Reasons for Optimism
The Democrats may not hold onto Congress, but there was plenty of positivity this week nonetheless. Here's why.
Let’s get this out of the way first: The Republicans are probably going to take over the House, which will mean a sour flood of investigations, impeachments and other attention-grabbing wastes of valuable time. Kevin McCarthy will be spouting off (inanely) as the likely Speaker of the House. We’ll have to survive at least two more years of klieg-light extremists such as Marjorie Taylor Greene, Lauren Boebert (who as I’m writing has slipped ahead in her race) and Jim Jordan in the House majority. It also looks like over 150 election deniers were elected, reminding us that the conspiratorial, fact-free fever hasn’t altogether broken.
And, as Americans, we’ll have to live with the embarrassing fact that nearly 2 million of our fellow countrymen and women in Georgia voted to insert the manifestly unfit Herschel Walker into the US Senate, even if he’s likely to lose to Raphael Warnock in a runoff next month. Then there’s the big loss of the talented Val Demings for senator and the big win of gubernatorial bullyboy Ron DeSantis, raising serious doubts about the prospects for Democrats to crack this increasingly red state. (If you haven’t watched DeSantis’ delusional, christofascist, perversely hypnotic “God Made a Fighter” ad, you’re in for a crazy treat.)
All this is true. But what’s also true is that—despite some pollsters and GOP fantasists envisioning a red wave at the scale of Barrack Obama losing 63 House seats in 2010—three days after the midterm elections it’s still not certain the Republicans will take the majority; and, assuming they do, they’re likely to have a single-digit margin, which means Kevin McCarthy will have quite a time wrangling his party’s hot-headed, over-reaching extremists singularly focused on grabbing the spotlight. I’m not saying it won’t be ugly, just that they can’t count on a massive adoring public applauding their every move.
Yet despite the victory of far too many election deniers, these midterms do make me feel like the high fever that makes people not think straight may be abating—that maybe losses by extremists like Pennsylvania’s Doug Mastriano and New York’s Lee Zeldin suggest a meaningful swath of the public does not want a future defined by cruelty and chaos and Trump, that maybe the failure of their party to wrack up huge wins in Congress suggests they have fresh reason to doubt “We, the People” only refers to their followers. In short? The midterm outcomes—that is, those that are known and knowable so far—have made me feel a bit calmer and more optimistic. Here are a few reasons to help explain why.
Multiple exit polls found that a strong majority of young people aged 18 to 29 supported Democrats, as did a small majority of independents (a rarity in the midterms when they typically favor the president’s opposition party). Despite the fear that abortion as an issue had cooled, the right to an abortion nearly equaled inflation in its import to voters; this was confirmed by five ballot proposals involving women’s reproductive freedom, including Kentucky, Vermont, Michigan, Montana and California.
Most significantly, it’s likely that the Democrats will hold onto their majority in the US Senate and possibly increase their majority by one and end their reliance on VP Kamala Harris to break a 50-50 tie. The Senate pickup in Pennsylvania by John Fetterman over TV doctor Mehmet Oz was both a touching expression of a public’s ability to see beyond his current struggles from stroke, as well as a powerful illustration of how authenticity and character still matter. Let’s see what happens in still undecided races in Arizona, Nevada and Georgia.
The Democrats held onto the governors’ offices in New York (Kathy Hochul), Michigan (Gretchen Whitmer) and Wisconsin (Tony Evers) against pro-Trump election deniers. They also picked up governorships with history-making candidates in Maryland (Wes Moore, the first African American to hold the office) and Massachusetts (Maura Healy, the first woman and first openly lesbian). They were less successful in Texas, Florida, Georgia and Arkansas, but I would suggest a national-level star was born with the strong win of Josh Shapiro in Pennsylvania.
The Arizona race remains undecided. The fact that—at this writing—Katie Hobbs is still in a tight lead over the dangerously nasty Kari Lake tells me that there are plenty of people who don’t want to suffer through four years of grievance-laden, blame-minded, camera-ready hostility, especially on display now as Lake hypes new conspiracies of fraud. “This election will be determined by the voters,” Hobbs tweeted yesterday, “not by the volume at which an unhinged former television reporter can shout conspiracy theories.” Hobbs may still lose, but even that outcome may be offset by the failure of election deniers for Senator, Attorney General and Secretary of State to take power and push their anti-democratic, Trump-fueled future.
Which brings me to the impact of the midterms on the likely once-and-done White House occupant. Lest we ever forget how untethered from sanity Donald Trump is, the day before the midterms he told a cheering crowd at a rally for Ohio senate candidate J.D. Vance that he backs two-hour trials for drug dealers swiftly followed by executions—just like they do in China, he said with admiration. Yes, his senate candidate Vance beat Tim Ryan in deeply red Ohio, but the failure of many of his loyal endorsees around the country did not—spurring a full-throated rejection of Trump by Murdoch-owned publications and promising an increasingly hostile welcome should he still plan on soon announcing another run. “Trumpty Dumpty,” headlined the New York Post. “Don (who couldn’t build a great wall) had a great fall—can all the GOP’s men put the party back together again?” And then this knife thrusting by John Podhoretz in his op-ed inside:
After three straight national tallies in which either he or his party or both were hammered by the national electorate, it’s time for even his stans to accept the truth: Toxic Trump is the political equivalent of a can of Raid. What Tuesday night’s results suggest is that Trump is perhaps the most profound vote repellant in modern American history. The surest way to lose in these midterms was to be a politician endorsed by Trump.
And it wasn’t just Murdoch’s down-market Post pushing this theme. Here’s how the Wall Street Journal piled on in the headline by its editorial board: ”Trump Is the Republican Party’s Biggest Loser: He has now flopped in 2018, 2020, 2021 and 2022.” As their editorial notes, “Trumpy candidates failed at the ballot box in states that were clearly winnable. This can’t be what Mr. Trump was envisioning ahead of his ‘very big announcement’ next week.”
At this point, I suspect it won’t be just Democrats cheering the arrival of indictments to further crack the pedestal of the GOP’s presumed leader. Former House Speaker Paul Ryan weighed in by saying the midterms suffered from a “Trump hangover” and called Trump “a drag on the ticket.” Said another Trump adviser, “Republicans have followed Trump off the side of a cliff.” And the response from the Malignant One? He was busy spreading blame to those who advised him to endorse bad candidates.
It may seem strange to tally the likely loss of the House by the Democrats and all that that portends for the next two years as a win. But after all the teeth-gnashing by Democrats—exacerbated by red wave-swearing polls, habitual doubt and historic trends—there has been a decidedly upbeat attitude since Tuesday.
“It was a good day, I think, for democracy,” President Biden said on Wednesday. “While any seat lost is painful…Democrats had a strong night. And we lost fewer seats in the House of Representatives than any Democratic president’s first midterm election in the last 40 years. We had the best midterm for governors since 1986.”
We’ll see how long the positivity lingers, especially once the final tallies are made and if the hard slog of governing as a minority party becomes a reality. But for now, there are reasons for optimism.
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