lot about Trump and, before him, the Tea Party, not so much creating prejudice as "activating" it. I think that in places like Georgia or Florida, there was some demoralization among the White racist crowd where they had basically given up on the possibility that open racism was something they could "do" anymore. Now, they're downright jazzed -- and from that we get both Kemp and DeSantis likely entering a governor's mansion.

That said, the story does seem too pat in some ways -- especially with the passage of Amendment 4 (felon re-enfranchisement) in Florida. It's no exaggeration to say this might put Democrats firmly in the driver's seat in a state as evenly divided as Florida (a full 40% of Black male adults in the state regained their right to vote through this measure), which makes it all the more surprising that it managed to clear the 60% threshold. And to be fair, some amount of credit thus has to be given to those voters who punched a ballot for both Amendment 4 and DeSantis/Scott (there must be a lot of them).

One-State Wave!

With Rashida Tlaib's victory in Michigan, we not only have our first Palestinian-American Congresswomen, we also will have the first Democratic Representative to openly support a one-state solution to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. She will join approximately 2/3 of the House Republican Caucus in taking this view (and if you're a pro-Israel type who's about to respond "that's not fair -- Republicans only support a one-state solution where Palestinians aren't allowed to vote!" stop and listen to yourself).

Mixed Results for Anti-Semites

Tablet did a whole bit on "antisemites running for Congress", but I found their list far too restrictive (or in a few cases -- most notably Rep. Andrew Carson and GOP challenger Lena Epstein -- too expansive). Overall, it seems like the worst-of-the-worst antisemites -- the open Holocaust denier sorts -- lost, but some more "moderate" cases did fine. I may do a more in-depth exploration of this later.

Early Frustration is Misleading

There did seem to be an extent which last night felt like a letdown for Democrats. Obviously, the Senate is a clear case where that sentiment is justified. At the same time, it seemed like the night got better for Democrats as it went on -- a couple of races which seemed to be slipping away (Wisconsin, Connecticut) broke blue late, and some of our biggest victories (Nevada) were also well into the evening. On net, there's no question this was a big night for the good guys.

1 comment:

VINNY MAC said...

Tlaib did not deserve to win. She told everybody she supported 2 states just so she could have J Street's endorsement. She immediately walked this back the moment she won the primaries.