Last night Democrats met reasonable standards of expectation. In the face of the lowest unemployment rate in nearly 50 years, they handily won back the House and brought some potential new stars to Washington, many of them women. Outside Washington, they gained governors’ mansions and state legislatures and regained ground in key presidential electoral states. Once again, they won a lot more votes nationally than Republicans.
So why do so many Democrats I’ve talked to in the past 12 hours feel so down?
Well, let’s start with Andrew Gillum, Beto O’Rourke and Stacey Abrams. If just one had won, many Democrats would feel a lot better today. And in the states of Tennessee, Missouri and Indiana, where Democrats had strong incumbents or challengers, they suffered tough losses, some by large margins. For example, Phil Bredesen, a popular, centrist, two-term former governor got crushed in Tennessee. Many of these losses came in areas where President Trump made himself the central factor in the race, and he has every reason to take credit today. In an off-year election with high negatives, the incumbent president can credibly claim that he personally stopped Democrats’ chances of making history by electing African American governors in the deep South and a liberal senator in Texas.
Yet I suspect Democrats’ post-election malaise is not rational but emotional. Some Democrats had hoped yesterday would deliver a stinging rebuke of a president they despise, and they have a hard time swallowing that almost as many Americans came to the polls to praise Trumpism as came to bury it. After all the norms Trump has violated, after the ugly nativism, narcissism and gleeful sowing of division and anger, Trump still seems strong today, reveling in his victories and about to unleash his next two years of hell on Democrats.
For Democrats who wanted revenge or vindication on Tuesday, they should accept partial victory as a consolation prize and a building block. Remember the women who are coming to the House of Representatives and the new majority. Remember the new governors, and even more the local victories that help make up the political fabric of the country.
Democrats should note and remember the gains in states that gave Trump his 2016 electoral college victory despite losing the popular vote. And, most of all, remember that more Americans are voting for Democrats than Republicans these days. If that trend continues one more cycle, Trump will be gone, and history — which seemed so close in some places yesterday — will be made.