The Midterms Showed that the Real America Is Democratic

AP Photo/John Bazemore

Former President Barack Obama stands with Georgia Democratic candidate for Lieutenant Governor Sarah Riggs Amico, left, gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams and congressional candidate Lucy McBath, right, during a campaign rally at Morehouse College in Atlanta.

You've heard lots of figures from the 2018 election, but here's what may be the most remarkable one: Once the last couple of House races finish counting, Republicans will have only between 12 and 14 women in their caucus, out of around 200 members. You'll be able to fit all the Republican congresswomen in one van.

Before the election there were 23 of them, which was nothing to be proud of, but between retirements, defeats, and some running for higher office, the number was slashed almost in half—even as a wave of successful Democratic women candidates brings the total number of women in the House over 100 for the first time. Democrats are an even more diverse party, and Republicans are almost entirely represented by white men, a group that makes up 30 percent of the American population.

That's just one of the ways in which this election moved the two parties apart. They're even more different ideologically than they were before, but perhaps most strikingly, they represent two very different Americas. Or it might be more accurate to say that one party imperfectly represents the whole country, while the other represents only one part of it.

Yet weirdly enough, the media are full of news articles, opinion columns, and debates asking how Democrats can formulate a successful strategy to win over those who don't regularly vote for them or whether they actually need to, while no one seems to be asking a similar set of questions about Republicans.

Maybe that's because by now the idea that the Republican Party could persuade significant numbers of racial minorities to vote for its candidates is so ridiculous it doesn't even bear discussing. Or maybe they might be able to do so at some point in the future, but they certainly won't be able to as long as their party is led by Donald Trump, who is not only an obvious racist on a personal basis, but also views stoking racial fear and resentment as his clearest path to political success.

As for the Democrats, the question everyone is posing for them is: When they pick a candidate and a strategy for 2020, should they try to appeal to the middle or excite their base?

When it's asked, the responses are predictable: Liberal Democrats say the party needs a liberal, and moderate Democrats say the party needs a moderate. And while both can find individual races and pieces of evidence to support their claim, the liberals have the better of the argument, even if they both have reasonable points to make.

That's because no on state or district is a microcosm of the whole country. Let's take Senator Claire McCaskill, who lost her re-election race in Missouri by six points. "People need to realize my problem wasn't getting Democrats to vote for me," McCaskill told The New York Times. "I hope that no one thinks that because some of the red-state Democrat moderates lost that means we have to nominate a progressive." The problem with that analysis is that the 2020 Democratic nominee won't be trying to win Missouri—which Trump won in 2016 by 19 points—she'll be trying to win the whole country.

McCaskill's problem was indeed that there simply weren't enough Democrats in her state to bring her to victory, but that isn't the case everywhere. Take a look at another interesting race, in Georgia's 6th congressional district. You may recall that in 2017, a special election in the district became the most expensive House race in history, with a staggering $80 million spent by the candidates and outside groups. Democrat Jon Ossoff, who ran a campaign denuded of partisanship and focused on issues like economic development, lost narrowly to Karen Handel. Last Tuesday, Handel was beaten by Lucy McBath, a African American woman who got involved in politics as a gun regulation advocate after her son was murdered in 2012 by a white man who thought the 17-year-old and his friends were playing their music too loud.

Handel might reasonably attribute her defeat to Donald Trump, because the Georgia Sixth District—suburban, increasingly racially diverse, and represented by Republicans for the last 40 years—is precisely the kind of place where the GOP had such trouble this year. Many of the losses the party suffered came because college-educated white women turned away from them in disgust.

That has helped to change the face of both parties in Congress. As Ron Brownstein notes, the midterms "blew away much of the white-collar wing of the Republican House caucus...It has tilted the remaining caucus more toward the working-class, small town and rural places where President Trump is strongest." That also means that it's even whiter and more male than it was before.

For the Democrats it's just the opposite: Their voter coalition is a combination of white liberals, African Americans, Latinos, Asian-Americans, and members of other minority groups. They're particularly strong in cities and suburbs. And they now have more women in their caucus than ever, including dynamic young women of color like Sharice Davids, Rashida Tlaib, and Jahana Hayes.

The 2020 election starts now (c'mon, admit it—you're a little bit excited), and though no one candidate can embody every element of a diverse coalition like the Democrats have, the campaign is likely to make the differences between the two parties even more stark. We know what kind of campaign Donald Trump is going to run, and the rest of his party will follow his lead. And even in the unlikely event Democrats make a moderate white guy their presidential nominee, he'll still have to motivate that diverse coalition if he's to have any chance at winning.

Which means that the 2020 election could do just what the 2018 election did: Make clear how different the two parties are, and move them even farther apart. 

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