Election 2018 has come and gone. I had predicted that the Republicans would keep Congress. We lost the House, although Fox News’ perverse decision to call the House election so quickly rankled many, including me. How could they have possibly determined that West Coast targeted House seats would fall into the Democratic camp, when the polls had not even closed?
At least we kept the US Senate. I had hoped for a much wider margin of victory, but that didn’t happen either. Montanans voted for Tester—again! What is it with these Big Sky State voters? At least Paul Gianforte won re-election, although the margin was a little too close.
The Republican Party did manage to defy history. Remember that in 2010, a similar year to compare with 2018, Republicans gained six seats, adding the stunning special election upset in Massachusetts with Scott Brown of Wrentham.
The Democratic takeover of the House of Representatives remains a stunner. I had really expected that we would stave off hard losses, aside from a handful of states which have gotten bluer as conservative voters flee to red-state climes. California is the epicenter for this internal mass migration, sure, but even then I thought that the extra attention from the national party would make up the difference.
And yet so many House seats went blue this time, and in Orange County, California, the reddest county in California and even the country. Congressman Dana Rohrabacher, a long-standing conservative stalwart (who also represented me in Congress in the late 1980s) was swept out by a thin margin, along with House GOP Conference Chair Mimi Walters, Steve Knight, and Jeff Denham (in the Central Valley). If the incoming provisional ballots foretell anything, it looks like David Valadao is toast, too. Lord have mercy, Republicans were already an endangered species. Now we are on the “Where’s Waldo?” List.
Oh brother, what happened?
First, before going into the bad news, and there’s plenty, let’s consider that the final tally stands at 234 Democrats to 201 Republicans. Remember back to 2010, and Democrats lost all of their House seat gains from 2006 and 2008 in one fell sweep. The Democratic margin of victory was not as strong, even though they spent multi-millions in targeted races. $30 million flooded Orange County airwaves. The media market covers Southern California, from Ventura to Orange County, all the way to the Inland Empire.
Let’s not neglect that even where US Senate candidates lost, their margins were closer than expected. In Michigan, Debbie Stabenow had to debate her opponent, and she still won by 52%. Ohio’s Sherrod Brown barely held on, too. Republicans are making gains in these swing states. And let’s not forget Florida. US Senator Scott along with Governor Ron DeSantis signal more Trump-like victories down the road. All told, Republicans held onto key governorships: Florida, Georgia, Ohio, and Iowa, all in preparation for 2020, including GOP trifectas, too! Even if the federal delegations took a hit, the state delegations remain strong. In Wisconsin, Governor Walker lost, but the legislature remains in Republican hands.
Big money flipped seats, but a number of close-margin Congressional victories in red states (South Carolina, Iowa, Kansas, Oklahoma, Utah) spell trouble for Democrats in 2020. Nancy Pelosi is unpopular, and the bare minimum of Democrats have voiced opposition to stave off her coronation next year.
Now for the reality check: 2018 was a failure for the Republicans at the popular level, and they need to assess, regroup, and regain.
1. The Republican National Committee threw a lot of investment into Orange County, CA. Why weren’t they paying closer attention sooner? The House reps had won by comfortable margins in 2014 and 2016. Congressman Darrell Issa didn’t even campaign in 2014. However, in the 2016 June primary the former House Committee Oversight Chairman held a thin 51% margin. Not good. The alarm bells should have been going off not just for that election cycle, but for two years afterwards. If Orange County was trending blue—and so quickly—where were the forces to stave it off?
2. Speaking of forces: where is the voter registration? In California, it’s next to non-existent, and it shows, with Decline-To-State voters surpassing GOP registration by 1 million voters. What about in other states? Do we have national Republican leaders who have given up on this very simple yet necessary task?
3. Voter Fraud! There is no way that tutu-wearing terrorist sympathizer Kyrsten Sinema would have carried off such a close upset in Maricopa County, Arizona while the rest of the state voted for other statewide Republican candidates by wide margins. Nevada, Florida, and California need thorough voter fraud investigations—and voter ID is not enough to combat this corruption.
4. Anti-Trumpism in blue states requires a strong counter-argument, not a vapid retreat. The path to regaining the House of Representatives in 2020 includes suburban areas, especially in blue states. New Jersey’s delegation has gone from five Republicans to just one. This is inexcusable. Illinois voters threw out one Republican, but at least Trump worked hard enough to help Southern Illinois incumbents like Mike Bost. Does Trump want to win forty states or not?
5. Red State House losses: Mia Love spent more time sparring with President Trump than paying attention to her own district. Kevin Yoder did the bidding of Big Business rather than the voters. Mark Sanford’s loss was Never-Trumpism at its worst. His replacement needed to do more than simply say “Trump endorsed me”, but the tragic car accident she endured marred her campaign. Mike Coffman was getting more liberal by the minute, and that didn’t help him.
6. The suburbs! President Trump’s agenda is helping working Americans. Great. There are plenty of upwardly mobile suburban voters that need to know that the President has their back, too.
The losses could have been worse, but it’s not good to lose. Republicans need to do more than coast on Trump’s coattails or run from him if they want substantial victories in 2020.