As the final weeks of the 2018 midterms closed in, Donald Trump’s desperation was palpable. He was thrashing around about the so-called “caravan” of migrants, ordering U.S. troops to the border, holding impromptu press conferences about executive orders that hadn’t been written, and lamenting the hate-speech inspired pipe bombs and shooting massacres that had thrown Republicans off their game. As Democrats studiously ignored Trump’s repulsive anti-immigrant rants, his raw racist appeals just grew louder and more shrill. And yes, it totally backfired.
Research from the New American Economy found that the *30 congressional districts that had flipped as of Nov. 15 had all grown “much more educated and much more diverse than they were even just five years ago.” (*The analysis did not include districts that had been redrawn since 2016.)
- In all districts that flipped, the number of college-educated adults increased sharply. In all but one there were at least 10,000 more college-educated adults in 2018 than there were in 2013.
- In all but one of the districts that flipped, the share of Asian American and Hispanic American eligible voters increased in the last 5 years.
The education levels of voters within these districts combined with their growing diversity made Trump’s escalating fixation on the desperate migrants entirely toxic. And it didn’t just hurt the GOP in the House—it likely also cost Republicans some very precious Senate seats. Former Arizona state attorney general Grant Woods, a former Republican who recently became a registered Democrat, said Trump’s racist rhetoric was way out of step with the direction of the region.
“The extremism of the current Republican Party is a losing strategy for the future,” Woods said. “In the Southwest in particular, where we’re talking about a diverse population and, increasingly, a younger population, people just aren’t going to put up with it.”
Exit polling from Global Strategy Group confirmed similar trends in Pennsylvania, where 46 percent of voters said Republican Senate candidate Lou Barletta’s similarities to Trump on immigration made them more likely to vote against him. Only 37 percent saw it as a reason to vote for Barletta. The gap was even wider among voters who backed Trump in 2016 but voted for incumbent Democratic Sen. Bob Casey this cycle: 40 percent said Barletta’s Trumpian immigration policies were a reason to vote against him while just 26 percent said it made Barletta a more attractive candidate.
But as Trump barreled toward the midterms, he was absolutely convinced that nativism was his ace in the hole, and he trusted his own political instincts above all else. The more frantic he became to win the election, the harder he pounded on the issue and the more it buried GOP candidates in both suburban House races across the country and key Senate races from the Midwest to Sun-Belt states like Arizona and Nevada.
Last week, I argued that part of the brilliance of House Democrats’ campaign was that they ignored Trump entirely and just let him sink himself. This idea caught on in DC punditry circles this week, but with a twist: People wondered whether the strategy could be recreated by a 2020 Democratic nominee. Former Clinton spokesperson Brian Fallon argued that staying on message in a head-to-head would be much more difficult than it was for congressional Democrats running disparate races across the country. While I generally agree that it will be more of a challenge, I do think it can be done by a candidate who’s entirely rooted in their own vision for the country, their own biography, and how to weave them together into a narrative that captivates voters. In this respect, Fallon’s conclusion was an important one. He said a bland candidate would be most susceptible to getting hijacked by Trump because Trump is simply so good at commanding media attention through his consistently divisive and provocative statements. A good nominee, Fallon suggested, must have equally as much charisma in order to survive, and voters will ultimately be the best judge of that, not pundits.
“Dem primary voters shouldn’t make some pundit-driven judgment about ‘who can best beat Trump,'” he wrote. “They [should] follow their heart & vote for someone who inspires. Because the same quality that inspires caucusgoers will enable them to transcend Trump attacks in the general.”
As I said last week, don’t get overly concerned with a set of criteria, such as the nominee’s race, gender, sexual orientation, or list of policy positions. More than ever, we need someone who inspires and offers a vision that’s expansive, inherently welcoming more and more people into the fold.
This is a Creative Commons article. The original version of this article appeared here.