Skip to main content
2018 election results

Sen. Jon Tester, surrounded by family and supporters, celebrates his reelection on Nov. 7 in Great Falls, Mont. (Thom Bridge / Independent Record / Associated Press)

It was neither as good, nor as bad as it might have been.

The first leg of the stool is the Democratic capture of the House of Representatives, which finally gives the party a powerful DC base from which to check the president’s worst initiatives. Democrats can now carry out investigations and use their subpoena power to get information that Trump or his cabinet may not want to supply.

There is so much begging for serious investigation after two years of pliant Republican control. Each of the executive departments, of course, need effective oversight, and some, like the EPA, Interior, or the Consumer Finance Protection Board, have been pursuing policies diametrically opposed to the missions of the agencies. When Mueller finally reports, a Democratic House will be in a position to keep the report from being buried. And financial corruption! The swamp beckons!

Democrats will at least be able to block bad legislation; at best they will be able on occasion to achieve bipartisan solutions to issues like infrastructure improvements, or even a fix on some features of the Affordable Care Act.

Democrats will at least be able to block bad legislation; at best they will be able on occasion to achieve bipartisan solutions to issues like infrastructure improvements, or even a fix on some features of the Affordable Care Act.

But the Democratic majority is smaller than they expected. There are maybe ten more seats they might reasonably have hoped to flip. They ought to be asking why. GOP gerrymandering is certainly part of the picture. Pennsylvania, where the State Supreme Court imposed a new map, will see the Democrats pick up four new seats, which will get them to parity with the GOP in a swing state. What other factors help to explain the shortfall in the House majority?

This leads to the second leg of the stool: governorships. Democrats picked up 16 Republican-held governorships, including some sweet ones like taking out Scott Walker in Wisconsin and defeating Kris Kobach in Kansas. And they didn’t lose any incumbent Democratic governors. Pennsylvania’s governor, Tom Wolf, won reelection handily against a Trump acolyte, in a state that Trump narrowly won. This bodes well for the Democratic presidential nominee carrying the state in 2020.

Scroll to Continue

Recommended Articles

Having more governors will be critical in three years when it’s time to redistrict both the House of Representatives and state legislatures. And, according to the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee seven legislative chambers have flipped to Democratic control and six states are newly under full Democratic control. This combination means there will be far fewer states able to perpetrate gerrymandering monstrosities like those the GOP perpetrated in 2011.

But some big ones got away, notably Florida, Georgia and Ohio. The first two are Southern states with a long history of discrimination, but both have changed greatly in recent years. That African American candidates Stacey Abrams and Andrew Gillum could have come this close is itself a good sign in that context. But pollsters may want to consider how large is the sector of people who won’t vote for a black and won’t tell you they won’t.

Ohio presents a bigger problem for pollsters, given that Democratic candidate Richard Cordray was consistently well ahead in the polls. Whereas the covert Trump vote of 2016 didn’t materialize in neighboring Pennsylvania, it seemed alive and well in Ohio.

The third leg is the Senate. Democrat Jackie Rosen picked up the seat in Nevada, but Heidi Heitkamp (North Dakota) and Claire McCaskill (Missouri) lost. In the most pro-Trump state, Joe Manchin held on on West Virginia—and John Tester in Montana fended off a strong challenge. Republican Governor Rick Scott is leading Senator Bill Nelson, but a recount is likely in Florida. Democrats will suffer a net loss of one or two seats, but Florida is the only real surprise. Given the unfavorable map this year, the Democrats might have hoped for better, but they could have fared much worse.

So it’s a split decision, more positive than not. We are in a better position going forward. We’ve elected many new women and minorities, which could help change the tone of politics. The biggest loss is perhaps the missed opportunity for the country to have administered a crippling rebuke to Donald Trump and his party, a blow that could have turned the country around. We didn’t get that; we are still a country deeply divided, with more trouble to come.

Both sides, ironically, could adopt Teddy Roosevelt’s old refrain: “We stand at Armageddon and we battle for the Lord!” May it not come to that.

impeachment unavoidable

John Peeler