The 2018 midterms did not produce the thorough repudiation of Donald Trump that Democrats desperately wanted, and that Trump himself had earned.
Stacey Abrams likely did not become the first black governor of Georgia, Andrew Gillum did not become the first black governor of Florida and Beto O’Rourke did not defeat the unctuous Ted Cruz for a Senate seat in deep-red Texas. A lot of things that might have happened did not quite happen .... yet.
That “yet” is a powerful word, however, because you can see where this is headed, both here in Georgia and also nationwide. The same party that lost the 2016 popular vote by three percentage points, that lost the popular vote in six of the last seven presidential cycles, last night lost the nationwide House vote by nine percentage points. And while Democrats lost three Senate seats, that was a function of geography rather than popularity. Overall, Democratic Senate candidates outperformed Republicans by a margin of 55-43 percent.
You look at those numbers, and you look at what’s happening around the country, and it’s almost impossible to imagine where Republicans can now turn to reverse these trends. They are fighting a desperate rear-guard action against history, demographics and the actuarial tables, and against enemies that implacable, the inevitable can be put off only so long.
Democratic gains in the U.S. House, while limited by gerrymandering, were significant, giving them a foothold of power in Washington. They elected a whole new class of women, with at least 28 female Democratic freshmen headed to Congress. They elected white people and Muslims and black people and Latinos and Native Americans and gay people.
Young people voted in record numbers in this midterm, and they voted overwhelmingly Democratic. Suburbs that have been Republican strongholds for decades are also turning. It is stunning to think that Lucy McBath, an unknown, black, female anti-NRA activist, has probably defeated a longtime Republican politician in a historically Republican, suburban Atlanta congressional district once held by Newt Gingrich. A second suburban/exurban Republican, Rob Woodall, may have barely held on, but probably for the last time in that rapidly changing district.
In the governor’s race, Abrams carried once-conservative Cobb County by almost 10 percentage points, and Fulton County by 45 points. She carried Gwinnett County overwhelmingly, by an almost 14-point margin, and two Democrats were elected to the Gwinnett County Commission, the first in that county in more than 30 years.
In contrast, Republicans both here and nationwide are increasingly dependent on a base of rural white voters without college degrees, and with each passing cycle that demographic grows smaller and smaller as a share of the overall electorate. The histrionic, often racist rhetoric and policies that they deploy to keep that base inflamed make it impossible for them to reach beyond that base for support.
As long as Florida remains a magnet for older retirees, it will remain a tough for Democrats to win. But fast-growing GOP bastions such as Arizona, Texas and yes, Georgia are now officially in play for the first time in several decades. Democrats may have lost statewide races in all three states on Tuesday, but historically speaking they should not even have been competitive.
Abrams’ narrow, hard-fought loss in Georgia not only makes it a battleground state in the 2020 presidential election, it means that U.S. Sen. David Perdue, the man who lauds Trump as “the American Churchill,” will be targeted by Democrats in the next cycle. Abrams will be the obvious choice to challenge him should she choose to do so, and she has proved to be a prodigious fundraiser and organizer.
And while Brian Kemp’s victory over Abrams will keep the state in Republican control for the next four years, I think that in the end it will accelerate Democratic progress in this state. By instinct, ideology and intellect, Kemp will try to govern as if this is still a deep-red state when it is not. His record tells us that he will pick his battles poorly, and that he lacks the capacity to modulate. There’s no schedule for such things, but in the Georgia that is surely coming, shotguns, pickup trucks and voter suppression have just about run their course.