Over the next few months, as election results are finalized, exit polling massaged, and post-election polling conducted and examined, we will be spending a lot of time slicing and dicing the data. But in the meantime, Republicans need to be doing some soul-searching about their party and its future. Of all President Trump’s qualities, long-term planning, discipline, and seeing things through the eyes of others are not among his strongest. Those who have the long-term interests of the GOP at heart should be thinking about where their party and country are today and where they are headed. The two are not moving in the same direction.
Republicans did well last week in most places where they had a solid home-field advantage. Every incumbent Republican senator in a state that Trump carried in 2016 won reelection; the only GOP senator that lost was Dean Heller in Nevada, a state won by Hillary Clinton. Republicans ousted Democratic incumbents in three of the five states where Trump won by 19 points or more, defeating Joe Donnelly in Indiana, Heidi Heitkamp in North Dakota, and Claire McCaskill in Missouri, but Joe Manchin in West Virginia and Montana’s Jon Tester managed to survive. Of the five Democratic senators in states that Trump won by less than 19 points, only Bill Nelson in Florida appears to have lost, and that is close enough that a recount is in order.
In the House, according to the latest available numbers compiled by Cook Political Report House Editor David Wasserman, Republicans won 96 percent of the seats in districts that Trump won by 7 points or more, but lost 96 percent of the seats in districts that Trump either won by less than 7 points or lost. Democrats also won the national popular vote by either 7 or 8 points—all of the votes are not counted, particularly on the West Coast where liberalized early and absentee voting has slowed down the count but where Democrats are doing exceedingly well.
Republicans picking up either one or two Senate seats, mostly because of a highly favorable Senate map this year, masks some real problems for the party. In the three states that effectively determined the outcome of the 2016 presidential election, Republicans had real problems this year. In Wisconsin, GOP Gov. Scott Walker lost, albeit by just over a point, and Republicans lost the Senate race by just over 10 points. The GOP fell short in the governor race in Michigan by almost 10 points and the Senate race by 6 points, and lost the Senate and gubernatorial races in Pennsylvania by 13 and 17 points, respectively. In Ohio, normally a key swing state but where Trump won by 8 points in 2016, Democrats won the Senate contest by 6 points but lost the governorship by 5 points. Whatever problems Democrats had two years ago in these states appear to have dissipated, suggesting it might be more related to Hillary Clinton and less to the Democratic Party more systemically, or that Trump has at the very least not expanded the GOP coalition since 2016.
The 2013 Republican National Committee autopsy report warned the GOP about the implications of a party being over-dependent upon white voters—specifically older, white males—and the 2018 results corroborated that conclusion.
Network exit polls show that while Republicans carried the male vote by 4 points (51-47), they lost the women’s vote by 19 points (59-40), only breaking even among white women (49 percent for each side). While Republicans won voters 45 years of age and older (my group, the pre-dead) by one point (50-49), they lost voters 44 years and younger (aka the future) by 25 points (61-36).
Keeping in mind the shrinking proportion of white voters in this country, winning the 72 percent of this year’s electorate who were white by just ten points (54-44), doesn’t make up for losing the 28 percent that are nonwhite by 54 points (76-22 percent). Depending upon whites in a changing country for 86 percent of your vote is not very healthy, and not a long-term strategy.
My colleague, Amy Walter, describes the president’s approach as an “all base, all the time” strategy, one that worked to get 46 percent of the vote and an Electoral College victory in 2016 against Clinton but might not work in 2020 with someone else’s name on the ballot and with Green Party nominee Jill Stein somewhat more marginalized than she was two years ago.
At some point, probably either January 2021 or January 2025, Trump will not be in the office and not be the GOP’s leader. Those Republicans who are around after that should be thinking about what will be left of their party and what they can do to alter what certainly appears to be an existential threat. Not that Democrats are above screwing up a favorable situation, but counting on the other team to blow it is usually not a wise strategy.