The 2018 midterm elections in the United States were historic. A record number of women are going to Congress. Native Americans, immigrants, Muslims, and gay candidates, all saw historic breakthroughs. Far from putting Trump in charge of the American political landscape, the 2018 midterms revealed a more forthright, cooperative America, in which people of conscience work together to counter corruption and build a better future.
The Democratic Party showed itself to be a diverse party of the political future, attuned to the 21st century, full of new voices with fresh ideas, connected to a burgeoning movement of people demanding better civics. The Republican Party, by contrast, campaigned in a way that has shocked the conscience—echoing segregationist, white supremacist propaganda and anti-democracy conspiracy theory. It cannot win a national election going forward if this continues.
Most important: the American people voted in a way that appears intended to make that clear.
In Republican-friendly Fort Bend County outside of Houston, voters elected Brian Middleton, a Democratic candidate promising a more progressive approach to keeping the community safe, to replace the long-time Republican district attorney, who is retiring. As the Houston Chronicle reports:
Middleton will become the first ever African American top prosecutor for the county and the first Democrat to hold the critical office in 26 years.
In neighboring Harris County, Lina Hidalgo—a 27-year-old immigrant with a passionate belief in the importance of local civics, good schools, and healthcare open to all who need it—became the first Latina chief executive of her county. The upset win over a two-term incumbent is considered a political “earthquake” in local politics.
President Trump and strategists friendly to his cause have argued he only sought to hold onto the Senate. The truth is: key Trump allies like Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker were ousted, and a number of House districts he won by wide margins went by wide margins to Democrats. And while Steve King did barely hold his seat in northwestern Iowa, two other Republican seats in Iowa flipped to the Democrats—partly a rebuke of the hate-based politics King and Trump represent.
Political reporters have to make sure they don’t treat Trump’s manipulation of clear campaign struggles as some kind of fact of strategic reality. Many of Trump’s rallies took place in locations where his support was high, and those that didn’t seem to have either backfired or had little effect. The Senate seats that “flipped” to Republicans were already vulnerable; Trump’s campaigning was far more defensive than it was persuasive.
Further, two major trends that favored Trump have been reversed:
- The long trend that saw Republicans dominating state-level government is now in question. Democrats flipped Governorships and state houses across the country.
- The shock phenomenon where repeat Obama voters went for Trump in 2016 has been reversed. Democrats not only won back the House; they also won the popular vote for the Senate by a very wide margin: 45,074,822 to 32,914,031.
One factor in this election is the rise of Millennials—for the first time comprising the largest bloc of eligible voters. If we account for the fact that three generations after the Baby Boom (Generation X, Millennials, and post-Millennials) are now voting, it is clear the Republican Party will be changed by demographics in coming elections.
Already, it is clear Republican, conservative and “family values” support for same-sex marriage has shifted. The rising GenX-Millennial tide will consolidate other changes as well in coming elections, putting candidates who depend on anti-immigrant zeal or NRA talking points at a decisive disadvantage.
Much of what Trumpian extremists fear, young conservatives see as common sense.
What is not clear is whether Trump will allow his party to learn this lesson. He recently said if Democrats take over the House he will “just figure it out.” To some, that suggests an unabashed change in political strategy might follow; to others, it was just something he said, and he will likely leverage his most vicious tendencies to carve out a wedge of hyper-partisan territory he feels protects him.
From the vantage point of Minnesota, yesterday was a day of inspired political engagement. Not only was there record early voting, but people were streaming into polling stations all day long. Despite snow and sleet, and a chilly wind, citizens diligently walked their way to voting precincts to make sure their voice and moral judgment were part of the process.
Minnesota Governor-elect Tim Walz became the first Democrat to succeed a Democrat as Governor in state history. Peggy Flanagan, elected Lieutenant Governor of Minnesota yesterday, is the first Native American woman elected to an executive office in American history.
Walz praised his Republican opponents for running an honorable campaign focused on issues. He said Jeff Johnson loves the state and honestly seeks the wellbeing of its people and that politics done right is a dignified contest between competing visions. He promised a “One Minnesota” political culture—where people of differing views can work together, through open civics, at all levels.
The 2018 midterm elections were a breakthrough moment, but not in the way headlines and soundbites suggest. Yes, Nancy Pelosi will likely “take the gavel”, and so the House of Representatives will be a counterweight to President Trump’s politics of racist apologetics and open corruption. But, American voters did something less obvious and more powerful yesterday:
- We declared our determination that this government be led by, and be accountable to, the people.
- We voted for a politics of clear-headed creative problem-solving, inclusion, and forthright service to one another.
- And, we went on record to say that, while fear and hate can sow division, they cannot win the national argument.