It could have been worse.
That is, first and foremost, the takeaway from the 2018 midterms. The “blue wave” never materialized, but neither did the hoped-for “red tide.” Yet there is enough on the horizon to feel encouraged. And these good developments all stem from the fact that President Donald Trump has largely taken over the Republican Party.
A Blue Splash
Let’s dispense with the elephant in the room, or should I say the pachyderm that no longer has the same footprint in the room: The House of Representatives.
History informed us that the president’s party would lose House seats in this the midterm. It was to be expected. The question was always whether the Democrats could win enough seats to retake the chamber, and if so by how much. Although they did indeed flip the House, their new majority is nothing like the kind of sweeping victory they were hoping for and predicting.
At just 230 seats, the Democrats’ gain of 30 is a far cry from the landslide of 2010, when Republicans took an astounding 63 seats. With such a narrow majority, there is plenty of room for Republicans to take back the House by targeting some of the Democrats who come from districts that voted for Trump in 2016 and are likely to vote for him again in 2020.
Whether it reaches an impasse regarding such crucial Trump agenda issues as infrastructure or immigration that can be labeled “obstruction,” or if they are faced with internal party clashes about the direction of the party, the Democrats could find themselves dealing with a similarly crippling situation that faced Republicans in their previously narrow Senate majority.
If the Democrats decide to go full throttle on bogus investigations and efforts to impeach the president and God knows who else, they are very likely to find themselves on the latter of these two paths. Members who wish to keep their seats may not appreciate this fool’s errand and it could backfire horribly on them going into 2020 just as it did for Republicans with President Clinton. But memories are short and political expediency often interferes with good sense.
The Party Purge
In a similar vein, there is a very fine silver lining in the GOP’s loss of the House. As the media repeatedly noted, Republican members retired in unusually high numbers—36 Republicans, in fact, either retired or pursued other offices, such as state governor or U.S. senator. Moreover, Democrats made some gains by outright defeating incumbent Republicans, and made gains in open races.
But a common thread connecting many of the retirees and defeated incumbents was that their policy positions and muted support—when it was not open hostility— for President Trump hurt them. Casualties included Carlos Curbelo (R-Fla.), Kevin Yoder (R-Kan.), Barbara Comstock (R-Va.), Mia Love (R-Utah), and Erik Paulsen (R-Minn.).
As Larry Schweikart noted on Twitter, the loss of these House seats could be seen as a “purge” of these anti-Trump forces from the party caucus in the lower chamber.
Meanwhile, the night was much better for pro-Trump candidates around the country, including Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), Steve King (R-Iowa), Chris Collins (R-N.Y.), and Mark Harris (R-N.C.). The process could best be described as a trimming of the ideological fat; even if the cost meant becoming the minority party in the House of Representatives for a time. It did, at the very least, assure that the Republican House caucus is much more united behind our president. This alone is a valuable step in the evolution of the GOP into “Trump’s party.”
The Winning Message
As fellow American Greatness contributor Mytheos Holt pointed out on Twitter, there was a very clear dichotomy between the broad campaign messaging of the Republican candidates for the House and Republicans running for the Senate. Republicans in the lower chamber ran primarily on the economy, especially touting last year’s tax cut law. That was not a winning message nationally.
Meanwhile, Senate Republicans in the crucial swing states fully embraced President Trump’s agenda, particularly on the key issue of immigration, and made substantial gains in the upper chamber. This proved especially useful as surveys by the Associated Press confirmed that immigration, along with health care, was one of the top two issues for voters in these midterms.
The writing is on the wall going into 2020 and beyond: Trump’s agenda of economic nationalism and stricter immigration is popular, while the old GOP agenda that focused purely on fiscal issues remains uninspiring. This is not the 1990s, when the mantra “it’s the economy, stupid” hung stupidly on every set of lips. Yes, the roaring economy is a strong achievement of the Trump Administration; but in 2018, and it is those sensitive cultural issues that truly fire up the base. They want to be citizens of a country, not just consumers in an economy.
Despite losing control of the House, the Republicans still managed to hold most key races. With the Senate pickups in Indiana, North Dakota, Missouri, and Florida, gone is the gridlock of that necessitated counting on allegedly “moderate” Democrats crossing the aisle to vote with Republicans. There will be no more need to chase down that elusive football, only to see it ripped away at the last minute as Democrats stuck with the party line on crucial votes such as Obamacare, the tax cuts, and Justice Kavanaugh.
With the exception of Joe Manchin in West Virginia (who voted for Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the Supreme Court), these Democrats maintaining frustrating electoral majorities in red states were all ousted by solidly pro-Trump Republicans. This will not only solidify the Republican Senate majority but will also break the upper chamber free from the whims of those two or three shaky Republicans.
In addition, Republicans also held crucial governorships in Florida and Ohio. Beyond the importance of preventing those two major swing states from going blue, the Florida election was widely seen as a microcosm for the shifting ideologies of the two main parties. To put it most simply, this was the closest thing we could have gotten to a statewide version of a Trump vs. Bernie race.
Rep. Ron DeSantis ran as the Trump-endorsed populist, strict on immigration and trade, while Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum ran as the Bernie Sanders-endorsed socialist, advocating for $15 minimum wage, single-payer healthcare, abolishing ICE, and restricting gun rights. Even with the polls heavily favoring Gillum, DeSantis pulled it off and won a hard-fought victory.
Just north of the Sunshine State, Republican Brian Kemp defeated Democrat Stacey Abrams in Georgia. Polling depicted the race with Kemp having the edge, but that wasn’t enough to dissuade the Left’s biggest stars from turning out for Abrams—from Obama to Hillary, from Jimmy Carter to Biden, and even Oprah. But Abrams still lost, and another safe red seat stays red.
Republicans successfully defended all but one of their Senate seats, including in Texas and Tennessee. Although many will point out the shockingly close final margin by which incumbent Ted Cruz defeated Democrat Beto O’Rourke, it is also important to note that in the same cycle, incumbent governor Greg Abbott thoroughly decimated his Democratic challenger Lupe Valdez by over 13 points. So the narrow finish in the Senate race is most likely not a broader problem with Texas, but instead a problem with Cruz himself.
Plus, keep in mind that O’Rourke had at his disposal $70 million, the support of the entire Democratic elite, and virtually all of Hollywood trying to make him into a cultural phenomenon. Even then, it all went up in smoke. Were it not for the extreme outside intervention and funding in this race, Cruz most likely would have matched Abbott’s performance with a comfortable win.
In Tennessee, the pro-Trump Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn easily won her race against Democrat Phil Bredesen. And in Arizona, Congresswoman Martha McSally fended off radical Democratic challenger Kyrsten Sinema.
Other than the few expected gubernatorial losses in Illinois, Maine, and New Mexico, the Republicans managed to make a pickup in Alaska, and held all other gubernatorial seats with two exceptions: Kansas and Wisconsin.
In Kansas, Secretary of State Kris Kobach was thoroughly sabotaged. Even though Kobach enthusiastically was endorsed by President Trump, many Republican state legislators, as well as a former Republican governor and former Republican senator, decided to put their precious “principles” over the well-being of the state, and endorsed Democrat Laura Kelly because they felt Kobach was “too radical,” or something.
In addition, the race between the two nominees was spoiled by independent candidate Greg Orman, who used to be a Republican and was previously the runner-up in the 2014 Senate race against incumbent Pat Roberts (R-Kan.). With Orman receiving over 6 percent of the vote that more than likely would have gone to Kobach, Kelly narrowly won with 48 percent to Kobach’s 43 percent.
As such, Kobach’s loss cannot be counted as a voter-inspired rejection of the Trump Agenda, but an unfortunate testament to the effectiveness of backstabbing RINOs united in purpose against one candidate because they cannot accept that Donald Trump is president.
Although President Trump has said he is open to hiring Kobach back into his administration if he lost the gubernatorial race, this is still a major setback to Kobach’s political future. This win was crucial to set him up as a stronger contender for the 2024 presidential nomination.
In Wisconsin, the clock seems to have finally struck midnight on Scott Walker’s widely successful tenure. After decisive victories in 2010 and 2014, and surviving a historic recall election in 2012, Walker pushed his luck just a little too far in running for a third term this year. Democrat Tony Evers defeated Walker by a little over one percent, or roughly 30,000 votes overall.
Like Kobach, this defeat also dashes any hopes that Walker may have had of running for president again in 2024. But unlike Kobach, Walker most likely would not have fit in as well with the ideological shift that the party is undergoing in the Age of Trump, anyway. On the whole, this loss can be chalked up to yet another case of the old saying “should have quit when he was ahead.”
The one and only Republican seat that was lost in the Senate was in Nevada, where incumbent Dean Heller was unseated by Democrat Jacky Rosen. This was on top of the Democratic victory in the state’s gubernatorial race, as well as the Democrats successfully holding three of the four congressional districts. This seems to be the latest proof of a shift to the left for the swing state that voted for Hillary Clinton over President Trump by less than 30,000 votes in 2016, and thus one of the few cases of an actual “blue wave” overtaking an entire state in this cycle.
One other extremely close Senate race was in Montana. Although this was ripe for a Republican pickup, and Republican Matt Rosendale was gaining momentum against Democrat Jon Tester, the incumbent managed narrowly to pull it off. This, like Kobach’s loss, was also most likely influenced by the factor of a third-party candidate: Libertarian nominee Rick Breckenridge. Although Breckenridge, to his credit, did withdraw from the race and endorse Rosendale, his name remained on the ballot and it took roughly three percent of the vote. Were it not for Breckenridge, the Republicans most likely would have won this as well.
What it Means
First, this was a very clear rejection of the do-nothing Republican Congress that wasted its majority in President Trump’s first two years, and preferred to focus political energy on boring fiscal issues than draw attention to what they could do for voters on the more meaningful issues that address citizenship, such as immigration. Republicans should have expected to pay a price for that, and they ought to have worked harder to pass more of the president’s agenda. But since they did not, many of the anti-Trump Republicans were run out of office, leaving an almost entirely pro-Trump caucus. This is a necessary pain that will help the party in the long run.
Second, just as the Trump base has thoroughly taken over the Republican Party, the Democratic Party has been taken over by its far left base. Keith Ellison managed to win his election as Minnesota Attorney General despite allegations of assault by his ex-girlfriend. He was succeeded in Congress by a radical Islamic activist who has openly made anti-Semitic remarks on Twitter. Outright Democratic Socialists such as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) were also elected after defeating incumbent Democrats in the primaries.
As such, with the House now under the control of socialists who rant about identity politics and impeachment, the insanity of the party’s new status quo will be perhaps the strongest weapon Republicans have against them in 2020. This will further be put to the test when President Trump goes to them with reasonable and moderate policy proposals, such as infrastructure reform, and their rage against him prevents them from working with him. They will pay most dearly in the pro-Trump districts.
Third, even after losing the House, the bolstered Senate majority still gives the GOP almost complete control over the federal judiciary and presidential cabinet nominees. This has continued at a record pace and will continue to do so under McConnell and Grassley’s leadership. Perhaps that too played a role in the dynamics of the Senate victory contrasted with the House loss; McConnell displayed the kind of leadership voters wanted during the Kavanaugh hearings, while outgoing Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) spent his last few days as speaker counter-signaling the president’s agenda on immigration. One got more seats, while the other lost more. That is also not a coincidence.
Finally, President Trump is ready for war. The Democrats in the House, ignoring the fact that the “Russia” conspiracy theory is already dying as it is finally exposed, will march on ahead with endless pointless investigations into everything the president has ever done. On Twitter the day after the election, Trump pulled no punches in one of his most direct retaliation threats to his opponents, saying that “we will likewise be forced to consider investigating them for all of the leaks of Classified Information . . . Two can play that game!”
At the risk of inadvertently making a Russia joke, perhaps that analogy can be the final takeaway from these midterm elections: The Democrats have been poking a sleeping bear for a long time, and may finally have poked it too hard.
Photo credit: Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images