Lessons to be Learned from the 2018 Midterm Elections

December 1, 2018

The 2018 midterm elections provided us with a lot of useful lessons that we can use to help better understand the climate of elections in the United States at this moment in time. Both political parties have a lot to learn from these results and it is glaringly apparent that one or both of them will either blatantly disregard these lessons or make a mistake in their analysis of the results and do the exact opposite of what is in their best interest. Before getting into what exactly these lessons are, I am going to preface with the fact that this is an attempt at an apolitical analysis of the election results. My intention is to be as objective and non-partisan as I possibly can.


The first lesson is for Republicans: respect the “Trump Effect.”  Donald Trump, being the divisive figure that he is, can influence the outcome of an election just by existing. In right wing stronghold states that the Republicans are going to be favored to win anyway, Trump’s endorsement and general presence is good. His base is still going strong and in these mostly rural areas, his presence is enough to get them moving to support Republicans. The exact opposite is the case where Republicans are running in blue states, even in deep red districts. The best example is N.J.’s congressional District 7 where Leonard Lance, a five term incumbent with a strong bipartisan voting record, lost to a Democrat largely due to Anti-Trump rhetoric from the Democrats. In 2020, the Republicans will need to find a way to beat this problem if they want to A. win these long standing red seats like NJ-7 back and B. re-elect President Trump.


The second lesson is for the Democrats: progressives win in deep blue areas by strong margins but nowhere else. Bernie Sanders won his re-election campaign by a huge margin, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez won big and so did other progressives. Moderate democrats are not cutting it in deep blue districts, they are are getting primaried. Even long standing, well respected ones. This is not the case in red areas. Progressives are coming up short in areas that are red. While they have had success in primaries, they are not securing enough votes to win. They are losing to essentially any conservative who runs against them, albeit by a thin margin. Losing a tight race is still losing.




The last message is for both parties and it is the answer to winning the 2020 election. It’s where the battleground is going to be in 2020 and how to win this battle. The bases are secure. The hard right and the hard left voters are set in their ways and already know how they will be voting in 2020. This is important to Trump in particular because he relies heavily on his base to secure votes. The battle won’t be over whose base is stronger, it is about suburbia. To win in 2020 you need to win suburban districts that overwhelmingly support moderate candidates. Blue suburban districts elect blue dog democrats and red suburban districts elect soft republicans.


From the start, Trump is unfavored in suburbia. This is good for Democrats, however, if they intend to capitalize on this they need to take a hard look at who they intend to run in 2020. To win these areas, they will most certainly need to swing moderate Republicans to vote for them. As the midterms have shown us, progressives don’t seem to be able to do that. Progressives absolutely crush blue areas as mentioned prior, but fail to swing enough soft Republicans and right leaning independents. If the Democrats intend to win in 2020, their best bet would be to do what they did in 1992 with Bill Clinton and the 2006 midterms and run a Bill Clinton type candidate to win suburbia with a progressive running mate to keep the base from not voting. To clarify, this doesn’t mean to run Hillary Clinton. That would be a death sentence. While she is adaptable to any platform, she has a severe lack in charisma that leads her to have strong unfavorability ratings across the board. So who could be 2020’s Bill Clinton? My speculation would be Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper due to his favorability across party lines. Note that I am not arguing that a centrist Democrat winning the primary would be favorable to a progressive for political reasons. I am arguing this because there is evidence that they have the best chance of winning in a race against Donald Trump. This evidence being their ability to win suburbia.


The worry that voters who dislike Trump should have is that the Democrats might not pick up on this lesson and run a hard progressive like Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren. This would be a boon to the Trump campaign because candidates like these will most certainly mobilize the democrat base, particularly the idealogues. However, these candidates are not as easy of a sell to suburban independents and soft republicans who like capitalism and low taxes but hate how Donald Trump conducts himself in office.


My prediction is that if this is the case and someone like Sanders or Warren get the nomination or even Kamala Harris or Beto O’Rourke, the election will be very close in most places. Similarly to the 2018 Texas senatorial election that O’Rourke lost to Ted Cruz, it will be close but Trump will win in the electoral college because the progressive agenda will have alienated the wrong people in the wrong states. These right leaning independents and soft republicans in historically red districts that voted democrat in the 2018 midterms will hold their noses and vote for Trump. We will not know if I am right until 2020 and anything could change that swings the reality radically but if all stays the same and I had to bet on it, I would bet that the Democrats will nominate a progressive and hand the president a second term.


Nick is a senior Political Science major.


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