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A Few Quick Take-Aways

Reflecting on the 2018 midterm election

A short blog on the election; it will take a little while to fully digest the results. But some results seem clear and important to note.

Obviously, the major news of the day is the Democratic resurgence in the House, with Democrats winning back the majority they lost so spectacularly in 2010. While the size of the wave will not approach the classic elections of 1974, 1994, 2006 or 2010, the significance should not be underestimated.

Not only did Democrats win an impressive majority of the popular vote for House candidates nationally (although the electoral significance is diminished by population concentration and gerrymandering which diminished the number of seats won), but also they won across the breadth of the country. Democratic candidates picked up reliably Republican seats in states like New York, New Jersey, Illinois, and Virginia, and there will also be Democrats representing traditionally red seats in Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, and South Carolina.

Significant recognition for this victory needs to go to House Democratic strategists who recruited and financed many of these winners. But credit also goes to many of the candidates themselves who, like those in earlier waves, launched themselves as neophytes into the electoral battle with minimal experience, resources or expectations of victory. Certainly one of the major takeaways of the evening is the addition of a broad diversity of new members — LGBT, youth, Native Americans, veterans and, of course, a record number of women. Democrats clearly have established themselves as the party that looks like America — the third majority-minority caucus — while Republicans shrink further into the traditionalism of white male politicians.

Now the question is what Democrats will do with this majority. The first step is to select the leadership. While I am no neutral party on the subject, it seems obvious that the new majority will pick Nancy Pelosi for speaker. With battles looming on every front with an volatile president and combative Senate, not to mention the challenges of managing an historically diverse Democratic Caucus, deposing the proven Pelosi, who just led the party to victory, for an untested replacement would be a remarkably pointless, self-inflicted wound. There is time for the next generation to learn during the coming Congress and prepare themselves to assume leadership; Pelosi herself seemed to signal a recognition of coming change by elevating newer members over the past two years and in several recent statements.

But the 116th Congress convenes in two months, and it is going to be a challenging one. Democrats will need both discipline and strategic skills to promote a positive agenda that keeps the Caucus together, differentiates the party from Republicans, responds to the voters’ expectations for results rather than simply for retribution. The further edges of the Caucus must recognize that to keep many of the seats won last night, the Caucus must embrace pragmatism over purity, because without the majority, all the passion in the world cannot be realized. No one can provide that experienced and steady leadership on January 3 except Pelosi, and Democrats are unlikely to come to any other conclusion when they make their leadership decisions later this month.

John Lawrence, a visiting professor at the University of California Washington Center, worked for 38 years in the House of Representatives, the last 8 as chief of staff to Speaker/Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi. This post was originally published on John’s blog, Domeocracy.

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