One thing is for sure, 2018 had something for everybody. Well, pretty much everybody who was a Democrat, if you’re a Republican, you were shit out of luck. Election night turned into election fortnight, what with Broward county being its usual stumbling-down-the-stairs-drunk self, and California’s pony express style of mail in balloting dragging out the results damn near to the start of the 2020 primaries. But with the media being focused on the more immediate and topical stories coming from the election, there were several smaller things that flew under the radar that could end up being major events in 2020. Here’s just a few that I found.
Fill your damn dance card — How in the hell did the Democrats manage to flip 40 seats in the House, what with the evils of gerrymandering and all? Well, for one thing, they put a name on the ballot in every spot where there was an opening. The 2017 Virginia state elections should have been a canary in the coal mine for the GOP. In 2017, the Democrats flipped 15 seats in Virginia, and they did it by putting names on the ballot in districts where GOP incumbents hadn’t had a challenger since Christ was a carpenter. GOP incumbents who hadn’t had to write anything more than billboard slogans and victory speeches for years suddenly found themselves having to campaign again, and you know what? They sucked at it. They were only being reelected because there was nobody else on he ballot to vote for. Unlike Republicans, Democrats know how to spot a trend, and the DNC and DCCC took the “Virginia model” to heart, which was a very good thing, because’
Democrats owned the recruiting war of 2018 — There is another big difference between Democrats and Republicans. Democrats don’t believe in bullshit when a simple truth will suffice. The DCCC has admitted that the majority of the candidates that won in 2018 weren’t actively recruited by the DCCC, hell, they weren’t even on their radar. These candidates looked at the current politics, said “Screw this,” got some friends and family together, and knocked on doors to get petitions signed. In some cases, they ran against, and defeated, DCCC groomed and picked candidates. People are sick of “politics as usual,” and these candidates were fresh faces, with relevant life experiences, and local knowledge that constituents could relate to. In other words, they were likable.
The Republicans had the polar opposite experience in 2018. Looking at the map for 2018, Mitch McConnell had originally planned on picking up 5-7 Senate seats. He quickly had to downgrade that assessment when he started trying to recruit candidates to run against vulnerable Democratic incumbents. Nobody with an eye cocked towards a career in GOP politics wanted their name on the ballot in the era of Trump. McConnell ended up with a bunch of second and third tier candidates, like Hawsey and McSally, which meant spending more money and resources than the RSCC should have, and cost him the chance to pick up seats in Montana and West Virginia.
Trump was an albatross around the necks of GOP House incumbents too. A high number of incumbents in red districts, with the best chance of winning, people like Charlie Dent and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, retired rather than fight the headwinds. This led to a crop of mini Trombies, who thrilled the primary base, but were unelectable in the general election. GOP incumbents who stuck it out found themselves either being beaten by, or badly bloodied by far right Trumpaholics in primaries, and lost to Democrats in the general election. This bodes well for 2020 because
Democrats are rewriting the rules of politics — The one problem in the past with being an everyday Joe, populist candidate, was that you couldn’t afford to compete with the big boys in the money arena. That changed in 2017 and 2018, and the Democrats can thank Bernie Sanders for that. Democratic candidates made it a badge of honor in 2018 to forego any campaign contributions from corporations or special interests. Traditionally, this would be the kiss of death. But people are sick and tired of big money in politics, and most of the Democratic challengers far out funded their GOP incumbent opponents, sometimes by 3 and 4 to one, in the Bernie tradition, $20 at a time.
Ask yourself this. What do 40 fewer GOP incumbent House members really mean? Well, 40 fewer NRA shills voting against universal background checks for one thing. And fewer incumbents covered in Koch brothers pocket lint, proposing and passing environment killing legislation. You can’t buy votes if the candidates won’t take your money, and donation shaming can be a powerful tool for Democratic challengers against special interest soaked incumbents. It turns out that constituents kind of like owning their congressmen and women by themselves. Which will help in 2020 because
Democrats are making politics fun and engaging again — One nice thing about 2018, it was the year of retail politics. It turns out that people are not only sick of big money politics, they’re also sick to death of character assassination politics. And Democrats gave them what they wanted. They largely stayed zip codes away from personal attacks on their opponents, focusing instead on actual “kitchen table” issues that voters actually wanted to talk about. Which left GOP incumbents at a disadvantage twice over. First, GOP incumbents didn’t know jack shit about any issue that didn’t involve corporate donors, and two, their Democratic challengers were largely non political creatures, which meant that they had no personal or political foibles for GOP opponents to slander. It was, like, so unfair!
It also turned out that these Democratic neophytes also loved actually getting out in the district and meeting people. Which is just so stupid, because what sense does it make to shake somebody’s hand if they don’t have a sealed envelope full of cash in it? And what possible difference does it make what they say, if they don’t have the simoleons to make you give a fat rats ass about their opinion?
This is going to spell big trouble for the GOP in 2020, because these fledgling citizen-politicians have caught the bug now. The Democratic challengers that lost in 2018 will likely be back in 2020, if not for the same seat, than for a state House seat, or county commissioner, or city councilman. Some of them will win, and become the Democratic “bench” for future elections.
But even more importantly, the candidates aren’t the only ones who caught the civics bug, apathetic voters did too. Young voters were enthused, and so were casual voters. The Democrats turned out near general election numbers for a midterm election. Which is critical because excitement breeds enthusiasm. Democrats will find more exciting and enthusiastic candidates in 2020, which will bring out those excited and enthusiastic voters again. Turns out that voting really ain’t that hard, and there’s actually a kind of kick in coming out on the winning side. Which brings us to the most important “hidden edge” that the Democrats will carry into 2020, which is
Infrastructure, infrastructure, infrastructure — The Democrats didn’t just win a bunch of GOP seats in 2018, they laid the groundwork for electoral success for years to come. Indivisible, which harnessed the incredible enthusiasm of the anti Trump movement following the debacle of 2016, has already put out a sequel guide, one concerning getting positive results now that we actually have power. These groups aren’t going anywhere. They are a force to be reckoned with, they proved that not only with their success in the midterms in the House, but also with their success in changing political will in critical votes in 2017 and 2018.There are 22 GOP incumbents up for reelection in 2020 in the Senate, and what those groups could do for House districts in 2018, they can now do to affect electoral politics on the statewide level.
But there is an even more important dynamic at work here. Aided by Indivisible, and groups like Swing Blue, candidates like Stacey Abrams, Beto O’Rourke, and Andrew Gillum were able to successfully change the campaign map. Abrams spent almost two years aggressively registering voters. Beto did the same, having registration tables set up at each one of his rallies. They also opened up district offices across their states to spread the word. Other candidates at the state and House district level did this as well. I cannot stress how critical this is. The Democrats now have an entire network of savvy, battle tested volunteers, district office staff, and campaign staff, ready to harness in 2020. This gives the national Democrats an incredible edge, because all they have to do is to let candidates come along to enthuse them into activation, and then provide the funds to make them an electoral juggernaut.
There are two accepted truisms in national politics. One is that midterm elections are low turnout affairs, mainly because there are no national, Presidential candidates to provide urgency. The other one is that in Presidential years, the “name” at the top of the ticket helps to drive success down the ballot. But please, humor me here for a minute. Step with me into a parallel universe with me. A universe where insane enthusiasm for local House and Senate candidates drives enthusiasm and votes up to the top of the ticket! In losing, enthusiasm for Stacey Abrams and Beto O’Rourke helped to flip critical House seats. If Andrew Gillum had managed to win the Governors race in Florida, he likely would have dragged Bill Nelson across the finish line in the Senate, not the other way around. The other ageless axiom is that “all politics is local.” This is undeniably true, but mark my words, properly applied, local politics can make a national difference.
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