While I was sitting in my election headquarters, all decked out with my projector screen and multiple computers to monitor results on Nov. 6, it seemed the blue wave would fizzle. The first few races coming in, from Kentucky and Indiana, all pointed to multiple pickups for the Republican Party (GOP) in the Senate and minimal House losses.
For Republicans, doomsday was not going to come.
I waited a while before giving my opinion — there were several important races that hadn’t been called and a Florida recount that was drawing all kinds of attention. And I’m glad I waited because that original prediction of minimal GOP losses couldn’t be further from the truth.
As of Thanksgiving, the Democrats had gained 38 seats in the House — barely above average for a first-year midterm gain of an out-of-power party. The Democrats won the House popular vote by the largest margin in a midterm election since Watergate.
And it isn’t just the House that Democrats are cheering over. Democrats picked up governor’s mansions in seven states, including Michigan, Wisconsin and Kansas, all states won by Trump in 2016. Hundreds of state legislative seats across the country flipped into Democrats’ hands, an understated but huge win for them.
While the Senate may look better numerically, there is a flashing warning sign for Republicans in 2020 and beyond: We are a party in crisis. And I have only one answer as to who is to blame: President Donald Trump.
For those who didn’t know me during the 2016 election or didn’t read the Octagon articles in which I was interviewed about the election, I strongly supported Trump, but only because Hillary Clinton was on the ballot for the Democrats and a Supreme Court seat was on the line.
But now Republicans need to look at 2018 with open eyes and a clear brain because there is a lot to panic about.
First, the gender gap is very worrisome. According to CNN exit polling, Republicans nationwide received 51 percent of the male vote while Democrats got 47 percent. Democrats won women by a whopping 59 percent to the GOP’s 40 percent. That is a gender gap the size of the Grand Canyon! And for Republicans, it is an unsustainable gap.
Second, suburbia is abandoning the GOP. Of the 38 seats picked up by Democrats in the House, 34 were suburban seats — and not just suburbs in liberal cities like New York, Chicago and Washington D.C., but also in very red states like Texas and Oklahoma. There will be no Republican representative in the House from Orange County for the first time since the Great Depression. Orange County, once considered a bastion of modern-day conservatism, shows the massive suburban shift occurring in favor of the Democrats.
The suburbs are where all elections, from city council to the presidency, are decided. And Democrats won them in a landslide. 2018 wasn’t a big national wave like 1994 or 2010, when Republicans picked up 54 and 63 seats, respectively, but it was still a suburban tsunami.
Third, the states where Senate seats changed hands show the parties’ future. The Cook Political Report released a two-part article headlined “Geography is Destiny.” It couldn’t be more right. The Republicans picked up Senate seats in Missouri, North Dakota and Indiana, states that voted “bigly” for Trump and have been reliably Republican. Democrats picked up GOP-held seats in Nevada and Arizona.
The states I mentioned as GOP pickups for the Senate are rural, smaller and not growing. Their electoral power isn’t growing or changing anytime soon, or, at least, not in the foreseeable future. Nevada and Arizona, however, are increasingly Hispanic, diverse and growing, the same track the entire nation is on. Democrats won in states that will define America’s future and look more like the demographic makeup that the U.S. will have in just a few years.
Democrats, while losing ground in the Senate in the short term, are winning long term.
Florida was the exception in 2018; the large and incredibly important swing state elected a GOP governor and kicked out its long-serving senator for a Republican. Both those races needed a recount because the margins were so close. While Trump is more popular there than in other swing states, it was still razor thin, and Republicans shouldn’t start taking Florida — or its 29 electoral votes in the presidential election — for granted.
Now, why is Trump to blame? The GOP has dealt with many of these problems before, right? That is true. The party has been losing ground among women for years. The same is true of Hispanics, African-Americans and younger voters. Everyone watching the demographic shifts in states like Arizona and Texas shouldn’t be surprised that, eventually, they would be put into play for Democrats.
Trump is a catalyst. Not only did he do more to isolate women, Hispanics and younger voters from the party, he created a toxic environment that has caused many of the GOP’s most reliable voters — white, upper-class, suburban — to support Democrats. Trump is not fully to blame, just mostly to blame. And the new generation of Republican leaders who could pave the way for a new and more sustainable Republican majority have been kicked out because the president wants to keep tweeting.
Any other Republican president with the economy doing so well could easily do much better than Trump did in terms of campaigning. 2018 was a referendum on Trump, and he lost. Don’t let anyone tell you differently.
Taking all this into consideration and analyzing where the parties won and lost, what kinds of candidates won and lost, and where it could all lead in the future, I have drawn up a very early 2020 projection that shows some good news for Democrats and anyone wanting to see Trump be a one-term president:
These are some questionable calls, what with Georgia and Arizona in the toss-up column and Texas now joining the battleground, but I feel confident in defending these early projections. But yet again, I stress the presidential election is very different, and the dynamics of the race can change from just a governor or Senate election. And as we have seen over the last few years, Trump is quite unpredictable and, I guarantee, still full of surprises.
—By Blake Lincoln