For months we’ve heard from sundry media apocalypticians that this year’s midterms were the last exit off the road to autocracy. On Tuesday, the American people delivered a less dramatic verdict about the significance of the occasion.
In a word: meh.
Are you interested in seeing Donald Trump voted out of office in two years? I hope so — which is why you should think hard about that “meh.” This week’s elections were, at most, a very modest rebuke of a president reviled by many of his opponents, this columnist included, as an unprecedented danger to the health of liberal democracy at home and abroad. The American people don’t entirely agree.
We might consider listening to them a bit more — and to ourselves somewhat less.
The 28-seat swing that gave Democrats control of the House wasn’t even half the 63 seats Republicans won in 2010. Yet even that shellacking did nothing to help Mitt Romney’s chances two years later. The Republican gain in the Senate was more predictable in a year when so many red-state Democrats were up for re-election. But it underscores what a non-wave election this was.
It also underscores that while “the Resistance” is good at generating lots of votes, it hasn’t figured out how to turn the votes into seats. Liberals are free to bellyache all they want that they have repeatedly won the overall popular vote for the presidency and Congress while still losing elections, and that the system is therefore “rigged.”
But that’s the system in which everyone’s playing — and one they had no trouble winning in until just a few years ago. It’s also a reminder that, in politics, intensity is not strategy. You have to be able to convert.
The Resistance didn’t convert.
It didn’t convert when it nominated left-wing candidates in right-leaning states like Florida and Georgia. It didn’t convert when it poured its money into where its heart was rather than where the dollars were most needed.
It didn’t convert when Chuck Schumer chose to make Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court a decisive political test. It didn’t convert when it turned his confirmation hearing into a circus. It didn’t convert when media liberals repeatedly violated journalistic standards by reporting the uncorroborated accusations against Kavanaugh that followed Christine Blasey Ford’s.
Above all, it didn’t convert the unconverted. It doesn’t take a lot to get the average voter to tell you what he doesn’t like about Donald Trump.
Then again, what does the average voter think about “the Resistance”? I don’t just mean the antifa thugs and restaurant hecklers and the Farrakhan Fan Club wing of the women’s movement.
I mean the rest of the Trump despisers, the people who detest not only the man but also contemn his voters; the ones who heard the words “basket of deplorables” and said to themselves: Bingo.
I was a charter member of this camp. Intellectual honesty ought to compel us to admit that we achieved precisely the opposite of what we intended. Trumpism is more entrenched today than ever. The result of the midterms means, if nothing else, that the president survived his first major political test more than adequately. And unless Democrats change, he should be seen as the odds-on favorite to win in 2020.
I’d hate to see that happen. I want Trump, and Trumpism, to lose. But if the Resistance party doesn’t find a way to become a shrewder, humbler opposition party, that’s not going to happen. The day Democrats take charge in the House would be a good opportunity to stop manning imaginary barricades, and start building real bridges to the other America.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The News & Observer