To hear the spin Wednesday morning, you’d think Democrats swept the map on Election Day.
But the reality is — and it pains me to say it — President Donald Trump had a very good night. The sooner Democrats accept that, the sooner they can figure out how to go about defeating him in 2020.
This midterms hardly provide a clear roadmap. Their superstar all-ins were roundly brushed back. Andrew Gillum in Florida, Beto O’Rourke in Texas, and more than likely Stacey Abrams in Georgia had the emotional adoration of their party, but not enough actual votes.
Losses in Ohio, where Republican Mike DeWine beat Richard Cordray for governor, in Missouri, where Josh Hawley defeated Democrat incumbent Claire McCaskill in the Senate, and in Indiana, where Mike Braun defeated Democrat incumbent Joe Donnelly in the Senate are just a few of the reasons for more agony than ecstasy for Democrats on Wednesday.
Yes, the Democrats took the House, won governors’ mansions in critical states and made other gains. These are significant accomplishments, but they don’t add up to the decisive rebuke the party was hoping for.
And yet, some are declaring a wave. Let’s remember, despite the calculated lowering of expectations over the past few months, the party in power — Republicans — are supposed to do badly in midterm elections. And this party in power in particular, which has the least popular president in modern history, should have been crushed. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer in September was predicting that Democrats wouldn’t just take the House, but the Senate, too.
Democrats’ pickup of, so far, four more seats in the House than they needed to win control is not a wave. It’s barely a ripple. And if they want to defeat Trump in 2020, they’ll need to figure some stuff out, and quickly.
One: A national message
In the months before the election, Democrats lurched from one message to another. It included, at any given time, impeaching Trump, not impeaching Trump, abolishing ICE, impeaching Brett Kavanaugh, a call for civility, a call for incivility, and finally it landed on health care. Micro-targeting can work for House races, but this mess of a message will not work for 2020.
What do they want to accomplish for the country, and how?
While Democrats did predictably well in suburban districts where voters were turned off by Trump’s campaign of fear and loathing, they still have not figured out how to capture a silent minority of voters who turned out in surprising numbers for Republican candidates in Florida, Ohio, Missouri and elsewhere.
They were voters the party did not anticipate in 2016. They came out again in 2018, and they will come out of the shadows again in 2020. Not being able to see them leads to things like over-spending in unwinnable races, discounting the motivations and anxieties of voters and talking over wide swaths of people who in turn feel dismissed.
Three: Measuring outrage
Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court confirmation hearing was the perfect example of the left’s inability to distinguish volume from intensity.
As angry and outraged as liberals were by the Kavanaugh hearings, so too were conservatives by what they saw as a witch hunt. But you wouldn’t know it, because Democrats and many in the media focused almost exclusively on Kavanaugh’s opponents, including his accusers, Hollywood celebrities, women’s marches and protests at the steps of the Supreme Court. The passion among his supporters, though, was just as intense and energized Republicans in ways some of us felt but most could not measure. Actress Alyssa Milano’s anger doesn’t count any more than an average Republican voter’s does.
This bites Democrats every time, but it shouldn’t.
This isn’t to suggest there aren’t harsh lessons out there for Republicans, too. Women and minorities were elected in record numbers and women, minorities and first-time voters turned out in record numbers. If the GOP thinks it can keep squeezing by on the backs of old white men, it’s in for a rude awakening one day.
But not this day. This time the GOP was able to pick up seats in the Senate, retain a solid number of state houses and keep Democrats from a 1994 or 2006 level trouncing in the House.
The party in power was supposed to get crushed Tuesday. It most certainly was not. If Democrats choose to spin this as a wave, instead of the reality check it should be, they will lose big time in 2020.
And yet again, they’ll have no one to blame but themselves.
Contact Cupp at thesecupp.com.
This column first appeared in the New York Daily News.
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