From the Publisher: Questions This Election May Answer

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Arnold G. York

Note: This column was written before polls closed on Tuesday, Nov. 6.

It’s Election Day all over the U.S. and it’s really going to be the first electoral opportunity for America to show how it feels about Donald Trump and his presidency. A great deal of what’s going to happen is reasonably predictable with the red areas voting Republican and the blue areas voting Democratic, but this is where it gets interesting. Midterm elections—that is, the middle election between two presidential elections—are usually determined by turnout. The party that is more enthusiastic, whose voters are more motivated, is the party that wins. This election is going to answer a number of questions and impact strategy for the 2020 presidential race.

Question No. 1: Who is actually going to vote?

Typically, in midterm elections, the electorate is older, whiter, more conservative and more affluent with substantially lower turnout than in the presidential years. That explains why Trump is hitting hard on a nationalistic, somewhat racist and anti-immigrant (which is really anti-Hispanic) message directed in the main at men because he believes that will stoke up his base to vote. It’s a very calculated bet.

The Democrats have a different calculation and their win is dependent on a large turnout among woman, the college educated, suburban residents, minorities and the young. Typically, it’s very difficult to turn out Hispanic voters and the young voters in primaries, and if they don’t, Democrats will probably lose. 

Question No. 2: How does this affect the state and local races for the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives? 

The old adage is that “all politics is local” but Trump has changed that. Trump has said to Republicans, “Pretend I am on the ballot,” which means he has nationalized every race. The real battle for this election is in the House, because if the Democrats take over the House, they will make Trump’s life a living hell—and the 2020 presidential calculation changes immediately. If the Democrats fail to win the House, for whatever the reason, we may be looking at a two-term Trump presidency. By all historic measures, the Democrats should have a blue wave, overcome that 24-seat deficit and win with seats to spare. Many of the House races are currently polling tighter than I would have expected and considering, for example, how flawed some of the California Republican incumbents are, they’re still doing better than most pundits predicted. At this point, the outcome is anybody’s guess.

Question No. 3: How strong are the alt-right and the extreme left, and do they have the ability to swing races in close districts?

Starting with the Bernie Sanders group, can the Democrats get their people elected under their own banner, or are they willing to coalition with more moderate Democrats to try and win? This election should tell us if they can do it by themselves, not just in liberal districts, but in more diverse districts. Will the Bernie Sanders voters vote for candidates less liberal than they are or will they just walk? Sometimes groups are strong for a short time—perhaps an election cycle or two—and then just fade away. The Tea Party has pretty much faded, similar to the Bannon and the Breitbart crowd. Will the Bernie movement go the same way? At some point, you have to get into power or you just fade. This election may tell their fate.

Question No. 4: Can the Republicans flourish as the white persons’ party or is that too narrow a base?

In this election, the Republicans in many areas have pretty much presented themselves as the white persons’ political party. It’s a cynical calculation but they may be correct and being the white party may be the winning ticket. There are a number of candidates, and I am not taking about fringe candidates either (for example, candidates in Florida and Texas), who are sending that white party message. If the white party candidates win this time, the 2020 election is going to be even worse than what we are seeing now. It’s a calculated risk on their part. For example, President Trump has vilified the Hispanics in this country. He has said things I have never heard a president say before. It feeds into a prejudice that many people have, and it encourages then to come out and give voice to those prejudices. Every political operative, both Democratic and Republican, is going to be looking carefully at the Hispanic voter turnout numbers. If those turnout numbers  don’t jump up significantly in the face of this kind of provocation coming from Trump, a lot of political types are just going to skip by the Hispanic vote and put their time and money elsewhere.

Question No. 5: Do the Democrats actually have a party or are they just the party of political old timers without a coherent, winnable message?

As a lifelong Democrat, I find it strange I am asking this question, but at some point, you have to ask yourself: What do we believe in? We certainly have a platform but it doesn’t seem to resonate with many in the body politic. For example, the Republicans spent a great deal of time and energy fighting Obamacare. Now, they are working on getting rid of the rules on pre-existing conditions when half of our population has pre-existing conditions. We are a nation of immigrants; many in the population are only second-, third- or fourth-generation, and yet, immigration is under major attack and is not being defended with any vigor. Many of us have been shocked by the meanness, venality and indifference of many of our fellow citizens but our response as a party has been tepid, rational and lacking anger. Part of that is our leaders’ fault, part of that is our own fault, part of that is Obama’s fault with his cerebral presidency and part of that is a kind of gutlessness running through the party. If we don’t get angry and do something, we could not only lose this election, but also actually lose this democracy, which I truly believe is teetering.