Wednesday, November 07, 2018

About the Midterms

The Democrats had a very good night last night and I am feeling elated this morning. Forget the inane media horse-race coverage: if you look at the number of votes, this was a historic landslide. Republicans have spent the better part of a decade rigging and suppressing and gerrymandering elections, and it protected them from big losses. But they’re getting more unpopular and were repudiated by actual voters. Consider:
  • The popular vote margin in the House was somewhere north of 8% (we’ll have a better idea later). Previous “wave” elections had lower margins: 1994: R+7.1%, 2006: D+8.0%, 2010: R+7.2%, 2014: R+5.7%. 
  • Dems picked up seven governorships. 
  • Three red states voted to expand Medicare. 
  • Women and nonwhites had a great night. More women will serve in the House than ever (~100). 
  • Florida passed an initiative that will allow felons to vote in future elections. There are 1.5 million of them. 
  • Finally, in the metaphor of the night, Dems had a 10-million vote margin in the Senate while losing more seats.
That last point is key. Democracy has been far more badly damaged in the US than almost anyone is willing to admit (or report). In order to make incremental gains in representation, they must win vast majorities in the popular vote. This is a depressing reality, but far more depressing would be a defeated electorate that refused to turn out. Instead, a record turnout illustrates Americans are willing to fight to claw power from an entrenched minority. This is very, very good news. The biggest metric was not the number of seats they could win in this rigged environment, but how many would vote. Because the only way a minority party can win long term is by suppressing the vote. More democracy is the way to fix democracy. Last night we got it.

Other notes. Losing the house is not good for Trump. This is a talking point we’re hearing a lot this morning. It will give him “something to run against.” This is absurd. For two years Democrats did not have a way of dictating the conversation in America—one of the biggest disadvantages they suffered. Now they can pass bills that will be deeply uncomfortable and divisive for Republicans. They can put healthcare on the agenda in a real way. Drug prices. Infrastructure. Minimum wage. Progressive tax law. The deficit. Most of the GOP’s policy goals are unpopular, some wildly so. Dems now have a mechanism for highlighting this fact.

Keep in mind that Nancy Pelosi will be orchestrating these moves, and she is probably the canniest politician in the country. Everyone’s screaming about “Democratic overreach!” Don’t believe it. Pelosi is smart and very strategic (much of Obama’s success belongs at least substantially to Pelosi), and she will use this power skillfully. The GOP know this, which is why she’s their boogeyman.

Finally, there’s now a mechanism to investigate the President. This is important because it is not a witch hunt. The GOP is deeply corrupt. Indeed, two Republican reps won last night who are under indictment and may go to prison (!). Surfacing actual corruption isn’t fundamentally political, so long as actual wrongdoing is revealed. Dems will need to do this skillfully, but they know this. Pelosi really knows this. What it guarantees is two years of unearthing Trump’s corruption—along with his administration and a few members of congress along the way. Of course this is not going to flip hardcore supporters—but it’s literally unbelievable to think it won’t damage this party politically. This won’t be a series of trumped-up Benghazi hearings, these will focus on real corruption.

Going into last night Dems needed to win at the state level in advance of the 2020 census and redistricting, and they needed to win the house. (The Senate would have been great, but it was nearly impossible.) They did that, and there will be important short-, mid-, and long-term consequences. It was a good night.

Update. The margin of Democratic support last night was very close to the landslide of 2008. See Sam Wang. All of this also happened with the unemployment rate at 3.7%. The last time this happened at a midterm (1998), the incumbent party gained seats.

If last night's House results were converted to a Presidential election,
this is what they'd look like

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