Saturday cartoon 20181110

The just-completed midterm election could be called the “Cafeteria Midterms” because there was something here for everyone. Democrats won the House and more governorships and state legislative chambers. Republicans increased their Senate majority, defeated progressive “stars” and held on to a large majority of state legislatures. Encouragement and warnings loom in the results for both Democrats and Republicans for 2020. Here are a few snap judgments on the results of this fascinating election season.

  • Turnout for these midterms was easily the largest in history, approaching 113 million voters. The base of each party had enthusiasm and President Trump energized his voters in a way that President Obama never could in a midterm. However, Democrats were helped by record Republican retirements and good candidates in the House with support from college-educated women in many suburban House districts. The evening began with Republican House incumbents losing in the Washington, D.C., and Richmond suburbs and ended with GOP losses in Orange County, California.
  • Republicans ended their campaigns by focusing on immigration, including the refugee caravan in Mexico. Along with the Brett Kavanaugh Supreme Court hearings, these issues helped turn out base Republican voters but the party did poorly in southwestern states. Worse, the strong economy was not emphasized and hence not a factor in most voters’ minds, thus depriving the party of a message that might have attracted swing voters and saved suburban House seats. What message will the president see in these results as he prepares to run for re-election in 2020?
  • The new Democratic House majority will substantially alter the congressional agenda for the next two years. A blizzard of oversight investigations will be launched, resulting in increased friction with the Trump administration and Republican Senate. Likewise, the president’s revised trade treaty with Mexico and Canada will face more skepticism as will Republican plans for a new tax bill and more regulatory relief for business. However, progress on other issues such as immigration reform and criminal justice reform might still be possible, though partisan obstacles will be substantial. Will the parties understand that both now have a stake in seeing some legislative results in the next Congress?
  • The GOP gain of at least three Senate seats will make it easier to confirm Trump appointees, especially federal judges, and possibly another Supreme Court nominee. It also spares the president from having to cast politically difficult vetoes and gives Republicans a strong chance to hold their Senate majority after 2020 when they face an infinitely more challenging electoral map.
  • Republicans held on to most of their state legislative majorities in large states and still control 62 (down from 67) of the 99 state legislative chambers, insuring the party will retain a strong voice in redistricting. For their part, Democrats were successful in winning governorships in key states such as Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin, all states won by the president in 2016. Not only do those wins give Democrats more leverage in the next census and redistricting, but they also enhance Democratic chances to win those states’ electoral votes in 2020. Governors matter in many ways.
  • Progressive gubernatorial candidates lost races in Ohio, Florida and probably Georgia despite strong national hype, fundraising and enthusiasm. Along with the defeat of the charismatic Beto O’Rourke in Texas, the progressive stars all came up short. The results support the argument of Democratic centrists that their party needs to attract more independents and moderate voters to win larger states. Prediction: Progressives will resist that conclusion.
  • Republican efforts to repeal Obamacare helped Democrats in key swing districts and among important voter groups such as college-educated women and suburban voters. For those keeping score, this was the same law whose passage helped insure the defeat of scores of Democrats in 2010 and 2014, thus confirming that the public is just as confused about health care as is Congress and two presidential administrations.
  • Republicans won some satisfaction by winning governorships in reliably blue and purple states such as Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont and maybe Connecticut, proving that it is still possible to decouple a
  • state
  • campaign from national issues and partisan national interest groups.
  • According to the Center for Responsive Politics, spending on political advertising, including cable, digital and broadcast, will approach $4.7 billion in this election cycle. America still spends almost as much on deodorant as politics, but $4.7 billion is enough to buy the Dallas Cowboys. Did America get its money’s worth from all of those commercials? Do we have a more active and better-informed electorate? Answers: yes and maybe.
  • Democrats continued to make inroads into the increasingly diverse states in the American Southwest. They swept New Mexico and won the GOP Senate and gubernatorial seats in Nevada. Even in conservative Texas, now a minority majority state, Beto O’Rourke came within three points of winning the Senate race and Democrats made major gains at the state and local level. Demographic trends continue to bring major change to American politics. As Bob Dylan said, “The times they are a changing.”
  • And for those of you who cannot get enough of politics, the next presidential election begins —
  • right now
  • .

Frank Donatelli, a senior adviser with McGuireWoods Consulting in Washington and counsel with McGuireWoods LLP, served in the Reagan White House as an assistant to the president for political and intergovernmental affairs. He also served as deputy chair of the Republican National Committee and coordinated the RNC’s fundraising and organizing activities. He is also chairman of the Reagan Ranch Board of Governors of the Young America’s Foundation.