What’s Left, Being Right: Midterm Election Result Reflections

Lee Tremblay & Brian Challenger, Class of 2016 & 2017

What’s Left: No Clear Winner 

Lee Tremblay, Class of 2016

Let the record reflect that no one won the elections on Tuesday night.

As predicted in last week’s What’s Left column, the Republicans may have taken home the most Senate seats – more than they’ve had in decades – but they didn’t win any major political power, and they certainly didn’t win the hearts and minds of the American people.

Everyone knows our political system is broken, and no one is feeling particularly hopey-changey about it anymore. If nothing else, though, the Republicans have proven themselves a disruptive force in Congress over the last six years. So when it came down to voting decisions, the best choice was the slightly less hated nominee … and the one who might stir things up a bit. The mindset seems to be “maybe filibusters and far-right rhetoric haven’t worked yet, but it could work if we add more!”

There will be no compromising between parties. Contrary to the suggestions of last week’s Being Right column, the Republicans will not be able to put pressure on the Democrats regarding immigration and a border-control bill instead of an “amnesty” bill; as President Obama said in a news conference on Wednesday, he’ll simply act under executive authority to make change for immigration. 

What’s more, the Republican Party is highly unlikely to be magnanimous in victory. After all, they’ve won. Conservatives, particularly Tea Partiers, won’t be interested in compromise – they’ll be interested in doubling down on their newfound joy and swinging righter than ever before for the upcoming presidential nominations and elections. This vote wasn’t really about immigration or any of the other hot issues up for debate at the moment.

For voters, this election wasn’t even about left and right, it was about getting things done. And that too will fail.

Gridlock remains. The government does not have the interests of the average American in mind (although if you’re in the one percent you may celebrate the fact that more people will be hearing your point of view parroted by Republicans). The fact is, the U.S. is not a representative democracy. The population of politicians is nothing like the population of the U.S. in any way – race, gender or opinions.

So, with two groups of highly educated, absurdly wealthy people negotiating with each other, no one wins. No one was really even interested; voter turnout was lackluster at best.

If we’re looking for change, it will have to start at the ground level and work its way up. Most state issues, like the gun control bill passed in Washington; the legalization of marijuana in Oregon, Alaska and Washington, D.C.; abortion in Colorado and North Dakota; and increases in the minimum wage in Alaska, Arkansas, South Dakota and Nebraska swung left and can work their way out into the country.

We may live in a country where the vast majority of voters want to see increased gun control (92 percent, according to a New York Times poll), but that has yet to translate upwards. The solution? If the highly polarized political sphere can’t work things out, let the electorate take over for them. Compromise can start with state legislatures, with American citizens talking to each other and to their local governments about what we really want.

Let’s ignore the midterms and focus on the real world.

Being Right: No Republican Wave 

Brian Challenger, Class of 2017

For Republicans everywhere, the sky looked just a little bit brighter on Wednesday morning. Republicans took control of the Senate and increased their majority in the House to the largest Republican majority since 1949. The state elections went even better with Republicans now in control of 31 governor’s mansions. In Illinois – my deeply Democrat home state – Republican Bruce Rauner beat incumbent Democrat Pat Quinn. In Maryland and Massachusetts, Republican candidates won the race for governor in what were probably the most surprising results of election night. In Wisconsin, Arkansas, Florida, Maine, Michigan, New Mexico and Kansas, Republicans either successfully defended their seats or defeated Democrat incumbents.

The best news coming out of all these wins were not the wins themselves but the ability with which that Republicans showed to compete. Even in races they didn’t win, Republicans pushed very close races in very traditionally Democrat areas. 

As a Republican, there is a never-ending stream of commentary about how the party has become irrelevant and that demographics have doomed us to irrelevancy. Let me be clear, there was no “Republican wave” in the election. I am not ready by any means to declare that the country is becoming more conservative or that the country is not becoming more liberal. Republicans won largely by making the election a referendum on President Obama’s performance and not about some grand Republican vision. It will be up to the newly elected Republicans to capitalize on the chance that they have been given to go and sell the Republican vision.

What the election did show was signs of hope and change in the Republican party. In 2012, many of the newly elected Republicans were – for lack of a better term – wildcards. They were deeply conservative candidates who rode to election on the extreme frustration of conservative voters and did not care nearly as much about governing as they did about taking an ideological stance. The result was the deeply unpopular government shutdown and Republican alienation from moderate voters. This election showed that the Republican Party has at least started to learn from its mistakes.

This time around the party went out of its way to pick more agreeable, level-headed and well-spoken candidates, and the results were positive. Republicans won elections in states like Colorado, which Democrats had declared as one of the building blocks of Republican demographic doom, and kept races very tight in Democrat strongholds such as Vermont and Connecticut. Overall, candidates across the country did better with Hispanic, young and women voters – all groups in which the GOP traditionally does poorly and needs to do a better job reaching. This election proved that these voters are not lost to Republicans forever. If the party takes these lessons to heart and stops nominating candidates who send moderate voters running for the hills, the future can be a lot brighter than anyone hoped. 

This election can be seen as a roadmap for future Republican success. The party now faces a crossroad: does it follow the path from 2012 and double down on ultra-conservative candidates or does it follow the 2014 path and nominate more moderate candidates with a greater appeal? Republicans also have to be careful not to take this as a mandate to continue on the path of the last two years. As much as these results were about positive candidates, they were just as much about the unpopularity of President Obama and frustration with Democrat’s governing.

The GOP has to provide real leadership or these gains will be temporary. But if the GOP shows it can govern and the party continues to nominate reasonable candidates, then this election will be a turning point. It might even usher in a real Republican wave.