Democrats convincingly won the 2018 midterm elections, though it was not as big of a wave election as some liberals had hoped. Just as in 2016, the polls were badly wrong in a number of states, particularly Indiana and Florida, where Democrats lost tough races they were predicted to win.
Nevertheless, it was a solid victory — and a clear repudiation of the odious politics of the Republican Party. The Democrats have taken control of the House of Representatives with an estimated 7-point popular vote margin and won a number of key structural races at the state level. Michigan will now have automatic voter registration and nonpartisan redistricting, while Florida will re-enfranchise some 1.4 million ex-felons, just for starters.
As I wrote before the polls closed, the most important thing to keep in mind about this election is that Republicans had massive structural advantages at every level. For one, this is a midterm election, which heavily favors the older, whiter Republican electorate, as seen in the 2010 and 2014 results. (Stated differently, there was no high-profile presidential candidate at the top of the ticket to drive up turnout among young people and minorities). For another, the economy — which is historically the strongest driver behind electoral outcomes — is doing better than it has done in at least a decade and perhaps 20 years.
In the House, Republicans have gerrymandered themselves to a roughly 5- to 6-point handicap in raw vote terms. And in the Senate, the Democrats were facing the worst map in at least two decades, with a large proportion of their caucus up for re-election and those elections happening to take place in states Trump won.
Finally, in many states Republicans flagrantly cheated in addition to their gerrymandering. In North Dakota, they deliberately tried to disenfranchise a huge fraction of the Native American population with Jim Crow tactics. In Georgia, the Republican gubernatorial candidate who was also overseeing his own election tried dirty tricks out of the Tayyip Erdoğan handbook to keep Democrats from voting. And still, the GOP lost control of the House.
Properly considered, this was a stark rebuke of the Republican Party and President Trump, which had pushed almost all their political chips onto the bigotry square over the last few weeks. During the campaign, they barely mentioned their only major policy accomplishment, their giant tax cut for the rich. They flagrantly lied about their only other attempted policy: the repeated efforts to repeal ObamaCare, which would snatch coverage for tens of millions of people and badly weaken protections for pre-existing conditions. Trump as usual summed up the ridiculous Republican pretzel logic by saying "the Democrat plan would obliterate ObamaCare" at a rally this week.
Instead they based their campaign on lies that a group of bedraggled refugees are mostly gang assassins and ISIS terrorists, lies that all Latino immigrants are grinning cop murderers — in an ad so racist even Fox News pulled it off the air — lies about Democrats somehow shipping jobs to North Korea, flagrant anti-Semitism, and on and on.
It's an open question whether this was a considered strategy, a desperate Hail Mary pass, simply the only place they had to go politically, or just the state of the Republican id in 2018. Nevertheless, it did not work.
In a democracy, there is naturally a tendency to conclude that the public must generally agree with whatever the ruling party espouses. In most cases, that is not a strictly fair conclusion — just witness Brazil, where the far-right candidate won because the far more popular lefty candidate was locked up in jail — but at the same time, if a country is even nominally democratic, the actions, rhetoric, and beliefs of the government do bear on how the public votes to some degree.
This election is a clear demonstration that the Republican Party and its leader Donald Trump are badly out of step with the mainstream of American society. Polls have already demonstrated that many of its policy views are extremely unpopular, but talking to a pollster is a considerably different proposition than casting a vote for someone who will exercise political power. On Tuesday we saw that a sizable majority of the American public was willing to put their votes where their mouths are.
In this election, the Republican Party competed on some of the most favorable terrain it is likely to have over the next several cycles. The 2020 election year will see President Trump on the ballot, an extremely difficult Senate map for Republicans, several more states that are not under full GOP control, and quite possibly a much less favorable economic environment.
A battle has been won, and the next might win the war.