What We Already Know From The 2018 Election
Regardless of the outcome of next Tuesday’s elections, we have already learned plenty about each party in the run-up to the midterms. Primarily, it is now irrefutable that the Republican party has been fully transformed into a white nationalist party, tinged with fascist tendencies, and they will do anything and everything, legal or otherwise, to maintain their grip on power. On the other hand, the Democratic party is being energized by a new generation of candidates who are far more reflective of the party’s base than ever.
Trump’s closing message, largely adopted by most GOP candidates, has been a broadside of racism and xenophobia. The focus on the mythical “caravan invasion” has received the usual verbal tut-tuts from Republican has-beens like Flake and Corker but no real pushback from any element of the Republican party. The same can be said about Trump’s threat to birthright citizenship and the deployment of the military for purely political purposes with orders to commit war crimes at a potential cost of $200 million. The vaunted GOP tax cut has been received so poorly that Trump was forced to announce another mythical 10% middle class tax cut that he would institute by executive order before the election. The absurdity of this lie only highlighted that fact that Republicans really had nothing to run on but fear and racism.
Remarkably, but yet unsurprisingly, the media has managed to cover this racist barrage poorly in two ways. First, despite the fact that this fictional “invasion” is literally hundreds of miles from our border, has already dwindled in size by over half, and is expected to further diminish to a few hundred by the time it reaches the US border weeks from now, the media has still provided the wall-to-wall coverage on the so-called “caravan” that Trump desires. Similarly, Trump’s equally absurd promise to amend the US Constitution by executive order in order to revoke birthright citizenship also generated numerous stories about the whether that right could be obliterated without a Constitutional amendment, rather than bringing the focus on the dictatorial nature of Trump’s threatened use of executive orders that one would normally expect. This orgy of Trump-directed coverage was only briefly interrupted by the largest mass political assassination attempt in US history and the deadliest attack on Jews in US history. Both of these incidents were carried out by men who were steeped in the racist and anti-Semitic rhetoric from Trump, the GOP, and the alt-right.
Yet, despite willingly following Trump down those rabbit holes, the actual impossibility of Trump’s claims also forced the pundit class to declare that Trump was merely trying to motivate his base and that these issues would disappear after the election. That, too, is a mistake. Yes, the “caravan” story will disappear, just like the Ebola scare in 2014. But Trump’s and the GOP’s racism and xenophobia will continue well beyond the election. Stephen Miller admitted as much in an interview with Mackay Coppins, saying that in 2016 Trump had promised to “enforce an extremely tough immigration policy, crack down on illegal immigration, deport people who were here illegally, improve our vetting and screening, and all these other things. And many people replied to that by voting for Donald Trump”. As Coppins writes, “[R]egardless of what happens on Election Day, Miller and his nativist allies in the GOP aren’t about to let up. For them, this isn’t a ‘closing argument’—it’s just the beginning”. Lindsey Graham will introduce a bill to revoke birthright citizenship. There will be a new family separation policy or another challenge to the Flores agreement. Trump will continue to attempt to restrict asylum claims and his assault on both legal and undocumented immigrants. And he will continue to use the military as props for his political ambitions. He’s being doing that before and since he became elected and there is no reason for him to stop now. The only real question is how far he can force the military to go in order to achieve his political goals.
It is also noteworthy that Trump is primarily campaigning in states with contested Senate races and largely eschewing House districts. That not only tells us something about the state of the House contest but also highlights the fact that Trump desperately needs the GOP to hold the Senate, especially if Democrats take the House. A unified, Democratic Congress will set the policy agenda and make it far more difficult to rail against Democratic obstruction in the House. In addition, a GOP-controlled Senate provides the firewall that Trump needs to protect against legislation that might effect his business and guarantee he will not be impeached. Since the GOP in both houses of Congress will probably be even more extreme after the election, a GOP-controlled Senate will give Trump and the party a platform to attack Democrats and continue the racist, xenophobic policies that Trump believes will be key to this 2020 re-election. That heightened rhetoric and vitriol will surely also mean continued atrocities like the massacre in Pittsburgh and more attempts to assassinate Trump opponents.
Of course, the GOP’s racism extends to the extensive voter suppression efforts around the country. From targeting Native Americans in North Dakota to voter purges in Georgia, Ohio, and elsewhere to Brian Kemp’s exact match rejections and poll closures that targeted African-Americans to restricting Hispanics’ ability to vote in Dodge City, Kansas by moving the single polling station out of town to New Hampshire’s requirement of permanent residence, essentially a poll tax, that targets college students, Republican voter suppression efforts clearly and directly target Democratic voters with precision. Although some of these restrictions have been successfully challenged in court, it is also clear that the Supreme Court has no inclination to protect every citizens’ right to vote and GOP-dominated courts are selectively applying the law in order to enhance that voter suppression activity. This, too, will continue long after the election where still possible, simply because Trump and the party know this is the only way they can win in 2020.
Secondly, but of no less import, is what we have learned about Democrats in this cycle. The party is clearly being infused with loads of young, dynamic talent, especially minorities and women. In the South, candidates like Andrew Gillum, Stacey Abrams, and Amy McGrath are reshaping the electoral landscape. Progressives like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ayanna Pressley have ousted their older white colleagues in primaries. Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar are set to become the first two Muslim women in Congress and Deb Haaland the first Native American woman. Democrats are in hotly contesting governors’ races across the industrial Midwest that could have a real impact on 2020 redistricting and the party is back to engaging in a 50-state strategy again.
We saw something similar in the Virginia elections last year when dynamic young candidates of all descriptions nearly helped Democrats win back the House of Delegates. In other words, the party is starting to look more like its base of voters and that bodes well for the future. The pundits can still whine about there being no Democratic leader but that will resolve itself after these elections. More importantly, the bench for the future looks both deep and bright. Now, obviously, winning elections is what will really propel these new young leaders forward and that is the task at hand.
Finally, in 2016, Trump closed his campaign with an explicitly anti-Semitic message and is closing this midterm campaign with an explicitly racist ad that, unsurprisingly, was also not factual. Many GOP candidates around the country and even the national party apparatus are engaging in the same tactic. Considering that Trump’s support still vacillates around the 40% mark, I think we can finally put the theory that “economic anxiety” was the key to his victory in 2016. And we can also agree that Hillary Clinton’s description of the Trump base as “deplorables” was accurate if perhaps impolitic. And, if, as anticipated, the educated suburban women abandon the GOP on Tuesday, then I think we also have an idea of how important the media’s obsession with EMAILS! and James Comey’s violations of DOJ rules actually were in 2016.
For the first time in a long time, Democrats actually feel like they are on offense and the GOP is the one in purely defensive mode. Part of that, of course, is the freedom of having no actual power and the nature of being in opposition. But Democrats have a record to run on with health care and these new candidates have an expansive and inclusive message. As I’ve written many times before, the GOP is a shriveling, minority party that controls the White House and Congress, despite winning a minority of the total votes for president, the House, and Senate, because of the serious flaws in our electoral system. Now led by a demagogue and a despot who has shown little regard for our Constitution and the laws of the land, the party relies on fear, racism, lies, and suppression as its strategy to win elections. As we have seen, those are powerful forces. On Tuesday, we will find out if they can be overcome by the renewed strength of a revived Democratic party.