After reviewing the results for a couple of days and listening to a range of commentary on the outcome, I can’t seem to find many surprises in the mid-term elections. Here are a few thoughts:
- The progressive “blue wave” didn’t happen. Substantially all of the flips by the Democrats were in blue states and/or by candidates who shunned the far left led by Elizabeth Warren, and almost all of the candidates she provided direct support were big flops. This is, after all, a center-right country.
- Donald Trump’s untiring campaign effort deserves considerable credit for the preservation of Republican control of the Senate and the impact of the shameful treatment of Justice Kavanaugh by the Democrats during his confirmation was a huge factor, probably decisive, in several Senate races.
- The Republican loss of control of the House was expected and came in at about average seat loss for the mid-first term of a President. It does not bode well, however, for the prospects for comity. It appears that any working relationship with Trump must start with the abandonment of an “investigate and impeach” strategy pushed by the Democrats’ far left wing. And Trump might benefit somewhat by the fact that the Democrats now control the House agenda and cannot continue to simply be the party of “no” and “resist”.
- Overall, the election was a moderate loss for Trump, but not a rejection. However, given the success of most of his policies, particularly the booming economic results, the Republicans should have fared better and most of the reason why they didn’t can be attributed to his unpopularity with large segments of the voters. According to an October Wall Street Journal-NBC poll, 44% of voters approve of his policies, but 20% approve of his policies but dislike him personally, a percentage multiple times that of Bush 43 or Obama.
- My focus has been to deal in ideas that drive electoral results, but one would be hard-pressed to isolate the ideas that drove this election cycle beyond the underlying ideologies on either side of the Gorsuch and Kavanaugh Supreme Court appointments. This election was about Trump, pure and simple–his personality, temperament, style, and constant presence in our lives over the past three years–and only secondarily about ideas.
- What does this mean for 2020? Has Trump now captured the soul of the Republican Party? Some think he has, but I’m not convinced. He is no movement conservative in the sense that it has become known since the Reagan Revolution, but maybe he will have been the catalyst that prompts a pre-2020 conversation on the right about what the new conservatism looks like. His base support is rock solid, but it’s at around 45% on his best day and he has not appreciably added to his winning Electoral College coalition since his election. So unless the Democrats do something really stupid, like nominate Elizabeth Warren, there is considerable work to be done to stay in power in 2020 and most of it has to do with some adjustment in style by Mr. Trump. Good luck.