The 2018 US Elections: Drowned by the Blue Wave

Perhaps the most important U.S. elections of the new century took place on Nov. 6. According to tradition, in the middle of the president’s term, all members of the House of Representatives are up for election, as are about one-third of the Senate and most of the state governors.

The Founding Fathers’ logic and that of their followers in establishing such a complex system is completely clear. The people should always have the right to vote, to change the path of the country and to keep those in power responsible, and such power should always be subject to checks and balances.

This is the reason why Tuesday’s elections were the most important of the new century. It is because they are the mechanism which the Founding Fathers established within the political system which allows citizens to answer the question: “Is this the direction in which you want your country to move forward?” In order to understand how Americans replied, we have to look at the context, the expectations and the results.

There is no doubt that in the past two years, the U.S. has repoliticized. Previous U.S. elections clearly showed that the time of the average politician and the average voter is over. Donald Trump entered politics bombastically, destroying traditional Republicans in the primaries and then stealing the electoral college from the Democrats. Amid all the negatives that resulted from this, there was a huge positive: the importance of who you vote for re-emerged in America. Republicans and Democrats began to differ from each other again.

For the Republicans, this led to a disastrous political zugzwang. Zugzwang is a situation in chess where one player is put at a disadvantage because he must make a move that will most likely cause him to lose, but the rules require he make the move. The Republicans happened to be in a position where they had to play along with Trump (weakening their support among large groups of their usual supporters such as religious communities or so-called soccer moms and the small but key minority supporters), or ignore and oppose him (thereby relinquishing support from the white, middle-aged male, and being forced to battle daily with offensive tweets).

It also so happened that the Democrats were a complete minority (without a president from their party, and holding a minority in the Senate and House of Representatives) for the first time in 10 years, although the country as a whole is leaning in their favor, rather than siding with Republicans. This gave a clear sign that it was time to turn to the left, and the modern, progressive “social democratic” wing had a head-on collision with the establishment. During the primaries, most establishment candidates managed to win (albeit with a dwindling lead), but in many places the progressive wing won the right to nominate its own representatives in the elections.

So the scene was set. For many Republicans, it was a battle for their political survival. A low presidential rating in the polls, and low ratings for the party, along with worsening demographics meant that a defeat at the polls would surely mean the end of their political careers. It was also clear for the Democratic establishment that if the progressive wing won, there would be no going back. For the left wing, it was a unique opportunity to get out of the position in which they have been for half a century, that of being a small, fringe group, usually consisting of two to three senators, one or two governors and a dozen members of the House of Representatives. It was an opportunity to eventually occupy the position left of center.

Because of this, analysts in recent weeks predicted a “blue wave” which would engulf the country. The expectation was that due to Trump’s low ratings and the Republican’s zugzwang establishment, the Democrats would easily retain the electoral districts they already held, and the progressive wing would steal the regular fortresses held by Republicans. Traditionally, reality has proven to be more complicated than plans, expectations and predictions.

The result was that the Democrats won a majority in the House of Representatives and succeeded in turning around 35 districts. This is a huge, unquestionably significant victory for the Democrats. At the same time, the Republicans gained around three more seats in the Senate. The Democrats won about six more gubernatorial seats, but failed to achieve their two most important goals: Florida and Georgia. If the U.S elections were a football game, the result would be 1 1/2 to 1 1/2 with a missed penalty for the Democrats.

By all accounts, this means that the anticipated blue wave did not take place. In order to understand why, I will illustrate with a representative example for each of the results.

In the race for senator in Texas, a Democratic candidate had a realistic chance to turn one of the reddest states for the first time since 1988. The progressive candidate, Beto O’Rourke, ran an active and positive campaign, managed to collect almost twice as many donations as his opponent (without accepting money from corporations) and at times, was leading not only in the vote (the preliminary mail-in ballots), but also in the opinion polls. Ultimately, Trump’s intervention in the last days proved to be crucial, and Ted Cruz maintained his seat by less than 3 percent. This contest is instructive for two reasons. First, the Republican candidates actively supported by President Trump won, and second, the progressive Democrats managed to challenge positions that would be otherwise unthinkable to challenge and almost succeeded in winning them. Nevertheless, the huge Democratic mobilization in Texas brought them two more seats in the House of Representatives.

In the race for representative from California’s 25th congressional district, 30-year-old, bisexual Katie Hill, who lives on a rescue animal farm, turned the district, which had been Republican since 1992. Hill was undoubtedly the biggest victory for the Democratic progressive wing.

In the race for representative from New York’s 14th congressional district, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is the youngest woman ever elected to Congress, and will become the face of the progressive wing in the lower house. Her campaign indicated that primarily, the progressive wing of the Democratic Party has no problem winning traditionally blue districts, and secondly, that the demographic sector with highest representation in the House is made up of young women of color (including Sharice Davids, Rashida Tlaib, Debra Haaland, Ayanna Pressley, Jahana Hayes and many more).

The race for representative from Oklahoma’s 5th Congressional District also shows that the anticipated blue wave did not occur. Oklahoma is one of the reddest states, and the 5th Congressionald District was last in Democratic hands 44 years ago. However, Kendra Horn snatched a surprising victory in the midterm election. More than half of the newly won Democratic districts were won by women.

In the race for senator from North Dakota, the incumbent was involved in corruption scandals and she often voted with the Republicans. Democrat Heidi Heitkamp lost her Senate seat in North Dakota. The anticipated blue wave did not provide immunity to the Democratic Party’s weaker candidates, and the winner was Kevin Cramer, who was a critic of Trump’s policies but changed his attitude in the middle of the campaign and invited Trump to support him and managed to turn one more Senate seat in favor of the Republicans.

In the race for governor of Florida, the most important gubernatorial finished with half a percentage in favor of Ron DeSantis, who was vigorously supported by Trump. The Democrats won the House of Representatives, but missed their biggest strategic goals with tight races like those for governor and Senate seats in key states.

President Donald Trump announced a “massive victory” the day of the midterms, even though the Republicans lost the House. Trump, however, is absolutely right. He won, and demonstrated to his party that districts, Senate seats and governorships can be won only when he is personally involved. In this way, two years after becoming president, Trump has also become an undisputed leader of the Republican Party.

On the other hand, the Democrats expected to win with a blue wave, but instead, drowned in it, missing the opportunity to register even one big or unexpected victory in the Senate and gubernatorial races. The progressive wing of the party, however, clearly showed the establishment that, unlike them, it can win blue and red constituencies (and can even collect more money for its campaigns, without accepting donations from corporations), but at the same time, it showed that it also has no capacity for unexpected success.

However, the Democrats can take advantage of their majority in the House to do many useful things. In the first place, the president has relatively less leverage to act without the support of the members of the House of Representatives, so the Democrats will have all the necessary tools to impose checks and balances on the president and his administration. Secondly, chairmen of congressional committees are important in many special policy areas, and there is room for improvement with respect to current committees. (The House Sub-Committee on the Environment comes to mind.)

The third and the most important advantage of holding a majority in the House of Representative is that the House has almost unlimited authority to subpoena documents, it has the mechanisms to protect the special investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 elections, and is the legislative body that can initiate impeachment proceedings with a simple majority vote. From now on, there is no excuse for the Democrats not to get to the bottom of the investigation into the influence of Russian intelligence and that of their allies on the democratic election process in the United States.

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