November 23, 2018

The dust has pretty much settled on the 2018 mid-term elections (although, hard to believe, there are still a handful of congressional elections still being counted. Was there a so-called “red wave”? Obviously not, although the ability of the GOP to increase, however slightly, its hold on the Senate was definitely unusual for the party in power during a president’s first mid-term. Was there a so-called “blue wave”? A lot of political observers are saying no – at least in terms of historical performance by a party out of power during a president’s first mid-term, but, judging from the way the congressional races ultimately turned out I would have to say yes, albeit a small one. Most certainly, you didn’t see any kind of Democratic “wave” that reached into state-wide governor and legislative races, the results of which were fairly mixed.

I’ve been looking back on my own personal notes over the past year, reviewing various commentaries by so-called “political experts” (on both sides of the political aisle), and even had a long conversation with my national GOP operative, and from it come up with my own reassessment on what happened in the 2018 mid-terms and what – if any – it portends for 2020:

1. Voter enthusiasm mattered. There’s little doubt that Democrats and liberal/progressives were more motivated to vote than their Republican/conservative counterparts – far more, in fact, than in prior mid-term elections. Democratic candidates benefitted from an overwhelming desire by liberals and progressives to “get back” at Donald Trump and Republicans for Hillary Clinton’s failure in 2016. Republican enthusiasm appears to have been dampened by a lack of meaningful success on the part of President Trump (and particularly, Attorney General Jeff Sessions) to build the wall, start draining the swamp, and more forcefully pushing back against Robert Mueller’s “Russia collusion” investigation. Lots of frustration out there with the GOP’s Beltway elites (it showed itself most especially in congressional races), but what happened wasn’t that surprising, in that historically, a sitting president’s party always takes a beating in the midterms. But the depth of conservative disenchantment with the president was a surprise.

2. Issues mattered. Healthcare turned out to be a far more important issue to voters (most especially, suburban women voters) than might have been anticipated. It may not have been the the most important issue (immigration was), but it was a significant factor in GOP fortunes. Here (to be brutally honest), the GOP got what it deserved, thanks to two people: Arizona senator John McCain and Speaker of the House Paul Ryan. In McCain’s case, his deciding vote to save Obamacare took a potential major policy success talking point for the GOP off the table. McCain’s actions were bad enough, but nothing compared to Ryan’s hostility to President Trump and, therefore, his unwillingness to tackle hard issues involving the deficit and spending, illegal immigration, and healthcare reform. McCain was always a vile, petty swamp creature hiding behind his carefully manufactured a “maverick” image, but Ryan’s ineffectiveness and incompetence as a Speaker unable or unwilling to lead a “reform agenda” on pocketbook issues was a killer to the GOP’s chances.

3. Candidates mattered. For Republicans, the retirements of 30-odd incumbents left the party scrambling to find quality candidates to run in what most already knew was going to be a challenging year for Republicans. Because of that, it was more difficult to recruit candidates willing to devote time, money, and effort in what was going to be an uphill climb to begin with. Democrats, on the other hand, did a better job recruiting candidates, but with one caveat a media so enthralled with newly elected socialist/progressives like Alexandria Ocasio Cortez and Ilhan Omar isn’t telling you: most Democrats who ran successful campaigns did so by running not to the left, but to the center; in many cases actually hiding their party identity and/or running as legislative reform candidates. The problem with that strategy is that you can get away with it once; after that, there will be an identity and a voting track record to defend. Just something to keep in mind when it comes to 2020.

4. Illegal voting practices mattered. Here you have to give the Democrats credit: through early and absentee voting they’ve figured out how to game the system to their advantage. This is how in places like California and Illinois, where Democrats have a strangle-hold on offices at both the state and county levels, they were able to run up the votes long after the polls have closed. Without sufficient countermeasures by the GOP, Democrats have had the ability to literally generate whatever number of votes they need in order to drag any candidate that needs help over the finish line. This was especially true in California, but there’s little doubt the same playbook was, and is, being used elsewhere.

The above being said, a few thoughts looking forward to 2020:

1. Republican refocus. The GOP will be looking to rebuild a sense of trust with middle-class suburban voters (especially white females) while continuing to build relationships with leaders in black and Hispanic circles using Democratic support for illegal immigration as a wedge issue that threatens the improving job picture for young African-American and Hispanic workers and their families. With the party fairly well purged of those who either actively resisted or kept their distance from President Trump, the opportunity will be there for better, more doctrinal candidates willing to run against first-time Democratic congressmen and congresswomen by using the latter’s voting records to demonstrate the true differences between the parties.

2. Democratic competence. Democrats, on the other hand, will have to prove to Americans that they can be trusted with control of the legislative branch of government. It will be interesting to see how Speaker “San Fran Nan” Pelosi sets her priorities for the next Congress. Will she allow the rabid anti-Trump members of her party to use this opportunity to go after Trump on everything from his tax returns, finances, and “Russia collusion”? If so, that would be a big mistake. As would allowing the new progressive socialists to propose massive spending and tax increases for things like single payer (i.e., government-run) healthcare and free college tuition. Alternatively, could Pelosi and Trump try to forge a working relationship on a couple of small areas involving infrastructure and, say, deficit reduction?

3. The “new resistance”. Republicans will have the same benefit the Democrats had in 2018 – which, is, exploiting the role of a minority party which can propose legislation they know will be shot down while blaming the party in power should the Democrats do anything to slow down Donald Trump’s “America First” policies on immigration, trade, and the economy. As Steve Baldwin writes in The American Spectator:

The main goal of the Republicans for the next two years should be to put the Democrats on record, over and over again, as being against the policies that elected Donald Trump: border security, the renegotiation of trade treaties, less taxes, policies that unleash our manufacturers and energy producers, an America-First foreign policy, etc. They need to expose the Democrat Party for who they really are: a party completely unconcerned about working class Americans but obsessed with taking back power so they can continue the socialist transformation of America begun by Barack Obama.

In a weird way, I believe having the Democrats in charge of the House actually helps President Trump, in two ways: 1) it gives him a political adversary to contrast his “America First” priorities against, and 2) the deep-down desire in the American DNA for a cooperative sharing of power between the political parties to temper the worst tendencies of an authoritarian party holding the reins of political power. Having the Democrats as a check to Trump’s worst tendencies will benefit him as someone voters know and can trust when it comes to a second term – especially if the Democrats were to nominate someone from a very liberal state with a philosophy and agenda seen as “outside the mainstream” by many voters.

4. Trump’s opponent. To that end, Democrats are going to have to pick a presidential candidate that will appeal to the same Democrats Donald Trump stole from Hillary Clinton in 2016. This is not going to be an easy task: by the time 2020 comes around, Americans are going to know what the have with Donald Trump and will have to be willing to trade his “America First” policies for what will likely be a more socialist/progressive agenda pushed by someone from the far left of the Democratic Party. I believe the days of centrist dinosaurs like Joe Biden are long past. I also think that it will be difficult (if not downright impossible) for Democrats to pick a while male as their party’s standard-bearer (read: “Beto” O’Rourke); instead, I would look for the Democrats to push a very liberal female candidate. And don’t discount the idea of a very large crowd of candidates fracturing the extremes of the party, thus giving none other than Hillary Clinton a center route to another attempt at the White House.

5. Counting the votes. The Republicans are going to get smarter when it comes to Democrat voting shenanigans. The success of James O’Keefe’s Project Veritas will help unleash a new caravan of conservative journalists willing and eager to do the work the mainstream media won’t do – which is, to ensure the integrity of voting practices at the local level. While there is little that can be done in Democrat-controlled places like California, New York, and Illinois, “purple” states like Florida, Arizona, New Hampshire, Virginia, and Wisconsin will become a focal point for those ensuring that votes are counted accurately and efficiently.

6. What the future holds. The above being said, anyone projecting 2020 based upon what happened just a few short weeks ago is a fool. We’re fifteen months away from the first presidential primaries – a lifetime in politics. And, as Larry Schweikart wisely notes, past performance very rarely matches future results in politics. Historical trends matter, there’s nothing really new under the sun, and it’s a given the political landscape is to be shaped by future events we cannot foresee.

Filed in: Politics & World Events by The Great White Shank at 01:02 | Comments Off on Reassessing the Mid-Terms
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