The blue wave wasn’t a blue wave after all, but a warning.
Tuesday’s elections saw Democrats retake the House, while Republicans increased their strength in the Senate. A number of conclusions can be drawn from the decisions Americans made this week — and all must be taken seriously because they again reveal the very divided state of our nation, and a wide-open future.
Nationally, the elections cannot be considered a referendum against President Donald Trump, but certainly can be considered a referendum on Trump, otherwise Democrats would have taken both chambers and Republicans would not have turned out in the numbers that they did. That increase in voter turnout helped ensure the election of pro-Trump candidates like Governor-elect Ron DeSantis of Florida, but also helped local House districts step Left.
That Democrat control of the House cannot be discounted. The overwhelming success they sought there may not have been overwhelming, but it was still a serious victory for their “Resistance” movement. Since 2016, many Democrats have literally been vowing revenge, and there is no reason to believe that the next two years will be a failure to deliver in terms of obstruction and litigation against the president.
But the Democrats must there be careful because Americans are not fans of sustained feuds. They seek results, and they’ll expect Democrats to deliver on promises. Not all voters who shifted the House to the Left are loyal liberals. Many are moderates and want to see balance, and if the Democrats prove incapable of compromise and issues-oriented action, the House will not remain to the Left.
Political incongruities could also be seen elsewhere on Tuesday. In Texas, the conservative governor, Greg Abbott, was handily re-elected, while conservative U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz narrowly avoided a defeat. In Maryland, Republican Larry Hogan was re-elected over Ben Jealous, who stood far to the Left, while Republican Tony Campbell lost his bid for Maryland’s U.S. Senate seat to longtime liberal incumbent Ben Cardin. Vermont, a state which returned socialist Bernie Sanders to the Senate, also re-elected Republican Gov. Phil Scott.
What is to be made of these unusual dynamics — a lack of a clear and definitive move in one direction or another?
First, the conservative ideological realignment of the 1980s remains. What was a conservative shift in the 1980s became the American center where a majority now gravitate. Most far-Left Democrats, like Beto O’Rourke in Texas, were not successful in their bids because they are way beyond the American mainstream, no matter how close they came to victory. Just because Americans want everyone to have health care that covers preexisting conditions does not mean they want the government to do it.
Second, balance itself. As far as these kinds of elections are concerned, Americans seem to be, consciously or unknowingly, correcting for political extremism. A strong mix of elected officials from both parties speaks to the divided nature of America at present, but perhaps also signals that Americans are seeking balance and compromise rather than continued contention. (Again, consider the examples of Texas, Maryland and Vermont). If neither side dominates, it is felt, then a middle road must be taken — such as one between the House and the Senate.
Third (and in my mind, most clearly), there is a warning in various parts. Republicans cannot lose sight of the issues. In 2010, Obamacare, the budget and the economy swept Republicans into the House. A failure to genuinely reform Obamacare, scale back the budget and focus on the improved economy helped cost Republicans the House.
The Senate, which emerged over the last two years as the more decisive of the two chambers, remained in Republican hands where they were granted more seats by the American people. The Democrats’ horrific trampling on the presumption of innocence by way of the Brett Kavanaugh confirmation hearings, threats of lawsuits and liberal policy proposals ensured Republican retention of, and growth in, the Senate.
As such, Democrats cannot claim a mandate given the limits of their victory; and Republicans must strive to improve within the next two years to suffer additional defeats.
There, the greatest warning comes from the American people. The strong mix of officials they have just elected is a reminder to both parties that careful attention is being paid to them. Americans are not ready to entrust the Democrats with Obama-era control, but they’re not entirely satisfied with current Republican control, either. Essentially, both parties are on notice.
This means that conservatives still have a chance before 2020 to demonstrate we are the ones to lead the way. We have to renew our focus on ideas, issues, and results above all.