The Democrats Should Have Done Better In The 2018 Midterm Elections
Posted November 23, 2018
Now that the 2018 vote counting has ground its way to a conclusion, the campaign for the 2020 election in the United States is officially underway. The Democrats need to learn from this year’s experience.
It is normal for the President’s party to lose seats in the first midterm elections after he was elected. The Democrats lost 62 seats in the House and 6 Senators in the 2012 elections, two years after Obama was elected.
This year, the Democrats gained 39 seats and lost a net of two Senate seats, notwithstanding that Trump is less popular than Obama was at the same point in time, and a large number of Republicans had declined to reoffer.
The Democrats should have done better. They played their hand poorly on two high profile issues—asylum seekers and the Kavanaugh appointment.
El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras are the three northernmost countries in Central America. They have become among the most violent countries in the world.
As a result, there has been a surge of asylum applicants heading through Mexico to the United States, where the yearly number of asylum seekers more than doubled in 2017.
Many of them are fleeing violence. Others are primarily economic migrants. That did not prevent President Trump from spewing a lot of nonsense about violent invasions.
It is nevertheless true that the Americans are faced with a difficult problem, as would Canada be in similar circumstances.
As the migrants start to pile up next to the American border, with thousands more to come, there is resentment from Mexicans who know lots of their own citizens needing help.
If the migrants were to stream unhindered across the US border, it would provoke the same reaction from Americans. That has not prevented prominent Democrats such as Senators Warren, Gillibrand, and Sanders from proposing to eliminate Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency.
They would replace it an agency which would be responsible for meeting the legal, health, and social-service needs of detained individuals and asylum-seekers.
This would be a gift to Trump who, for once, wouldn’t have to lie to say that the Democrats want to replace border enforcement with a welcoming committee.
The Democrats should instead acknowledge that there is a real problem managing the surge in asylum claims, and propose responses that are both humane, and sensitive to the limits Americans have on welcoming unplanned and often unqualified immigrants.
This is not immoral. Even the generously welcoming Germans and Swedes discovered that there was a limit to how many asylum-seekers their communities would willingly absorb.
A reasoned stance acknowledging the issue positions Democrats to rightly mock Trump’s dispatching of troops to the border, with the entirely false implication that the troops would be used to turn people away. U.S. military troops are prohibited from carrying out law enforcement duties.
To put the Supreme Court nomination in perspective, imagine for a moment that Clinton had won the election and the Democrats had a majority in the Senate. Clinton nominates a judge well regarded for his carefully reasoned decisions, and a liberal point of view. Let’s call him Kevinaw.
Late in the Senate’s review a witness comes forward claiming that Kevinaw had assaulted her at a party when he was 17. She is a credible witness but corroborating witnesses are not found, and he denies the whole thing. Two other allegations are made but strenuous efforts by media outlets fail to uncover support for either accusers’ claims.
In this scenario, it seems certain that the roles of the parties would be reversed. The minority Republicans would summon their moral indignation and fight the nomination.
The Democrats would quietly reflect on their own behavior at 17. For public purposes, they would point to the inconclusive evidence and resist further investigation. Kevinaw would be confirmed.
In the actual situation, the emergence of Christine Blasey Ford was a gift to Trump. It allowed him to position the nomination as a fight in support of the Right to Life movement (about which he actually cares very little).
Moderate Republican Senator Susan Collins was one of the swing votes. In a thoughtful speech declaring her support, she noted that many Democrats and special interest groups had rushed to condemn the nomination, sometimes before they knew the name.
Her perspective, which led her to vote for two Obama nominations, was that “the President has broad discretion to consider a nominee’s philosophy, whereas my duty as a Senator is to focus on the nominee’s qualifications as long as that nominee’s philosophy is within the mainstream of judicial thought.”
While expressing considerable empathy for Blasey Ford, she noted the inability to find others who could confirm the story. Compared to her carefully reasoned position, the Democrats looked like they were entirely driven by partisan considerations.
There may be another nomination before the 2020 election, and the Democrats will hurt themselves if they behave the same way.
It is normal for a president to be elected to a second term. This happens because the President often has the power to set the terms of public debate. Trump will set new traps in 2020. Bad as he is, the normal tendency to reelect might be repeated unless the Democrats resist the bait on the issues he chooses.
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