The U.S. 2018 Midterm Election was a pivotal election with much at stake. Every election has consequences and often results in control over Congress, state legislatures, governors, etc. This midterm more than any other should have been about the President and the character of our nation. Republicans have enjoyed overwhelming control over government; they have the White House, Congress, majority of governors and start legislatures, and a very friendly judiciary full of Republican and Trump appointees at all levels. The result of such control is the utter lack of checks and balances on an administration and Congressional leadership that is as unconventional as we have seen in our history, resulting in their ability to doing anything they want without realistic opposition.
Conditions were there for a Blue Wave. Most Americans were disgusted by rampant corruption amongst Trump’s cabinet members, extremist policies, runaway national debt, dangerous threats to the environment, and the House Republicans reprehensible effort to cover up the Russian election interference and Trump campaign misconduct. People were not willing to tolerate the extensive, constant dishonesty. There was so much at stake in this election, but it really was not about policy. The 2018 Midterm was about our voice and direction as a nation. This was a real moment in history. Would we accept the continuing rhetoric favoring hate, violence and division or would the people stand up and demand a return to normalcy and democracy?
President Trump continually pushed complete lies about the caravan and Democrats favoring open borders. Trump and Republicans knew George Soros was not funding the caravan, but they chose to blatantly lie about it to try and score political points. Democrats have never supported open borders, but rather have been pushing for comprehensive immigration reform only to be blocked by Republican Congressional leaders. The caravan is a group of desperate people who do not pose any threat to the U.S. Trump himself admitted there was no evidence of ISIS or MS 13 involvement nor was there any Democratic support. If they ever arrive at the border, their stated intent is to apply for asylum under the law. That’s their only option. Trump and Republicans also blatantly lied about healthcare, claiming they supported coverage for pre-existing conditions. The truth is that Republican health care plans have not included such coverage and Republican leaders have filed law suits to challenge that coverage in the Affordable Care Act. Trump’s rallies are festivals of disgusting dishonesty and the lies are too numerous to list. Thus, Democrats should have had a strong win
For quite some time, I have stated there would not be a “Blue Wave” (unfortunately). I did not believe the Democratic Party had the necessary tools in place or that enough Republicans would stay home or flip to send a message. The Democratic Party did not take the necessary steps to provide a national message on the economy, crippling national debt, immigration, crime, and other issues voters indicated were important to them. They focused heavily on health care, an extremely important issue, but not to the exclusion of so many other issues. Lastly was the emergence of too many Democratic Socialist candidates and radical liberal candidates that detracted from the party’s national image and negatively impacted races in other districts. They gave the impression, accurate or not, that the party had moved strong left rather than center left, and that helped Republicans argue against Democratic control of Congress.
While the priority must be candidates that fit their district and address the concerns of their own voters, the national party must attract a broad spectrum of support and appeal to voters in all states, not just the typical coastal strongholds. Without a viable, effective 50 state strategy, there is no national Democratic Party to counter and challenge the Republican Party and offer an alternative. For example, in order to gain necessary support, many Democratic House candidates had to promise not to support Nancy Pelosi for Speaker and Democratic Senatorial candidates had to demonstrate their independence from the party leadership. The issue was not impeachment, but rather a commitment to support President Trump on certain issues important to their voters. Even many Democrats wanted to see a complete change in House leadership. There would have been a stronger Democratic victory across the board if Pelosi stepped aside as leader, taking away one of the Republicans effective campaign messaging tools. Either way, Democrats need new leaders who better understand the nation of today.
Although the party leadership tried to change the focus, some Democratic members of Congress spoke openly about impeaching President Trump and a succession of Congressional hearings into various Trump campaign and administration misconduct. Impeachment may prove to be the right result, but not until the Mueller investigation is complete. While most people understand there are bona fide issues worthy of Congressional investigation, such overt discussion of extensive and numerous investigations turned off many voters. Perhaps most foolishly were Democrats who joined the naive chorus of “abolish ICE.” The hard working, dedicated professionals of ICE are not the problem. It is the law and Trump policies they are required to enforce that must be changed. Democrats failed to understand the importance of immigration to most American voters. Rather than stand up to Trump’s hate and abuse with practical immigration reform, they remained quiet and allowed Trump to brand them weak on immigration. Whatever our immigration policy should be, the current system has been broken for decades and in desperate need of reform. Democrats should have tried to lead on this issue.
Nevertheless, I was prepared, in fact hopeful, that I would be wrong. For a brief time, control of the Senate appeared to be in play for Democrats. For the good of the nation, Republicans needed to be removed from power. The Courts were being packed with extremist judges that had not been properly vetted by Congress because the Republicans had the votes to simply confirm them. Republicans enacted a devastating tax cut that did nothing to help American families but provided a windfall to the wealthy elite who were already thriving. They added 1.4 trillion dollars to the national debt with inevitable crippling repercussions with soon to be realized catastrophic consequences. They tried to end medical coverage for millions of Americans, specifically ending coverage for pre-existing conditions. And of course, there was President Trump’s abhorrent personal conduct, never-ending cascade of lies, and complete lack of leadership.
Then came the Brett Kavanaugh hearing. As I have discussed in multiple previous articles (no need to rehash here), Brett Kavanaugh did not belong on the Supreme Court for many reasons. Under Mitch McConnell’s rules, there was almost no way to block Kavanaugh. At least two Republican Senators would have had to break ranks against tremendous pressure. There was little chance that would happen, made even more unlikely by the Republicans orchestrating the hearings in such a way as to prevent disclosure of critical information and discussion of relevant issues. Republican behavior throughout the process was reprehensible, desperately focused on protecting their nominee. Democrats were correct to try and raise issues, but their approach was significantly flawed, ineffective, and achieved nothing. Although the American people may have been deceived into supporting Kavanaugh, they were dismayed by the Democrats’ performance. That one hearing re-energized the Republican base and conservative leaning independents, motivating them to vote. With that, Democrats lost any chance of a wave election. The Senate became out of reach and the anticipated Democratic majority in the House shrunk.
2018 was always going to be difficult based on the number and location of the Senate races, but there were signs of hope Democrats had a shot. As we got closer to election day, Republican tactics became desperate and despicable. Could it be enough to regenerate a blue wave? President Trump abused our proud military for an unprecedented political stunt. This was a new low, even for an administration that had no floor. No administration had previously gone so far as to exploit and mistreat the military for a purely political stunt. When they should have been home with their families, Trump instead planned to send 15,000 troops to “guard” the border. Additionally, Republican operatives were caught planting a completely fictitious smear story about Robert Mueller, one of the most honorable people ever to serve in government. Their aim was to falsely discredit him to help the President.
Then came the atrocities and more Trump failure. Although President Trump was not directly involved, one of his supporters sent pipe bombs to Democratic critics of Trump and another supporter murdered 11 innocent Jewish worshippers in a Pittsburgh synagogue. Trump was responsible for the hate and rhetoric he spreads in his speeches and that set the conditions for these heinous attacks and other violence. Trump’s responses were deplorable. He showed no compassion or consideration and even blamed the victims. Perhaps most disturbing was a widespread Republican voter suppression campaign, mostly across the southern states, in which they imposed measures to disenfranchise minority and low-income voters who they believed would vote Democratic. They closed polling places, voided registrations and early voting ballots without legitimate cause, disenfranchised the Native Americans in North Dakota, and employed other vile un-American tactics. Voting machines in minority precincts in Atlanta mysteriously lost power, preventing voting for hours. Trump campaigned almost exclusively on unabashed, putrid racism. Surely this tactic couldn’t work. The majority of good people in this country would reject the hate. Several Republican leaders demonstrating incredible integrity pushed their voters to vote Democratic this year.
Unfortunately, it was not enough. American voters voted on issues and priorities. This was not about Donald Trump. People who strongly opposed his behavior and racism were able to separate that and vote in favor of candidates and policies they favored for the nation. Democratic turnout was not strong enough. Hispanic voters, significant victims of Trump’s hate and extremism, did not vote in high enough numbers, especially in areas with key races. Many suggested Trump’s threats and rhetoric suppressed Hispanic turnout out of fear within the community. Millennials, who appeared to be more vocal and involved this election cycle, did not turn out in substantial numbers where they could have made a difference. The hope that reasonable Republicans would feel compelled not to support the divisive and hateful rhetoric did not pan out because they held their noses and voted on issues. Therefore, in this most crucial of elections, Democrats lost seats in the Senate and took the House by a very small margin. They had gains in state government, picking up several governorships and state legislatures. This is good news but may not be enough to cure the decades of gerrymandering in so many states. It was a nice improvement after decades of losses.
There was false hype in Florida that Andrew Gillum could help move Florida back to the Democrats. He was the weakest, most liberal candidate in the primary. His rivals, especially Gwen Graham, who would likely have beaten Ron DeSantis, who was wholly unqualified, personally and professionally, to be governor. Similar story in Georgia with Stacey Abrams. Wonderful person, but not the right candidate to flip Georgia. She and Gillum are remarkable people with exciting stories, but not sufficiently competitive compared with their more moderate primary rivals to win in solid red states. Pundits tried to leverage their stories about how progressives were the stronger candidates in the south going forward, but we now know that was not the case. The pure partisanship of this election was so insurmountable that even Claire McCaskill, among the best and most productive members of the Senate, could not hold her seat in the face of a strong Republican tide in Missouri.
This was not a “Blue Wave.” Continuing Republican control of the Senate allows the Trump Administration to put anyone they want on the Supreme Court and continue to pack the judiciary at all levels. Trump cabinet members will have no accountability despite unprecedented and extreme levels of corruption. The Republican Senate can block any action coming from the Russia Investigation and deny protection to Special Counsel Robert Mueller and his independent, highly critical work. Democrats should have won the Senate in 2016 and failed miserably. The country will continue to pay a price. There were plenty of lessons from this election, but one resounds above the others. The majority of voters in a given district vote solidly for one party in all level of races regardless of candidates. For example, in the vast majority of cases, where voters elect one party for the House, they will vote for that same party’s candidate for Senate, President, and state races as well. This is nothing new, but the intensity of consistency for one party is stronger. This proves how important it is for the challenging party to produce strong candidates and messages at all levels.
Democrats must develop the right strategy for 2020. The Presidential race cannot be mass chaos with a field of weak candidates that cannot gain traction in key states. The party must produce a strong candidate with a compelling message to counter Trump’s hate, deceit and extremism. The platform must reflect the needs of the entire nation in 2020. If Democrats continue to focus solely on the tired story of demographic pandering, they will not be able to compete across the nation. The key must be to win first. You cannot govern and implement policy priorities if you don’t win. Winning requires accepting the ideologically good enough candidate that can win rather than holding out for the ideologically perfect candidate that would struggle to win. Democrats concede too many states to Republicans to have a realistic chance at winning and holding the Senate. This must change. The slim majority in the House is similarly unstable and reflects the inability to campaign in all 50 states. Candidates must fit the district but must also contribute to the national party’s strategy.