I’m going to start this morning with an email from TPM Reader JF. It’s a deeply pessimistic look at last night’s results. I thoroughly disagree with it. I’m publishing it partly because I like JF and like sharing a range of reader opinions but more because it’s a good statement of the view I disagree with. So it’s helpful to put out there as a clear, smart statement of the take I disagree with.
I’m going to be sharing my thoughts and argument in different posts over the course of the day. But principally, this was never going to be easy. We shouldn’t expect it to be easy. The disgrace of the Trump presidency is still in many ways a historical accident. But Trumpism is not. It grows out of beliefs and structures that are deeply rooted in our history and rife in our present. Democrats don’t just need to win elections. They need to build an electoral movement and political infrastructure that will change the shape of the electorate over time and rewrite the rules of the political structure itself.
Millions more Americans voted for Hillary Clinton to be President two years ago than Donald Trump. The total vote for the House will likely be an aggregate total as large or larger than any wave election in the last 30 years. And yet they’ll end up with a relatively modest majority. These facts are deeply embedded in geography and constitutional structure. They will very hard to change. But a critical task of Democrats going forward will be to delegitimize an electoral system that consistently produces such results. In a 21st century democracy, the majority should not be routinely denied the greater share of political power. This is not merely something to grouse about for the few weeks after election day. It is a sustained argument, one that must leverage the deepest strains of American democratic ideology. That will lay the predicate for new rule making. That is not unprecedented in American history. It is a recurrent, historic pattern of reform.
We’re still waiting for a lot of results. But Democrats made significant inroads on all the down ticket fronts that are most critical. That’s a big deal. But it’s just the first step.
When I look at last night’s results, tough Senate losses aren’t the big concern for me. It’s embedding what happened in this midterm into structures and institutions, party organizations, civic groups, political entities that can perpetuate these beginnings over time. Our entire experience politically over the last quarter century is that politics is not about ‘one and dones’. It’s what is getting built between cycles and over the course of multiple years.
With all that, he’s JF’s more dire take …
I get looking on the bright side. Losing the house would have been a disaster, perhaps the end of our democracy. And there were some fun wins throughout the night (Walker losing). And the ballot measure results were very encouraging. We may need to have national ballot measures as the only way anything will get done in our country.
But let’s face reality. Last night was a very bad night. In past Democratic losses, there was always blame to go around (Hillary didn’t visit Wisconsin, poor turnout). This time, I think the Democrats ran an excellent campaign. The climate for the country seemed ripe for change. Turnout was great. If we can’t win now, with someone as inept as Trump as president, when can we win?
And we didn’t win. The red state senate losses were devastating. We are seeing a sorting of red states where they will only elect republican senators, no matter how good the democratic candidate (McCaskil, Tester). That means the senate is lost for generations. The Republican Coalition is now left with the worst of the worst. The takeaway for them will be that Trump’s brand of divisive / white nationalist politics works. And because of tribalism, the rural areas will be lead by these remaining republicans to embrace this racism. Our courts will be filled with republican judges reshaping our law. In Florida, a republican governor will reshape their Supreme Court. Ohio became more red than a swing state. How can the Arizona senate race even be close, let alone a likely loss? Structurally, I see little hope for our country.