Republicans actually had a pretty good night last night with the Senate, the Georgia Governor’s race, the two seats in Florida, the Ohio Governor’s race, etc. In fact, Democrats could not flip a single seat in the House that Trump carried by 55% or more. The truth is, Donald Trump may be abnormal in his behaviors as a politician, but politically he is not that abnormal. If anything, he seems more a reversion to the mean and Obama is the abnormal politician. The midterm election turned out to be a pretty typical midterm, not a blowout, and the Republicans actually have a very favorable Senate map in 2020 on which they’ll play defense while picking back up Alabama.
But there are caveats and qualms and you need to know them.
First, Republicans had huge victories in 2010, but a lot of the maps were drawn by Republican state legislatures and then the GOP used their expanded leads after 2010 with the redistricting cycle of 2011 to lock in gains. Democrats were able to overcome those gains in 2018.
Second, Republicans lost suburban voters who have been a pretty good block for the GOP in the past. They even lost suburbs in reliably Republican states like Kansas and Oklahoma and, here in Georgia, lost the northern Atlanta suburbs that have been comfortably Republican for a while. That also affected state legislative races and the loss of state legislative races affects redistricting.
Third, the Democrats shifted about a half-dozen states into full control from the state legislature to the Governor’s office. If the GOP cannot reverse that in 2020, it will impact redistricting and further hurt the GOP’s chances of taking back congress, let alone state legislatures.
Fourth, the Democrats got mobilized in midwestern states that the President relied on in 2016 for his Electoral College win. If the GOP cannot figure out how to win some of those voters back the GOP and the President himself are going to be in a world of hurt in 2020.
Lastly, in a number of states, including Georgia and Montana, I have been told by multiple sources that the GOP ground game came up short. The parties relied on volunteer door knockers instead of paid operatives. The volunteers tended to do a less than thorough job. On top of that, I am told the RNC deprived door knocking efforts of money in some states and in others started too late. The GOP will need to get the fundamentals back. If you look at the Republicans who withstood the Democrats, it was experienced candidates who had had tough races before.
But I keep coming back to the suburbs. Republicans are going to have more difficult times winning if they cannot get back suburban voters. The President himself needs to think about what he can do. It remains actually quite shocking to me that the Democrats were able to put the GOP on defense over their tax cut package and the GOP failed to run on the unemployment rate and the economy. They had a great message to sell and a supposedly great salesman to make the case. But they did not do that. They’re going to need to ask themselves what problems they have with the message and also the messenger if they cannot sell a booming economy and low unemployment to suburban voters.