Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Brief, belated election thoughts

The much-anticipated midterm elections were two weeks ago tonight; I haven't had the time to write about them until now (which is okay, considering how many close races there were that took a couple of weeks to call). I have a few thoughts:
  • The most surprising thing about this election was how unsurprising it turned out to be. The Democrats were overwhelmingly favored to retake control of the House of Representatives, while the Republicans were heavy favorites to retain control of the Senate. There might have a few individual races that raised eyebrows, but the overall results were accurately predicted by pollsters and pundits alike many months ago.
  • Even though they managed to retain control of the Senate (and, indeed, pad their margin by a couple of seats), this was not a good election for the Republican Party and Donald Trump. They lost the House of Representatives, which will be under Democratic control for the first time in eight years and which will spend the next two years aggressively investigating the myriad transgressions of the Trump administration. Taking back the House was the Democrats’ primary goal of the 2018 midterms, and they did it with several seats to spare (they needed to flip 23 seats for a majority; now that most of the votes have been counted, it looks like they picked up 39). Many of these flipped seats were suburban districts that were formerly reliably Republican, but which have been trending Democratic as the Republican Party, under Trump, hemorrhages college-educated white voters and is increasingly reliant on blue-collar, rural whites for its base of support. Given the nation’s evolving demographic profile, that’s probably not a recipe for long-term success.
  • Furthermore, although the Republicans picked up (barring a miracle in the upcoming Mississippi Senate run-off) two Senate seats, they really could have done even better, considering the mix of states that were in play. They weren’t able to flip seats in deep-red states such as Montana and West Virginia, nor were they able to claim Senate races in the Midwestern states that were the key to Trump’s victory in 2016: Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. Arizona, furthermore, elected a Democratic Senator for the first time since 1976. Even here in Texas, Beto O'Rourke lost to Ted Cruz by a mere 2.6 percentage points (Cruz won his 2012 Senate race by about 16 points).
  • Republicans also lost 7 governorships and control of six state legislative chambers, a byproduct of flipping about 350 state legislative races nationwide. Three (very red) states also voted to expand Medicaid, which is a cornerstone of Obamacare (which itself is safe from repeal for at least the next two years, by virtue of the Democrats controlling the House). To reiterate: this was not a good election for the Republican Party. 
  • Does Beto O'Rourke's close performance mean that Texas is now a purple state? I don't know if I agree with that - Republicans still won all the statewide races and maintain solid control of the legislature - but he had some coattails: two US House states, a dozen state house seats, two state senate seats and innumerable county positions flipped from red to blue. O'Rourke shifted the map in Texas; time will tell if this is a one-off blip or a sign of things to come (if it's the latter, the Republicans are in big trouble).
  • One of the House seats that flipped was my own - the 7th Congressional District - where John Culberson was booted from office by Lizzie Parnell Fletcher. I was not a fan of Culberson; aside from showing little leadership when it came to the city’s flooding uses, he was a staunch opponent of mass transit along Richmond Avenue and used federal lawmaking processes to circumvent what should have been a local process in deciding where high-capacity transit lines should go. That may change now that Fletcher will represent the district, but a lot will depend on voter approval of the long-range transit plan METRO is currently preparing. 
  • Texas might not be a swing state yet, but Harris County has become a Democratic stronghold. Democratic candidates swept all of the county races two weeks ago. One casualty of this wipeout was Harris County Judge Ed Emmett, who lost his seat to a 27-year-old law school student and community activist with no political experience. I hope Lena Hidalgo is a quick learner, as it is inevitable that this county will experience another major flooding event on her watch. (One also wonders why the Harris County Democratic establishment did not anticipate the possibility of a wave election last spring and run a more qualified candidate in the primary, but that’s a discussion for a different day.) 
  • Donald Trump is still an authoritarian, a narcissist, a pathological liar, and an all-around piece of shit. Don't expect the results of this election to cause him to "change" in fact, expect him to become more aggressive and erratic now that he knows he's in trouble.
  • Midterm election results are not predictive of subsequent presidential election results - Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama all suffered significant losses midway through their first terms but were easily re-elected two years later. That being said, these results do indicate that Trump's base alone cannot carry him to re-election.
I'll end that note. I really don't want to think about 2020 just yet.

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