What did we learn Tuesday night? A lot of things. Good things! Here are my three big takeaways from a very promising election.
1. Democrats can win some elections when they bother to run candidates. Alec MacGillis of ProPublica tweeted the other day what he quite rightly called the “most important and telling stat from Virginia.” In 2015, he wrote, Democrats in Virginia ran candidates against only 23 Republican incumbents in the state House of Delegates. This year, they challenged 54 incumbents. And that’s why they might overcome a 32-seat deficit and flip control.
Of course, the main reason Virginia Democrats are in a position to recapture that House pending the ongoing recounts is Donald Trump’s massive unpopularity in the commonwealth. But another reason they’re in that position is that they actually tried this time. The two factors are of course related, because it was the very fact of Trump being president that encouraged more Democrats to run. But which is the chicken and which the egg isn’t really important here. What’s important is to run! Try!
We know that this is already happening across the country. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has identified 80 districts where it thinks it can compete. A staffer there told me recently that they’d already found good candidates in 70 of the 80. Way ahead of the normal schedule. People who had previously demurred, this aide told me, were now taking the plunge, the sense of civic duty made more urgent by the Trumpian descent. Health care professionals are running, and people who have dramatic health-system stories to tell. People who’ve had brushes with gun violence. People, in other words, who are articulating something real and mainstream and normal. And sure there will be districts where a Democrat couldn’t win even if the Republican were caught with a dead girl or a live boy, as the old saw goes, but there are a huge number of districts that see-saw back and forth or even that normally lean Republican but in this climate could go Democratic.
2. Tuesday night marked the beginning of the end of the 2016 primary. What do I mean by that? I mean first of all that the bitterness over the Clinton-Sanders primary hasn’t subsided, and it won’t fully for a while. But winning does change things. For example: I bet you haven’t thought of Donna Brazile as much since Tuesday as you did before, have you?
But it isn’t just winning. It’s the way Democrats won. That is to say: I didn’t see any clear ideological divide separating Democratic winners and losers. It wasn’t like the Bernie people all won and the Hillary people all lost, or vice versa. Everybody won! The two highest-profile Democratic winners, governors-elect Ralph Northam and Phil Murphy, weren’t cut from Our Revolution cloth. Northam is hardly a lefty firebrand, and Murphy spent his career at (of all ironic places!) Goldman Sachs.
But plenty of other people won on pretty left-leaning platforms. Fifteen Virginia House of Delegate winners backed single-payer health care. There’s nothing in particular they can do about that as state legislators, but if the Democrats flip two seats in the state senate elections coming up 2019, the party will have full legislative and executive control of the state and be able to do Medicaid expansion under Obamacare.
And a number of the more high-profile winners of the night struck me as hybrids. Lee Carter is a democratic socialist. Lee Carter is also a U.S. Marine. Danica Roem is transgender, and thank God she beat that knuckle-dragging bigot. But she won by emphasizing road improvements. They both, and countless others across the country, convinced voters of their passion. Moral: Authenticity matters more than ideology.
3. Maybe now, finally, the major media will start interviewing Resistance people instead of white working-class Trumpers. Haven’t we heard enough from these people? Why did Politico feel the need to give us that story Wednesday from Johnstown, Pennsylvania, the one made instantly infamous by one of the subject’s new description of what NFL stands for? We get it. They’re struggling, with which we sympathize. They’re mad, which we can understand. And a creepy percentage of them are pretty racist, which we do not sympathize with or understand. And now they’re sticking with this imbecile (per the Politico piece) even though they know full well he can’t deliver on his promises, they just like the way he articulates their stupid racist grievances? Enough already.
It’s time for some profiles of Resistance leaders and groups. Who are the voters who made a black Liberian refugee Democrat the mayor of Helena, Montana? Seems like they may be worth talking to, CNN. Or the Maine voters who voted for Medicaid expansion in landslide numbers. The people who voted in that Sikh mayor in Hoboken. And so on and so on.
Media narratives are hard-wired and difficult to dislodge. Reporters and editors everywhere reflexively think “real Americans” means uneducated white people. No. Ravi Bhalla, said Hoboken mayor-elect, is a real American. So are the people who voted for him.
The so-called real Americans have fallen for a crypto-fascist, quasi-psychotic hustler and ignoramus who wouldn’t know the real principles of Americanism if James Madison’s heirs whacked him over the head with a copy of the Constitution. The real real Americans are the people fighting this madness. They are led by middle-aged women. If this country is to be saved, by God it will be they who do it. They’ve earned some television time.