For once, it all happened more or less as we foresaw — a rebuke to Donald Trump in the overall returns, but not a presidency-ending repudiation. Two years of chaos and hysteria have ended in a return to stalemate.
Between their Senate gains and a few surprising gubernatorial victories, Republicans probably have enough consolation prizes to feel OK about the outcome. Trump critics on the right will feel a little better than OK, since now the House can check and investigate our morally challenged president while the Senate keeps confirming conservative judges.
But this election confirms that, contra certain Trump enthusiasts, the #MAGA era in right-wing politics is essentially a defensive era, in which the GOP leverages a fortunate Electoral College win and an advantage in the Senate to fill the courts and delay liberal ambitions for a time — but fails, conspicuously, to reap political rewards from the current economic expansion and to build an actual popular majority.
ROSS DOUTHAT, New York Times
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The aftershock from Hillary Clinton’s defeat has been two years in coming, but on Tuesday night it arrived, as legions of women were elected to Congress and statehouses across the country.
This has been largely a Democratic phenomenon. In fact, there are likely to be fewer Republican women in the House in January than there are now. But the GOP’s female candidates also made history in some places on Tuesday. Among them was Rep. Marsha Blackburn, who was the first woman from Tennessee ever to be elected to the Senate.
There have been other election seasons that have been declared “the year of the woman.” This time, though, women have left an imprint on politics that feels like it will last — no longer a novelty, but a norm.
Karen Tumulty, Washington Post
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People love a show until they don't anymore. It happens to the best of them. Now, as the midterm elections are being put to rest, Trump's 2020 campaign begins in earnest. And having told aides near the beginning of his presidency that he would run things like a daily TV show, he's in serious need of a reboot.
The problem is, who would buy a kinder, gentler Trump? Certainly not his critics. At this point there's no winning them over. As for his fans: The president tried halfheartedly to add a little sunshine to his doom-and-gloom fearmongering as he stumped around the country this fall. But whenever he spoke of rosy unemployment numbers and rising real wages, the air went out of the room. His crowds were there for the oldies, not stuff from a new album. And when Trump's audience stops roaring, he, too, deflates. He soon ditched the happy talk and launched into caravans of criminals and beautiful barbed wire like Jimmy Buffett hitting the first notes of "Margaritaville."
Trump is in a bind. He knows what happens to entertainers when audiences tire of their shtick. On the other hand, his core fans know what they want, and he loves giving it to them. We have no choice but to tune in for the next episode — for now.
David Von Drehle, Washington Post
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Divided government has been the American norm over the last 50 years. In that respect, we just had a very normal election. Voters experienced two years of of unchecked Republican dominance of Washington and decided they had had enough of it — just as they decided that two years of Democratic control was enough after Bill Clinton’s first two years and Barack Obama’s first two years.
Legislative gridlock will continue. This runs counter to some happy talk on election night about the possibility of bipartisan cooperation on infrastructure. But the parties don’t actually agree on much beyond their common liking of the word “infrastructure.” And House Democrats would have to be willing to help the president score a bipartisan achievement. And all this would have to take place in the midst of legal battles between the White House and the House.
The split between the Senate and the House showed that our partisan divisions are deepening rather than being resolved. Differences between rural and urban voters, and between whites with and without college degrees, have continued to widen.
The Democrats may have a national majority, but if so it is a small one that is geographically distributed in a way that may put the Senate and the presidency out of reach. The fact that a lot of great progressive hopes faltered in the election — Andrew Gillum in Florida, Stacey Abrams in Georgia, Beto O’Rourke in Texas, Kara Eastman in Nebraska and Randy Bryce in Wisconsin all lost — might keep Democrats from going down one blind alley. But they may have to make concessions, especially on cultural issues dear to many Democrats, to be more competitive on the outskirts of Trump country.
Nancy Pelosi concluded her victory speech by suggesting, sweetly if fancifully, that Americans had cast a vote for “unity.” What we can more realistically look forward to is two more years of social division, partisan rancor and governmental sclerosis — all of that, plus a presidential election that we can now consider underway.
RAMESH PONNURU, Bloomberg Opinion
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The nation has repudiated Trump, but do not believe for a moment that our national nightmare is over.
The American people will be subject to more of Trump’s lies and hate, as amplified by Senate Republicans and Fox News.
Trump can be expected to scapegoat House Democrats for anything that goes wrong. American politics will almost certainly become even meaner, coarser and uglier. We will remain deeply and angrily divided.
Democrats shouldn’t try moving to the “center.” The center no longer exists because most Americans are no longer on the traditional “right” or “left.”
The vast majority of Americans are now anti-establishment, and understandably so.
The practical choice is either Trump’s authoritarian populism backed by the moneyed interests, or a new democratic populism backed by the rest of us. The direction couldn’t be clearer. It is the Democrats’ hour.
Robert B. Reich, Tribune Content Agency
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Both parties can look forward to the next two years with equal measures of pleasure and pain: Republicans will move forward on stocking the courts with conservative judges; Democrats will aggressively investigate the president and his administration. The big winners on Tuesday were NeverTrump conservatives, who will rejoice in both the judges and the sight of President Donald Trump writhing under public scrutiny.
The evidence from the House is that there should have been a wave; Democrats should have taken at least a few tossup Senate seats such as those in Florida and Indiana. And it's hard not to think of what might have been had it not been for Brett Kavanaugh.
For the first time since Trump began winning the 2016 GOP primaries, Republicans were united on something: their revulsion at the 11th-hour leak of sexual assault allegations from Kavanaugh's long-ago youth and the alacrity with which Democrats — in office and out — rushed to declare him guilty. This energized dispirited Republicans, shrinking the enthusiasm gap and evaporating whatever leads the Democrats held. For the most part, those vulnerable Democrats who voted against his confirmation are now ex-senators.
Partisans seemed focused on the bright side: Democrats happily anticipating their House investigations, Republicans savoring their future judicial appointments. But eventually, these joys are likely to pale at the sight of the opposition's ongoing victories, and partisans' attentions will turn to what might have been, if they'd been a little more focused on practical politics and a little less focused on instant, evanescent victories in the culture war.
Megan McArdle, Washington Post
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We are about to find out whether Democrats meant it when they lamented the loss of civility in Washington. Having won the majority in the House, will they cooperate with Republicans and “reach across the aisle,” or will they pander to their base, which wants President Trump’s blood?
Guess which scenario I’m betting on?
Don’t expect much civility in Washington, and don’t look for major media — which are as much an arm of the Democratic Party as Fox News is for the Republican Party — to find fault with any demonstration of incivility by any Democrat.
Welcome again to a divided government representing a divided nation.
Tribune Content Agency
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The results in the House show a multiracial majority rising up to confront Trumpism. All those Trump provocations further polarized the country between blue-collar, rural, evangelical and aging white voters on one side, and all those groups on the other side of this cultural divide: young voters, minorities and secularized, socially liberal college-educated and suburban whites, especially women.
It's true that this majority ran into a wall of voters on Trump's side of the divide in red state Senate races, and it's an open question whether a longer-term realignment is underway, in which college-educated whites defect to Democrats.
But, while it remains to be seen whether this anti-Trump majority will endure against him in 2020, it can and did mobilize itself, rising up to put a big check on the Trump presidency, and on Trump himself.
Greg Sargent, Washington Post
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The polls and projections were basically correct: The Democrats had a very good election night. Yes, Republicans have some bragging rights. They were worried they would do a lot worse.
So why did the Republicans have a bad night? This is what happens to a party when it controls the White House and the president is unpopular.
Unlike George W. Bush in 2006 or Barack Obama in 2010, when poor policy outcomes (Iraq in Bush's case, a slow recovery for the economy for Obama) turned people against them, Trump's failure to date has mainly been strikingly personal. Granted, the two big Republican policy initiatives in Congress, the attempted repeal of Obamacare and the tax cut, didn't help. But Trump failed to contribute any popular policy ideas — and certainly wasn't effective at pushing for any ideas that might have been popular, such as an infrastructure bill.
Trump rarely even pretended to be the president of all the people, which was especially foolish for someone who narrowly won in the Electoral College and lost solidly in the popular vote.
There's still time to turn it around. Plenty of presidents who seemed to be in trouble at the two-year mark — including Obama, Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan — were re-elected. If the economy remains strong, and if Trump finds a way to moderate himself at least somewhat, perhaps he'll find he can eat into the majority that's been against him from the start. On the other hand, we don't know how many scandals could still emerge.
Jonathan Bernstein, Bloomberg Opinion
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Some Democrats had hoped Tuesday would deliver a stinging rebuke of a president they despise, and they have a hard time swallowing that almost as many Americans came to the polls to praise Trumpism as came to bury it. After all the norms Trump has violated, after the ugly nativism, narcissism and gleeful sowing of division and anger, Trump still seems strong today, reveling in his victories and about to unleash his next two years of hell on Democrats.
For Democrats who wanted revenge or vindication on Tuesday, they should accept partial victory as a consolation prize and a building block. Remember the women who are coming to the House of Representatives and the new majority. Remember the new governors, and even more the local victories that help make up the political fabric of the country.
Democrats should note and remember the gains in states that gave Trump his 2016 Electoral College victory despite losing the popular vote. And, most of all, remember that more Americans are voting for Democrats than Republicans these days. If that trend continues one more cycle, Trump will be gone, and history — which seemed so close in some places Tuesday — will be made.
CARTER ESKEW, Washington Post
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The Republicans lost the House and the nation lost, too. A Republican House did what a Democratic House would never do: It helped give us a tax-reform package. The Democrats said wait, the tax cuts are just for the rich and, anyway, where are wage hikes?
Well, they are now surrounding us, and that’s what happens when you get out of the way of American businesses.
Interesting, isn’t it, that the disreputable Russian-collusion probe was hardly brought up by the Democrats in this outing and that Trump still connects sufficiently with the American people to have likely made a difference in some races? These are disorienting times we live in.
Jay Ambrose, Tribune News Service
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Trumpism finally met some limits, and the country is better for it. Not healed, not repaired — but better.
Democrats didn’t quite get the “blue wave” they hoped for. But the voters’ larger message was also important: Even without the wave, this was a rebuke of a heedless, headstrong president.
Trump still doesn’t seem to understand that he won the presidential election with a minority of the popular vote, and that the House of Representatives isn’t decided by the quirks of the Electoral College.
It seems unlikely that the president will take a lesson from what ought to be a chastening experience. Has he ever been chastened by anything?
A normal president might consider a dose of bipartisanship, an attempt to negotiate with the Democratic leadership of the House. Ronald Reagan did that when he had a bad midterm election. So did Bill Clinton.
But even if this president wanted to proclaim a New Trump, and work across the aisle, he can’t. He has poisoned the wells from which bipartisanship is drawn.
But everyone else may have learned a hopeful lesson on Tuesday: Division doesn’t always work. Trump isn’t unbeatable. The 2020 presidential campaign begins today.
Doyle McManus, Los Angeles Times