Blue State Blues: The Day After the 2018 Midterm Elections

Nancy Pelosi gavel (Chip Somodevilla / Getty)
Chip Somodevilla / Getty

Two months from today, we will be analyzing the results of the 2018 midterm elections, the day after.

Most likely, we are told, Democrats will have won the 23 House seats they need to put Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) back in the Speaker’s chair, and will hail their victory as a rejection of President Donald Trump.

Alternatively, Republicans could keep the majority in both houses, and Trump will claim a renewed mandate.

Whichever side loses will be forced to ask itself why, and what it could have done differently.

If Democrats lose, the answer will seem obvious: the party should have dumped Pelosi. She has been a repeated target for Republicans, who have reminded voters that the last time Pelosi held the Speaker’s gavel, she forced Obamacare through Congress, explaining: “We have to pass the bill so that you can find out what is in it.”

Conversely, in every recent special election for the House that Democrats have won, their candidate has promised not to vote for Pelosi as Speaker.

Another explanation for Democrats’ loss will also be straightforward: the party went too far with the so-called “Resistance” and its policies. Instead of competing for the working-class votes it lost to Trump in 2016, and backing moderate, pro-growth policies, the party nominated radical candidates who rallied around such ridiculous policies as abolishing Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), creating government health care (i.e. “Medicare for All”), and impeaching President Trump.

Though the shift to the left motivated the party’s hard-core “progressive” base, it hurt Democrats in the swing districts where they needed to win

If Republicans lose, the answer will be more complicated.

Many will blame President Trump, whose policies have been very successful, but whose rhetoric has been consistently unpopular outside of his core supporters.

It is not clear that Republicans can do anything about that. He is certainly capable of more “presidential” conduct, but he will always strike back at his critics. That is who Donald J. Trump is — and, in his defense, it did not prevent him from being elected president in the first place. In fact, it probably helped him.

At this point, it is impossible to separate Trump’s policy successes from the rhetoric that has accompanied them. It is difficult to imagine, for example, that he could have brought North Korea to the negotiating table had he not threatened the Kim regime with “fire and fury.”

An analogy: drugs are bad, but the Beatles never would have written Sgt. Pepper’s without them.

However voters feel in 2018 about Trump’s style, history will judge him by his achievements.

Others, especially in the GOP’s conservative wing, will blame weak Republican leadership if the party loses.

Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) arguably gave up the fight earlier this year when he announced his retirement. Neither he nor anybody else presented the voters with a clear agenda for the next Congress.

With full control of Capitol Hill, the GOP only managed a partial repeal of Obamacare, and struggled to fund President Trump’s border wall. The party is leaderless and rudderless.

Yet ironically, that may have been the best strategy. By not fielding a clear candidate for Speaker, Republicans kept the focus on Pelosi. And while Democrats dominated the debate over issues, the policies their candidates rallied around (see above) are so radical and impractical that they motivated more Republicans to vote, saving at least some vulnerable seats.

Rather than Trump’s rhetoric or Republicans’ passivity, the most important factor in 2018 will likely turn out to have been the media — the constant, relentless assault on President Trump and his party.

The negative coverage of the Trump administration has no historical precedent. The most important component of that negative coverage has been a stupid conspiracy theory about Russian collusion for which no evidence has ever been found, despite two years of media (and deep state) efforts.

In addition, the tech giants who control social media and Internet searches have stifled conservatives’ ability to spread their message, and to fight back against attacks from the mainstream media and the left. As with the IRS scandal, which silenced conservative non-profit groups in advance of the 2012 presidential election, the damage of Silicon Valley censorship may only be apparent in retrospect.

Unless, of course, Republicans can rally and win against the odds — as they did in 2014 and 2016.

The polls are not usually wrong, but they make assumptions about what the electorate will look like, and those have often been inaccurate. Already, Republicans have outnumbered Democrats in key primary races — in Florida, in Arizona, and in six out of the seven California districts that Democrats are targeting to help Pelosi re-take the Speaker’s gavel.

The day after November 6, we might be, once again, analyzing the many ways the pollsters and the pundits missed badly, once again.

Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News. He is a winner of the 2018 Robert Novak Journalism Alumni Fellowship. He is also the co-author of How Trump Won: The Inside Story of a Revolution, which is available from Regnery. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.

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