The fact that it is taking so long for many of Tuesday’s races to be decided may look like another data point in the “this is a closely divided country” argument, but the problem with that argument is that the divisions are almost exclusively in Republican territory. What happened on Tuesday is a wave that is somehow moving at the speed of a snail. But it’s still rolling over nearly 40 Republican house seats and flipping them leftward. Some on the right claimed in the early days after the election that the Democratic gains were modest, but they wrote too quickly. Things didn’t look too bad for the GOP in the first hours after the polls closed. After those first few hours, things have looked nothing but bad, and all over the country.
Resist the happy talk. This election is very bad for the GOP, and harbingers ill for 2020. With the exception of Ohio, Democrats have shown strength in the states that gave Donald Trump his victory in 2016.
Ds took two Congressional seats in Iowa, defeated Scott Walker in his third gubernatorial bid in Wisconsin, and won most of the Pennsylvania House seats they tried for (with the happy exception of the defeat of the anti-Israel grandson-of-a-Soviet-lover Scott Wallace). Democrats romped in Michigan, notwithstanding a surprising showing for the GOP senatorial candidate (who still lost).
The highly contested Florida races were far closer in 2018 than in 2016. In Georgia, a very liberal governor candidate out-performed other great Democratic hopes in that state over the past decade—and the race that started Democratic hearts a-beatin’ in 2017, the special election for Georgia’s 6th district, flipped to the Democrat after Republican Karen Handel had succeeded in keeping the seat. Arizona’s apparent choice of a Democrat to fill Sen. Jeff Flake’s seat suggests that state might be in play as well.
Remember that 80,000 votes across three states in the upper Midwest made Trump president. Getting 80,000 new voters to replace the ones who didn’t turn out for Hillary Clinton in 2016 shouldn’t be that hard for Dems, especially since they know exactly where they need to go to get them.
Meanwhile, The scenario I’ve painted here suggests states he won—Florida, Iowa, Georgia, Arizona—might be lost, in which case it doesn’t matter all that much what happens in the upper Midwest. Dems might only need to win one of those back, or two. Meanwhile, the results suggest there isn’t a single state Trump failed to carry that is moving in his direction.
Abe argues, convincingly, that the midterm elections do not mean Republicans have lost their broad ideological connection to the voters in the seats in the House the GOP won in 2016 but lost in 2018. He says we can presume the voters who either didn’t turn out for the Republican candidate or who even flipped and voted Democratic didn’t suddenly turn liberal in 2017 and 2018 and will never go back, and that this shows a path back for the GOP into those places in 2020 and beyond because the Democratic party continues to move to the left.
There is precedent for this. In 2006 and 2008, Democrats romped in Republican areas and came to believe the country’s ideological complexion had changed forever—and after aggressively passing expensive statist bills, they were set on their heels by voters who didn’t want the country to change that much or spend that much. And yet Barack Obama won in 2012.
But the analogy breaks down here, because Obama lost 4.5 million votes between 2008 and 2012 and still managed to win—because his margin of victory had been so huge originally. Trump got 63 million votes in 2016 and cannot afford to lose a single voter—indeed, he needs to gain voters. Where are the voters he’s going to gain? What has he done to expand out his base? Nothing—indeed, it looks increasingly like his “base play” in the last week may have delivered a death blow to Republican Senate candidates in Arizona and Nevada and might have hurt in several House races. This would suggest Trump’s electoral instincts are bad, not good, and that next time he needs to look at the situation with a colder and clearer eye. But who’s going to tell him? And does anyone think he would listen?