President Donald Trump’s most loyal supporters had begun to think the Republicans might just hold on to their majority in the House of Representatives, even if only by the skin of their teeth. The hardest of hardcore deplorables – a moniker they rightly consider a badge of honor – even believed the 2018 midterm elections could bring a red wave. They were wrong, but the night of November 6th was by no means a repudiation of the Trump agenda, as the president’s foes firmly believed it would be. While they now control the House of Representatives until 2020, the Democrats failed on two fronts and these two failures must shape how they conduct business in the House if they expect to carry their majority into 2021.
Two years into a new president’s first term, the party loses big in the midterm elections. This is a historical truth with very few exceptions. Bill Clinton’s Democratic Party lost more than 50 seats in the House. In Barack Obama’s first term, his party suffered what he himself described as a “shellacking,” losing more than 60 seats to the Republicans. Donald Trump saw his party lose control of the House, in line with historical trends, but – with less than 20 House races still to be decided – it appears Democrats will flip a total of fewer than 40 seats; a comparatively small defeat. As a consolation, the Republicans expanded their Senate majority. With three races still too close to call, Republicans have 52 seats and are well-placed to win all three outstanding contests.
Anti-Trump Sentiment Overestimated
Factor in the unusually high number of GOP retirements. Add to that the herculean efforts of a massive anti-Republican machine, comprising most of the national media, social media giants Google, Facebook and Twitter, an array of celebrities, and a few prominent left-wing billionaires. The scale of the Democrats’ failure in this midterm election begins to look quite remarkable. Yes, they took the House, but they really should have taken it by a margin of 80 or more seats, if they had been correct in their own assumptions.
The main assumption Democratic Party leaders have made and held on to since January 2017 is that most Americans despise the president and would flock to the polls to defeat his party at the first opportunity. Such thinking gave rise to expectations of a ‘blue wave’ that failed to materialize on election night. While they did capture a few seats which Republicans should have held, the results proved, above all else, that the urban blue strongholds of the northeast and west coast are becoming even bluer. Outside of the country’s deepest blue districts, those Democrats who did unseat incumbent Republicans did so by campaigning on issues most likely to appeal to Democrat or Democrat-leaning voters, rather than on anti-Trump and anti-Republican rhetoric.
They mistakenly believed they could export their most radical leftist ideas to certain red states, and so they failed.
Red States Reject Progressives
Another key lesson for Democrats should be that radical left-wing ideology does not play well outside of the blue states. Highly-promoted progressive candidates continue to lose in red states despite truck-loads of money being poured into their races from across the U.S. In Texas, Robert Francis “Beto” O’Rourke failed to unseat Republican Senator Ted Cruz, despite the best efforts of Democrats and big-money left-wing groups. In Florida, Tallahassee’s extremist mayor, Andrew Gillum, was unable to beat Ron DeSantis in the gubernatorial race. Stacey Abrams, for whom the left pulled out all the stops – including an Oprah rally – was unable to win the Georgia gubernatorial race. The only celebrated progressive candidate to win their race was Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, but she ran for office in a safe New York district – hardly an accomplishment.
Democrats, it seems, have strengthened their hold on the country’s blue states. They mistakenly believed they could export their most radical leftist ideas to certain red states, and so they failed. Progressivism, it is clear, has not made much progress beyond the more densely-populated urban places, which are already Democratic Party strongholds. All eyes are now on the party to deliver something positive in Congress. In order to avoid a crushing defeat in 2020, Democrats must fulfill the promises they made to their voters and legislate, rather than obstruct and litigate.
Democrats should have learned two lessons from November 6th: that an anti-Trump agenda, devoid of any substantive policy solutions, is not enough, and that a very large part of the country does not care for either progressive rhetoric or progressive policies. Well before the 2020 campaigning begins, the nation will know whether the Democrats have learned these lessons.