GOP’s Loss Was A Real Wake-Up Call — Will They Answer It?
No question about it, the GOP took a real shellacking in Tuesday’s off-year vote, losing key elections in Virginia, New York and New Jersey. Republicans have been put on notice for 2018: Do your job, or go home.
Democrats ran what was for them a smart but unprincipled, bare-knuckled campaign. They smeared moderate Republicans as racists and white-power advocates, while largely avoiding making their campaigns about issues. It worked: They won 16 seats in the Virginia legislature and the state’s governorship, re-elected a failed socialist mayor in New York, and took back New Jersey’s gubernatorial mansion from departing Republican Chris Christie.
It was such a victory that even Hillary Clinton (!) claimed partial credit for it, with her tweeting that her PAC funded many of the winners. Joe Biden also got in on the action, claiming “nearly every candidate I endorsed won.”
So yes, even though it was an off-year election with mostly state and local control at stake, it was a big day for the Democrats.
Even so, don’t think this was so much a Democratic victory as a Republican defeat.
Republicans, quite frankly, have failed to deliver on signal promises they made in 2016 — promises that were taken seriously by voters and even many moderate Democrats — that led to Donald Trump’s stunning win over Hillary Clinton and Republicans maintaining control of both houses of Congress.
To nearly everyone’s surprise, they have reprised their act from 2003 to 2007, the last time they controlled the presidency and both houses of Congress.
They had a chance then to do a lot of good, moving on entitlement reform, cutting spending, doing free-market reforms for health care, and even undoing the Clinton-era regulations that led to the housing meltdown and financial crisis. Apart from passing tax cuts in 2003, they did none of the other things that voters hoped they would do.
President Obama was personally popular, but after he made ObamaCare and the Dodd-Frank financial reforms his priorities during his first two years, Democrats lost big across the country. First they lost the House. Then they lost election after election in state after state. By one count, Democrats under Obama lost 1,042 state and federal elected posts, including congressional and state legislative seats, gubernatorial posts, and even the presidency.
That was a big wake-up call for the Democrats. Assessing the Democrats’ electoral damage last November, Rep. Tim Ryan, the moderate Ohio Democrat who failed in his bid to win the House minority leader post, summed it up pretty well: “We’re not even a national party at this point. We have some support on the coasts, but we’ve lost the support of middle America, and we’ve got to make some changes. So I’m pulling the fire alarm here, because the house is on fire.”
On Tuesday, Democrats squelched the fire, at least a bit.
Republicans would do well not to discount their losses and to get serious about being a party of power. They made big promises, as we said, on ObamaCare and taxes. As of yet, they’ve delivered on neither. A number of Republicans in recent weeks have announced they will be retiring next year. Just Wednesday, two more — twelve-term Rep. Frank LoBiondo of New Jersey and conservative seven-term Rep. Ted Poe of Texas — announced they’ll join the GOP exodus.
Unfortunately, disgruntled Republican voters may be taking the wrong lessons from their drubbing. A poll by Rasmussen taken on Tuesday found “Republicans (43%) are more likely than Democrats (36%) and voters not affiliated with either major political party (31%) to regard today’s elections as a referendum on Trump.”
We see it the other way.
Unlike Congress, Trump has delivered as much as possible on his biggest promises. He put a solid conservative on the Supreme Court, performed a record regulatory rollback at the federal level, pulled the U.S. out of the costly Paris Climate Agreement, pushed Congress to reform our absurd tax code, and used his executive power to curb some of ObamaCare’s worst excesses.
Oh, yes, and after eight years of excuses by the previous White House tenant, Trump has ISIS on the ropes, nearly completely defeated and no longer holding significant amounts of territory. He’s also facing down the North Korean and Iranian nuclear threats, two big cans that both Republican and Democratic presidents have kicked down the road for decades. And Trump has done this all in a year.
Meanwhile, congressional Republicans have been a disappointment. They’ve promised to get rid of ObamaCare and to reform taxes. While those should be slam dunks, they’ve so far failed to do either, although tax reform of some sort now seems highly likely.
The implied argument of the Republicans has been, “Wait until the 2018 election is over; then we’ll really be freed up to do great things.” Well, guess what. If Tuesday’s any guide, 2018 might not keep Republicans in power. The Democrats look like they’re getting their electoral mojo back. For Republicans, it’s time to be bold or go home.