The 2018 midterm elections came, and for the most part, have gone. Where do we go from here?
For Democrats and the left alike, there’s really no two ways around it: when it came to the Senate, House, and gubernatorial races across the country, last night contained a lot of disappointment.
To be sure, it also contained a lot of good news. The Democrats will take the House with a pickup of around 30–35 seats. That’s a big deal. And Obamacare repeal is probably dead for the next two years, although the GOP will undoubtedly continue to undermine it in the courts. Scott Walker is finally gone, Kris Kobach was roundly rebuked by Kansans, and Democrats appear to be headed for a pickup of at least seven governor’s mansions and four legislative chambers, including in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Michigan—the three states which made up the 80,000 or so votes to put Donald Trump in the White House.
And even if he ultimately failed in unseating Ted Cruz, Beto O’Rourke ran a grassroots campaign that wasn’t a carbon copy of Joe Manchin, came closer than he had any business to, likely dragged a few House candidates and several other down-ballot Democrats in Texas over the finish line, and may have exposed a growing GOP vulnerability in their biggest stronghold. Likewise, in Georgia, Stacey Abrams ran a civil rights-focused campaign and is the closest a Democrat has come to winning the governor’s mansion in two decades. She is likely to help the Democrats pick up at least one tossup seat in the House they weren’t expected to win and bring them close in another they weren’t expected to win.
But the Democrats drastically underperformed in the Senate despite winning the national popular vote there by 16 points and counting; they are currently on track to lose three, and possibly four, seats. Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, an emerging young star for the party who led practically every poll during the general election campaign, went down narrowly to a racist bag of leather in Florida’s gubernatorial election. Progressive House candidates who ran on progressive policies like Medicare for All in swing districts, such as Kara Eastman and Katie Porter, very narrowly lost.
At the same time, it was also a shitty night for Democratic centrists, especially when it came to the Senate. At least three moderate Democratic senators have gone down, including Sen. Joe Donnelly, who lost by nearly 10 points after voting against Brett Kavanaugh and saying Medicare for All would become a reality “over my dead body.” Arizona Rep. Krysten Sinema ran on a promise to be a right-wing Democrat in the Senate, and also appears to have lost, to a right-wing Republican. And in Tennessee, Phil Bredesen, who helpfully volunteered that he would’ve voted for Kavanaugh if he had the chance to, lost to Marsha Blackburn by double-digits.
Anyone who tells you they have a broad takeaway from all of this when it comes to the Democrats’ direction in policy, is lying. A lot of it makes no fucking sense at all. But there were a few things that we can say about this election: namely that people want more diverse candidates; that they really like the welfare state, even if they’re not quite sold on the new crop of candidates defending it; and that Democrats must move immediately to address the racist Republican assault on democracy happening all over the country.
The Democratic majority that will take office in January will be the most diverse in the history of the House, and have the most women. Two Native American women were elected to the House on Tuesday night for the first time in history, including Sharice Davids, who won by nearly double digits over a Republican incumbent in Kansas. Just a year and a half after Karen Handel beat slice of unbuttered toast Jon Ossoff in the most expensive House special election in history, it looks like she’s going to lose her Georgia seat to Lucy McBath, a black woman who lost her son to racist gun violence. Two women of color elected on Tuesday night—Rashida Tlaib and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez—are card-carrying members of the Democratic Socialists of America. Ilhan Omar is the first Somali-American elected to the House. Antonio Delgado in New York, Lauren Underwood in Illinois, and Colin Allred in Texas all defeated Republicans in swing districts.
The Democrats do not need to nominate white candidates to win elections, contrary to what Michael Avenatti believes.
And while progressive candidates might not have had the best night, progressive issues did very well. Idaho, Nebraska, and Utah all expanded Medicaid. Florida voters overwhelmingly voted to expand voting rights to former felony offenders. (A depressing game I’ve been playing is, “What if that had been in effect this year?”) Colorado and Michigan both voted to create independent redistricting commissions, and Utah may follow suit. North Carolina and Arkansas voted for voter ID, but Maryland and Nevada chose to increase access to voting with same-day and automatic voter registration, respectively. Voters in Arkansas and Missouri (on a night where the incumbent Democratic senator lost soundly) just voted for a higher minimum wage.
There were a few high-profile losses, sure. The sweep for the billionaire behind Marsy’s Law all around the country is a depressing setback to criminal justice reform, and the heavy defeat of Prop 10 in California shows that a lot of people, even in the biggest Democratic stronghold, are still resistant to housing regulations. But for the most part, voters everywhere embraced a progressive social and economic agenda.
The task now for Democrats in the newfound House majority and in the states where they’re newly in power around the country is simple: push immediately to expand voting rights, begin to hold the Trump administration accountable for its crimes on the border and in the halls of power, and begin to make an earnest, positive case for progressive policies.
The first two should be obvious enough, I hope. There can be no lasting left victory without a decisive defeat of the GOP’s push for corrupt, white minority rule. But the third one is also key because the spin the Democratic center will put on the election is that progressive groups and candidates proved they don’t have what it takes to win (even though their candidates fared just as badly), and thus, America just isn’t ready for Medicare for All or abolishing ICE.
But taking into consideration the fact that three deep-red states where Republicans swept nearly every House seat just made it loud and clear that they want the government to take a bigger role in healthcare, and the fact that the government the number of supporters of the House Medicare for All bill will almost certainly rise next year, now should be the time to take advantage of making the positive case. (And there’s some signs of hope that they will do that: Rep. John Yarmuth, the incoming chair of the House Budget Committee, has promised to hold hearings on Medicare for All.) Even if some candidates who ran explicitly on Medicare for All lost, this is still a pretty remarkable development less than three years after the party’s presidential candidate cast it aside as a pipe dream.
This election, even if it had gone in a much better direction, was never going to save us. And last night was an unwelcome reminder that the work of making a more fair and just society is often maddeningly difficult, and takes more than one election cycle to even begin to tackle. But it also showed there’s a constituency for giving people basic human and economic rights and representation in government. And of all of the wins last night, those were the biggest.