- In Congressional Districts and States Trump that won, he may not have; Hillary Clinton lost
- Republicans never took time to do a postmortem on the 2016 cycle, they won so they never looked back
- The Democrat establishment has only itself, and Hillary Clinton, to blame
- If Republicans want to retain a majority in the U.S. House of Representatives, they need to be a counterbalance to the Executive Branch, and campaign to women receptive to their message. 2018 is not going to be about the tax cuts, it is going to be all about the ladies.
Donald Trump’s 2016 victory in any particular precinct, district, or state might just mean that Hillary Clinton wasn’t very well liked there. It has been that simplicity that has been missing from the plethora of explanations as to why Donald Trump won. The “Trump Coalition” simply might not be anything more than voters didn’t want Hillary Clinton as our president, and now that she isn’t, there is no “coalition” for Republicans to tap into. With the absence of Hillary Clinton to vote against, things more than likely have returned to normal, thus no political sea change was affected. I have been witness to endless pronouncements that because Trump won this district or that state future races there are now in play, and perhaps are even easy layups in the mid-terms. It would be one thing if that was just the boilerplate on letters to donors, but unfortunately Congressional Republicans either started believing their own propaganda or were so focused on Washington D.C. they never bothered to study the aftermath of 2016. The Democrats have refused to be honest about what went wrong for them in the 2016 cycle, conversely the Republicans have refused to understand what went right for them in 2016 and why.
The narrative is that Trump’s victory, while certainly historic, was supposedly made all the more remarkable by the fact that he bested 16 other primary opponents. Trump’s primary victory was not in spite of being up against a field of 16 competitors, his primary victory was only possible because the field was so crowded and confusing. The support of traditional primary voters was dispersed and divided, and Trump was an entertaining figure that brought excitement and attention to the primary. It is important to remember that in Trump’s first primary contest, he received less than 25% of the support of caucus-goers and was bested by Ted Cruz. Furthermore, up until April 26th, 2016 Trump never had received more than 50% of the vote in any state, except for his home state of New York.
There is still a lot of Democrat angst, denial, and a growing “resistance” movement going into the midterms, but the hard truth is the Democrat party shut out viable candidates in the 2016 election cycle because Hillary had paid her dues, was next in line, and the Clinton machine had taken over the DNC. Their anger shouldn’t be at Donald Trump or the outcome of the election, the anger of the Democrats should be directed at the Clinton Campaign, Hillary herself, Democrat figures that campaigned for Hillary Clinton, and anyone at the DNC that was complicit. There is a constant refrain that had Hillary Clinton campaigned in Wisconsin she would have won there. The “Monday morning quarterbacks” in the Democrat party have it very wrong. If Hillary Clinton had campaigned in Wisconsin she would have lost by even more. I was a Republican candidate for Congress in the 2016 cycle. Based on the polling data we were looking at, we were hoping that Hillary Clinton herself would campaign, not just fundraise, in the state of Minnesota. Even in a state like Minnesota that traditionally is very safe for Democrats, Hillary Clinton only won by 1.5%. The more people got to know Hillary Clinton, the less they liked her. The Democrat mistake wasn’t geography, the electoral college, social media, or a lacking get out the vote effort, the mistake was Hillary Clinton herself.
One of the things that has not been examined by the media or political scientist, was the lack of down-ballot effect the 2016 presidential race had in certain districts. As an example, I am still baffled by how in Minnesota’s Third Congressional District Republican Eric Paulsen could absolutely trounce his opponent, Terri Bonoff by 13.8%, while Hillary Clinton won the district by 10%. That is an amazing and otherwise unexplainable 23.8% underperformance by the Democrat Terri Bonoff. A race that was much more personal to me, because my name was on the ballot, was Minnesota’s Eighth Congressional District in 2016. I lost that race by a little over half a percent, by a fraction, garnering 49.6% of the vote, yet Trump won the district with 54% of the vote. Since this is something that I lived, I have the strongly held belief that in the most highly competitive 2016 races, the contest for President was a circus that stood on its own, thus the down-ballot effect was limited in races loud enough where congressional candidates could define themselves. I hold that belief not by way of backward rationalizations, but by 18 months of polling by two different pollsters and the end result itself.
For months I have been befuddled by the evergreen narratives that the leaders of the National Republican Congressional Committee have been advancing. Now, in a very swift swing of the pendulum, the media reports are about alarm bells going off at the NRCC over vulnerabilities in districts long thought to be safe for Republicans. Democrat control of the House of Representatives is scary. When many Democrats refuse to distance themselves from socialist ideas, embrace government-run healthcare, and treat our constitution as a nuisance, I am eager to offer my constructive criticisms.
In that spirit, here is my advice to Washington D.C. Republican leadership and professional staff: forget the 2016 election cycle and what percentages Trump won any state or district by. The 2016 Presidential election was such an outlier, if you are using any part of the 2016 results you will be interpreting irrelevant data which will lead to bad decision making. Remember that Trump did not win in 2016, Hillary Clinton lost. Most voters in those Electoral College-rich swing states disliked Hillary Clinton more than they disliked Donald Trump. It isn’t about whether Trump is currently liked or disliked in a particular district, it is about why and on which level. America lost its innocence in the 1990’s with Bill Clinton’s numerous sex scandals. It is a sign of the times that not many people are up in arms about payoffs to porn stars in 2018. The Special Council’s investigation is just polarizing the already polarized. Increasingly there is an acceptance of President Trump’s unorthodox approach to foreign policy. Trump is doing things very differently than both Bush and Obama did, and as a result there are different outcomes, such as potential talks with North Korea. America is trading concerns about Trump’s sex life for the potential of nuclear disarmament on the Korean Peninsula, and that seems like a good deal. The point is that Donald Trump has an upside, but candidates that have or will be tying themselves to Trump this election cycle will lose most of those competitive races.
Most Americans are glad we have a president that isn’t going to do the same thing as his predecessors and expect different results. However, voters want to have a Representative or Senator that is a check on Trump, not a rubber stamp or sycophant. Coincidently, that is the way the Founding Fathers intended it; separate, equal branches of government balancing one another. It is in our Constitution, I highly encourage both Washington D.C. Republicans and Democrats to give it a read sometime. Congressional leadership sucking up to the Executive Branch is as equally destructive to Republican midterm chances, as an adversarial posture would be.
While identity politics is destructive, it is a reality. Republicans have lost the votes of many women of color, and now Republicans are starting to lose high school and college educated white women, many who cast ballots against Hillary Clinton. To put it bluntly, high school educated white women are walking away from the Republican party, while college educated white women are running. Many female voters in 2016 were more turned off by Hillary than Trump, but in 2018 Hillary holds no government position and many are still turned off by Trump, who is President, and leader of the Republican Party. Even though Trump’s name isn’t on the ballot, the 2018 midterm is still partially a referendum on him, especially with female voters. Initiatives and bills against human trafficking, aside from being good bipartisan legislation, make good scripts for good campaign commercials. However, T.V. commercials about championing narrow one-off successes will only seek to reassure Republican leaning women contemplating a change in their voting habits, it will do nothing to reattract women who once voted Republican and now intend to vote Democrat. Most competitive races in the 2018 election cycle will be decided by the ladies. It is with women that Republicans must work the hardest, and not just with white women. There are not enough old white guys out there for the Republicans to win elections.
There is shaping up to be over a hundred competitive races for both the House of Representatives and Senate. This isn’t an advice column, and if it were there would be no way to give advice that is applicable to over a hundred different races. However, it is my opinion Republicans can win the 2018 midterms by focusing on two messages: 1) without adversity or hostility, carve out their own identity as a constructive and stable counterbalance to the Executive Branch, and 2) make sure that women are the focus of their campaigns. There are a lot of Republican, Independent, and Conservative women in this country. Do not give them an excuse to stay home or switch parties on Election Day. Even though there are visible women in the Trump administration, the White House is very masculine, and when they talk about women’s issues they don’t do so with a lot of sincerity. It is up to every Republican with a competitive midterm race to make meaningfully sincere connections with female voters. Oh, by the way, you can’t fake sincerity.
Image: “McConnell & McCarthy” by Outstate.us is licensed under CC BY 4.0 / A derivative from Mitch McConnell – Caricature” (CC BY 2.0) by DonkeyHotey and Kevin McCarthy – Caricature” (Public Domain) by DonkeyHotey