It’s been one year since Donald Trump became the nation’s unpopularly elected pr*sident, America’s streets pulsed with rage, and sane citizens far and wide braced for what was to come. Frankly, it’s been far worse than we imagined, a point made eloquently by New York Times columnist Michelle Goldberg.
Many of us have grown numb after unrelenting shocks. What now passes for ordinary would have once been inconceivable. The government is under the control of an erratic racist who engages in nuclear brinkmanship on Twitter. He is dismantling the State Department, defending the hollowing out of the diplomatic corps by saying, on Fox News, “I’m the only one that matters.”
He publicly pressures the Justice Department to investigate his political opponents. He’s called for reporters to be jailed, and his administration demanded that a sportscaster who criticized him be fired. Official government statements promote his hotels. You can’t protest it all; you’d never do anything else. After the election, many liberals pledged not to “normalize” Trump. But one lesson of this year is that we don’t get to decide what normal looks like.
Maybe not, but we do get to decide how we respond to the deeply disfigured reality Trump has foisted upon us, and we collectively got a glimpse of that response Tuesday as Democratic candidates reclaimed seats in regions red and blue across the country.
To me, it was an affirmation in the belief that the energy in the streets is never wasted. The millions who poured forth to make themselves heard during the National Women’s March may not be the daily visible force they were on January 21, but they sure made their voices heard at the ballot box this week. They never quit being outraged, they just channeled their energy into groups like Indivisible, or Run For Something, or they became candidates themselves because, by god, if an ignorant swindler like Donald Trump can hold the highest office in the land, then certainly anyone of us can hold a city council seat or higher.
Many takeaways about issues, messaging, and demographics have already been drawn from the electoral might Democrats demonstrated Tuesday, but one in particular stands out to me: Virginia Democrats fielded candidates for 88 of the 100 seats up for grabs, more than anyone in the party could ever remember running.
In the past, Democrats wrote-off tough districts. Two years ago, two-thirds of incumbent Republicans didn’t even face opponents. That’s changed, said Jeffrey Skelly with the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics.
“Democrats are running in 88 seats, which is many more than they have in the past two gubernatorial cycles,” said Skelly. “I think you have to tie that to the president.”
That exceptional breadth meant far more districts in Virginia had a Democratic candidate with Democratic door knockers and Democratic messaging coming their way. And in turn, Democratic voters in more districts than ever had a home-grown reason to engage and get to the polls.
By all counts, Democrats also put forth a stellar turnout operation, a coordinated effort by 33 different stakeholders, according to DNC chair Tom Perez. The result of the one-two punch was that turnout spiked across every region of the state—”the highest in 20 years for a gubernatorial race, five percentage points and 10 percentage points higher than the last two.”
My proposition is simple here: It’s that the high turnout and unprecedented margins by which Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ralph Northam won multiple demographics is directly correlated to the number of Democratic candidates who ran. Political observers always talk about down-ticket candidates riding the coattails of those at the top, but Democrats’ dominant performance in Virginia Tuesday may well have been a situation where the top of the ticket rode the wealth of down-ticket candidacies to victory—not to take anything away from Governor-Elect Northam.
What’s so beautiful about this proposition is that Virginia is just a microcosm of what’s already coming to fruition coast to coast.
“All across the country, we are seeing a groundswell of interest among Democrats running for office,” said [Brett Wasserman of the Cook Political Report.] “This is almost a mirror image of what we saw in 2009 and 2010 when Republicans were hyper motivated in the beginning of the Obama era.”
We’ve been hearing about this candidate surge for months, with much of it coming from women. Emily’s List, which specifically recruits female candidates, has been approached by 16,000 women this year exploring a run, up from just 920 in 2016. Applicants for the training program Emerge America, which has already added five new state chapters this year, have spiked 87 percent.
Of the 15 Democrats who were on track to flip Republican seats in the House of Delegates, 11 were women.
Simply put: There’s power in numbers. The sweeping Democratic wins we saw across the nation Tuesday night are the descendants of the collective resolve that spilled into the streets in the months following Trump’s election.
Goldberg was right about the evolving new normal in our politics and our nation, but her diagnosis fell short when it drifted into despair. “How can America ever return from this level of systematic derangement and corruption?” she wondered. She had the misfortune of publishing one day before the Tuesday night resurgence, but I never fully bought into her melancholy. While things have changed irrevocably, all is not lost. The people of America aren’t done yet. Not by a long shot.