So, what came out of the 2018 American Elections?
Saturday, December 8, 2018
by RICHARD E. BERG-ANDERSSON
A little over a month ago, as I now type this, the 2018 General Elections were held throughout the United States of America; by now, enough time has passed to allow for an at least somewhat more sober assessment of its effects on the American political landscape than that afforded by so-called 'instant analysis' in the immediate aftermath of the counting of the votes cast.
No-- I don't see this most recent General Election here in the United States as having been a so-called 'Blue Wave'...
Instead, I would much more call it (as I already have publicly via other media besides my own writing for this website) a case of Blue 'Coastal Flooding': a warning, perhaps, that the political "sea" is rising, and that the Great Houses of the Grand Old Party nestled within the "swale" behind the "dunes" are in ever graver danger as more and more of the Republican "beach" gets washed away and the protective "dune line" gets more and more exposed.
For 2018 was not the proverbial 'Sea Change' Election-- yet, all the same, it may well have heralded just such an election two years from now (depending, of course, on what might occur- within the realm of the Political- between now and Tuesday 3 November 2020).
And here is why I state that which I have just stated above:
There is a fair comparison to be made between this most recent Federal Election and that of a dozen years ago (which first allowed Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi [D-California] to emerge as the incoming Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives). Back in 2006, the Democrats gained a net of 31 House seats (as compared to the results of the 2004 General Election, the fairest way to compare such electoral results)- yes, well short of the net +41 the Party of the People picked up (so far [with North Carolina's 9th Congressional District still in no little legal limbo as this is being written up]) this time round, but still nothing to have sneezed at.
But, more to the point, the Democrats also picked up a net 7 United States Senate seats in that same 2006 Election, and the comparison with 2018 is most apt here because the same 33 Class 1 Senate seats were up for re-election to full six-year terms in the upper chamber of Congress back then as were this last time. This time round, as we now know, the Democrats lost a net 2 Senate seats (especially noteworthy, considering that- in the 2016 Congressional Elections concomitant with the election of Donald Trump as President- this was the same number of seats the Dems had picked up [to which they later would add Alabama's Class 2 Senate seat in a 2017 Special Election]).
Yes, as I myself said in my own Preview of this year's General Election: "bad luck with the timing" (in that, as I also therein noted, "there are not many Senate seats for Democrats to even try to pick off (assuming they even could) within the South in the first place!"); but this does not alter the fact that, unlike back in 2006, the Democrats failed to take control of the Senate.
Not that the Party of the People did all that badly, as regards the Senate, in this most recent election: a dozen years ago, the Democrats won 22 of the 33 Class 1 seats (leaving 9 to the GOP and 2 to Independents who would end up caucusing with the Dems); this time round, the breakdown re: Class 1 was 21-10-2 in favor of the Democrats. But, when we turn to this year's gubernatorial elections (while here well keeping in mind the late US House Speaker Tip O'Neill's dictum that "Politics is Local"), the Republicans reversed the same Governor's Chairs up for election as had also been up 12 years ago, winning 20 of the 36 Governor's Chairs contested in 2018 (back in 2006, it was the Democrats who had won 20 of these same 36).
Point is: 2018 actually produced something of a mixed bag-- "something for everyone"-- not so easily attributed to a certain Democratic upswing amongst the voters. No, instead, it will be 2020 that is more likely to end up sorting out the electoral, and hence political, relationship between the two Major Parties...
or will it?
Some political observers and commentators have opined that the Republican Party as we now know it may well be disappearing; much of this speculation goes back to even before President Trump was first elected (certainly dating back to when he first emerged as a likely GOP presidential nominee during the Spring of 2016), but it has ratcheted up some since the results of the 2018 Elections could first become clear. This thesis is based on a notion that the Grand Old Party is losing- even hemorrhaging- its more moderate supporters and politicians (those the more hard-core on the Right, in the event, decry as 'R I N O's [Republicans In Name Only]) and is, despite what we may refer to as 'the Trump Movement', shrinking in size.
It's not that either Conservativism (whether politicoeconomic, or sociocultural, or both) or Libertarianism themselves are at all disappearing as ideologies: just that the Republican Party, as an institution (as an engine of electoral contention), is slowly losing steam, much as a tire with a slow leak slowly going flat, even though one can still drive around locally on it and still hope to get back home-- or so this argument goes. However, many more (if not even most of those) within the Wonderful, Wacky World of Political Punditry tend to see this thesis as-- well-- wacky (and I myself am old enough to recall a magazine cover or two proclaiming 'The Death of the G O P' in the wake of the 1974 post-'Watergate' Midterm Elections [when, as we all now well know, a resurgent Republican Party was to elect Ronald Reagan President but six years later], hence my own skepticism about all this).
And yet, to be most fair, no one can really know the future (after all: could the Whigs preparing to [unsuccessfully, as things turned out] engage the opposing Democrats in the 1852 Presidential Election campaign have known that, within but a couple biennial election cycles, their own Party would become moribund, very soon thereafter being replaced as one of the two Major Parties by a new 'Republican' Party? A generation before, how would Federalists entering, albeit as a minority, the so-called 'Era of Good Feelings' during the Administration of President James Monroe even know that, within a decade, their Party would likewise disappear into the mists of History?); plus, the American Two-Party System has had, as its opposing anchorages, Major Parties labeled Democratic and Republican for some 160 years now...
just where is there any guarantee, merely given the above examples from American History itself, that just such a circumstance will last all that much longer-- let alone forever?
Taking note of the above, and in this regard, one can readily discern that- bubbling beneath the umbrellas of both aforementioned Major Parties here in the United States- there are now five main American Political groups- "quasi-Parties", if you will, more so than mere 'factions' or 'wings'; and these are (starting on the Left, before moving off to the Right, below):
The "Hard-Prog"s (meaning 'hard-core progressives'): a group primarly 'Social Democratic' in ideology (indeed, many of their detractors- along with quite a number of their own supporters- seem to actually prefer the term 'Democratic Socialist'), soon to be represented in Congress by such people as Representative-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Representative-elect Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts, Representative-elect Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, Representative-elect Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, and Representative-elect Sharice Davids of Kansas (to here name only a few of the more often discussed personages within this group [interestingly, all women]). The core of this group largely emerged from among (although it does not exclusively contain) supporters, both within and outside the current Democratic Party, of the 2016 presidential candidacy of Senator Bernie Sanders [Independent-Vermont].
The "Trad-Lib"s (an admittedly old-fashioned term, meaning "traditional liberal"), who still make up the majority of the current Democratic Party and, thereby, the base of support for the 'Nancy Pelosi-Steny Hoyer-Jim Clyburn' leadership cadre within the Democratic Party caucus in the outgoing 115th Congress (almost all the Ranking Members- now become incoming Chairs- of Committees in the new U.S. House of Representatives are, rather obviously, from this group). In at least some respects, this group includes those who most embodied the core of support for the 2016 presidential candidacy of former Secretary of State (and First Lady) Hillary Rodham Clinton.
What might be called the "rump" Grand Old Party-- that is, the remnant of the institutional Republican Party: a mix of one-time 'Never Trumpers', along with those of the so-called 'Tea Party' who have not well embraced the Populist Nationalism of President Donald Trump, and those Christian Evangelicals (and their at least political, if not at all theological, allies-- say, Latter Day Saints such as [perhaps?] incoming Senator from Utah [and 2012 Republican presidential nominee] Mitt Romney) who are not all that enamored of the so-called 'Trump as a modern Cyrus' hypothesis. These are people who still hope to, if only in the years A.T. [After Trump], reconstitute the old, more familiar, "establishment" Republican Party as the principal opposition to a Democratic Party still driven by the first two groups noted just above.
That which, by now, makes up at least most of the rest of the Republican Party-- currently (albeit much of it merely by default) the base of political support (in, admittedly, still varying degrees, mind you!) for President Trump as we now head on into the 2020 Presidential Election cycle. This is, if only for the moment (that is: during the transition from 115th to 116th Congress), the most politically volatile (in the mere sense of change, as opposed to any intimation of outright violence) of the four groups so far named- if only because of its being the source of a philosophical "tug of war" between those (primarily within the third group herein noted) who want the President to be (if he can) more 'nominally conservative' and those who simply want to allow "Trump to be Trump" (with the harder core of 'MAGA [Make America Great Again] Nation' among the rank-and-file the more pushing the latter).
And, finally, more or less in the Middle: a Metropolitan Suburban political group, a more less centrist mix of left-of center Democrats and right-of center Republicans (all at least generally supported by the "bell curve" of voters) within the "rings" surrounding major American cities (especially those in the Northeast and at least parts of the Midwest [metropolitan areas abutting, or at least quite close to, the Great Lakes], but also including metropolitan areas otherwise in isolation within their own region of the country [such as, for example, Atlanta within the Deep/Lower South]). For the duration, this last group may well- over the course of the next couple, to few, election cycles- hold the future direction of America's Two-Party System in its hands (or, at least, in its ballots as cast).
It should go without saying that not every newly elected (or re-elected) political officeholder- on the State, as well as the Federal, level- neatly fits into each of the above categories (and, even more so, there are plenty of voters "out there" who do not so fit, or flit between the two above categories closest to their own opinions on the issues of the day without being neatly placed within either); yet many do-- and those who most do will, as the 116th Congress (along with many a State Legislature) containing those in each of these categories is gaveled into session over the next couple months as 2018 gives way to 2019, drive the respective political agendas of each of the above groups which, in turn, will do much to influence the enusing electoral results that will thereafter shape the Two-Party System of the 2020's.
One more thing I will note about the 2018 Elections before I close this piece:
On this website, we have a table of data- one that generally simplifies (I myself might prefer one to say "flattens") the relationship of the two Major Parties in each State throughout the history of The Green Papers itself: this table is titled 'Comparative Political Party Strength in each State'. The updated (post-2018 Election, that is) column will not be added to this table until after the New Year: however, if we even the more simplify (flatten like a pancake?) this data, if only for purposes of this particular observation, we already can know the following (based solely on just which Party "flipped" which Gubernatorial Chairs or Senatorial Seats in this most recent election [such changes in electoral fortune for either Party having much more of an impact upon the numbers within said table than the aggregate determined by the final results either for U.S. House of Representatives or the respective State legislatures]):
If we merely create a three-chambered American Politicoideological Spectrum- labeling the three respective chambers LEFT,CENTER and RIGHT (while treating the Democratic Party as best representing 'LEFT', and the Republican Party as best representing 'RIGHT'), and arbitrarily determining that the CENTER includes all States in which either Major Party has gained fewer than 75 points per the analytical methodology utilized in the above-cited table (something which might even be better discerned via our site's related table of Relative Strength of the two Major Parties going into the 2018 Midterm Elections), we can rather easily see that, going into the 2018 Midterm Elections, 12 of America's 50 States were to the 'LEFT'; 17 States were in the 'CENTER'; and the 21 remaining States were on the 'RIGHT' (according to this admittedly summary analysis for purpose of this Commentary of mine).
Coming out of these 2018 Elections, however, has anything all that much changed in this regard?
The key races (again, only as regards the above three-chambered Spectrum) here were the following: the GOP took FLORIDA's Class 1 Senate seat, which moved the Sunshine State from 'CENTER' (although it was on the edge of same) into 'RIGHT'; this, however, was offset by ARIZONA's Class 1 Senate seat going to the Democrats, moving that State from 'RIGHT' to 'CENTER'. NEW MEXICO's Governorship going to the Democrats moved that State from 'CENTER' to 'LEFT', as did NEVADA (rather impressively so, as the Silver State's Democrats "flipped" both its Class 1 Senate seat and the Governor's Chair)...
But this merely changed the current overall national picture coming out of 2018 to: 14 States (up from 12) to the 'LEFT'; 15 States (down from 17) in the 'CENTER'; and 20 (down from 21) States on the 'RIGHT'-- with KANSAS (by dint of the Democrats "flipping" its Governor's Chair) right about at the 'cusp' between 'RIGHT' and 'CENTER' (again, in this admittedly 'as if scrawled on the back of a napkin' thumbnail analysis).
Yes, overall it was a better night back on Tuesday 6 November 2018 for the Democrats than it was for the Republicans (although, as already noted in this piece, some Republicans had their own triumphant moments); yes, there are real (and serious) questions about the political, if not even the electoral, future of the Republican Party (at least as we who are old enough to remember 'Watergate' as something much more than what one might only glean from perusing a History textbook have long known the Grand Old Party to be)...
but there are also real and serious questions as to 'whither the Democratic Party?' now going into 2020: for how do the Dems now reconcile the growing influence of the 'Hard-Prog's within, while yet building upon their 2018 electoral successes amongst the aforementioned 'Metropolitan Suburbanites' (who elected, among many others, now Congresswoman-elect Democrat Mikie Sherrill from my own, still ostensibly Republican-leaning, Congressional District here in North Jersey)?
No, again... not a 'Blue Wave', nor a 'Sea Change'-- but a warning (to both Major Parties), nonetheless!