The midterm elections ended pretty much as predicted. Democrats won the House and Republicans enlarged their hold on the Senate. If there was a surprise, it was the extent of the Republican gains in the Senate where all of the very close races (that have been called) seem to have gone red. Nevertheless, both sides can claim victory in the split decision. There are also lessons that both sides should learn.
For the Democrats, the most obvious lesson to take from the midterms is that radicalism does not pay. Even though Democrats won the House, they underperformed in many races. This may be due in large part to the fact that the party nominated radical candidates. For example, in the Florida gubernatorial race, the Democrats nominated a democratic socialist who was the subject of an FBI ethics investigation. Socialism may play in deep blue districts of the Northeast or West Coast, but not in purple states. And the experience of Hillary in 2016 should have taught Democrats to steer clear of candidates mired in FBI investigations.
Likewise, gun control is death for Democratic candidates in red states. In the Georgia gubernatorial race, which is still too close to call, Stacey Abrams trails by less than two points. In a red state like Georgia, even hinting at the possibility of gun confiscations is a red flag for voters. Abrams’ anti-gun platform may have been the deciding factor for many voters. And no, calling it “common sense gun laws” doesn’t make it better.
Perhaps the biggest lesson for Democrats is that they should steer clear of the politics of personal destruction, especially when there is no evidence to support the accusations. The Kavanaugh confirmation hearings seem to have been the catalyst that angered Republicans voters and inspired them to get to the polls. Joe Donnelly, Heidi Heitkamp, Bill Nelson, and Claire McCaskill should serve as warnings to Democrats from red and purple states. Joe Manchin, the sole Democrat who voted to confirm Kavanaugh, cruised to re-election in deep red West Virginia.
For Republicans, the most important takeaway from the election is that the gains in the Senate are due to geography rather than the party’s popularity. The Republican pickups in the Senate were, with the exception of Florida, all in red states. These Democrat incumbents would have been in trouble in an election year and the timing of Senate elections meant that few Republican seats were vulnerable. The opposite is true over the next two election cycles.
Republicans should also be alarmed about exit poll data. Even though many Republicans are claiming victory by virtue of avoiding disaster, voter data shows that the GOP is becoming white, old, and male.
2018 was purported to be the year of the angry college-educated woman and exit polls confirm the truth of those forecasts. Democrats won women by 19 points and college graduates by 20 points. Additionally, Democrats won black, Hispanic, and Asian voters by 90, 69, and 77 percent respectively. Democrats won every age group under 50, most by double-digit margins.
The Republican problem with women and minorities goes a long way towards explaining the close races in traditionally red states like Georgia and Texas. In Georgia, black voters make up 30 percent of the electorate. In Texas, 39 percent of the population is Hispanic. If the GOP can’t do better with minorities, both of these states could become blue or purple in the near future.
The Republican problem is already apparent in suburban districts around the country. Democrats knocked off well-known Republicans such as Dave Brat (R-Va.) in districts that typically lean red. Others, such as Mia Love in Utah, will probably be added to the list of losses in coming days. Many of these losses can be attributed to the GOP’s gender gap. Karen Handel’s suburban Atlanta district has gone from double-digit Republican to blue in two years.
If the election was a referendum on Donald Trump, the collective decision of the nation was “meh.” In total, most voters disapproved of Trump by a 54-45 margin. This is similar to Barack Obama’s approval in 2010.
Both parties have reason to celebrate the election result, but both also have reason to be cautious. Democrat gains were hurt by the party’s crazy antics in the months ahead of the election. Republican rhetoric on immigration may have contributed to the GOP’s gains in the Senate, but it may also poison the well with minorities and deepen the racial divide in American politics.
Originally published on The Resurgent