Republicans survived the blue wave. Now comes the blue tide.

Democrat Anita Earls declares victory in NC Supreme Court race

Democratic NC Supreme Court candidate Anita Earls thanks supporters while declaring victory during an election night event Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018 at the NC Democratic Party Headquarters in Raleigh.
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Democratic NC Supreme Court candidate Anita Earls thanks supporters while declaring victory during an election night event Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018 at the NC Democratic Party Headquarters in Raleigh.

Many Republicans nationally and in North Carolina likely are surveying the results of the midterm election with some relief.

Democrats took the U.S. House, but Republicans gained ground in the U.S. Senate and held onto the governorships in Ohio and Iowa and, pending recounts, Georgia and Florida. In North Carolina, Republicans held onto their majorities in the state House and Senate, the congressional delegation didn’t budge from its 10-3 Republican majority and four of six state constitutional amendments sponsored by Republican lawmakers won approval.

But Republicans who think they dodged a blue wave are looking at the wrong metaphor. They should be watching the blue tide. From that perspective, the 2018 midterms suggest that the GOP is in danger of being engulfed. The Democratic candidates — backed by high enthusiasm and impressive fund-raising — represent a younger and far more diverse coalition, while the Republicans closed ranks around white and mostly male candidates. The Democrats ran strong in urban and suburban areas that are growing. Republicans relied on rural areas that aren’t.

After Donald Trump’s 2016 victory, it became popular to dismiss the Democrats’ belief that demographic trends will inevitably increase their base. But the reality of that dynamic was on full display Tuesday. That liberal, African-American Democratic candidates came close to winning statewide elections in Florida and Georgia proved that even though Democrats didn’t win this time, they are on the verge of winning the future. Elsewhere, women, LGBT, Muslim and Native American Democratic candidates did win.

North Carolina offers a microcosm. Democrats did not pick up congressional seats, but they were running in districts ruled to be illegally gerrymandered too close to the election to redraw them. In the ballot’s only statewide races — one seat on the state Supreme Court and three seats on the Court of Appeals — all were won by Democrats. The winners included two women and the first openly gay person to be elected statewide in North Carolina, Judge John S. Arrowood.

And while Democrats couldn’t dislodge Republicans from their gerrymander-protected majorities in the legislature, they did flip enough seats to break the Republicans’ supermajorities in the House and Senate. That change brings Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper to the center of North Carolina legislative politics after two years of Republican efforts to strip his powers and marginalize his role. Republicans will now be limited to passing legislation that can avoid — or has enough Democratic support to survive — a Cooper veto.

North Carolina’s Republican lawmakers sense that the political ground held by their all-white, rural-based majorities is shrinking. That’s why they rammed though legislation along party-line votes while they could. And that’s why they extended their hands into the future by putting six constitutional amendments on the Nov. 6 ballot.

Voters wisely saw through two amendments that were plain power grabs. Those amendments would have allowed for the legislative takeover of judicial appointments and oversight of elections.

Unfortunately, a majority of voters supported two amendments that were vague and misleadingly in their wording. The first caps the state income tax at 7 percent, inhibiting future legislatures from responding to state needs and blocking a full reinstatement of the progressive income tax the Republicans eliminated in favor of a flat tax. The second will require voters to present a photo ID, but leaves it to the legislature to decide how restrictive the ID requirements will be.

Both these amendments are defensive and anti-democratic. They reflect a Republican majority that lacks confidence in the long-term appeal of its fixation on low taxes and a party that doubts its ability to hold its majority in a demographically changing state without the help of voter suppression. Such political bulwarks might defend against an occasional blue wave, but they won’t hold back a rising blue tide.

Barnett: 919-829-4512