Opinion writer

Republicans hung onto the solidly red 8th Congressional District in Arizona on Tuesday with a modest 5-point win by Republican Debbie Lesko over Democrat Hiral Tipirneni, a former emergency-room physician and political novice. Politico summed up the tepid win:

Lesko’s single-digit margin is the latest evidence that Republicans face a punishing midterm environment, even in Trump-friendly territory.

“Republicans shouldn’t be hitting the alarm, they should be slamming it,” said Mike Noble, a GOP pollster based in Arizona. He added: “This district isn’t supposed to be competitive, and so to see this margin, especially with the Republicans pouring in resources here — again, it’s a tough year.”

Cook Political Report congressional guru David Wasserman tweeted, “There are 147 GOP-held House seats less Republican [the Arizona 8th]. It’s time to start rethinking how many of those are truly safe in November.” He notes that in the past eight special elections, Democrats have overperformed by anywhere from 6 percent to 12 percent (15 percent in the Alabama Senate race). To win the House, Democrats need to overperform by only 4 percent compared with their 2016 results.

Moreover, if Democrats can do this well in a deep-red district after the GOP poured in more than $1 million, the Senate seat opened by retiring Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) looks altogether winnable. Likewise, other Senate seats with strong Democratic candidates — especially Tennessee, where Democrats got their ideal candidate in former governor Phil Bredesen, are surely within their reach.

Meanwhile, the Hill reports, “Democrats in New York flipped a New York Assembly seat on Tuesday, winning a seat that has been in GOP hands for nearly four decades. Democrat Steve Stern, a former Suffolk County legislator, beat out Janet Smitelli (R) for AD-10, a Long Island seat with 59 percent of the vote. … The district has been represented by a Republican since 1978.” The win is the 40th state legislative seat that Democrats have flipped since President Trump took office.

Once again, we can see that the path to success for Democrats runs through the suburbs. The Post reports:

The Republican party’s problems were on display in Arizona, as Tipirneni made inroads into reliably Republican areas. The Democrat appeared to carry 58 of the district’s 142 precincts; in 2016, Hillary Clinton had carried just 12. The cities of Peoria and Glendale swung toward Tipirneni, as did areas around the retiree-heavy Sun City.

Democrats credited those gains to suburban angst about Republicans, and to a campaign that focused heavily on issues like Medicare and Social Security. Republicans said that their win showed how the party could still run and win.

Republicans grossly misjudged the political landscape if they think the GOP tax cut can buy the loyalty of Republican moderates, white women, married women and college graduates who held their noses to vote for Trump in 2016. These voters are the ones likely to tell pollsters they are embarrassed to have Trump as president, consider him dishonest and unfit, fret about getting into a fighting or a trade war, and worry not that their taxes are too high but that college tuition is too costly. These are the voters who play by the rules, know they need experience for high-level jobs and follow social norms in their neighborhoods and in their workplaces. They do not insult work colleagues, compulsively lie or think they’re on the precipice of losing their place in American society. They are strivers, not grievance-mongers and conspiracy theorists looking for excuses for their plight. They regard Trump as boorish, irresponsible, loopy and even dangerous.

Combine the “Could we just have normalcy?” voters with impassioned millennials and gun-safety advocates, and you have the makings of a formidable Democratic coalition. Democrats don’t need to play the protectionist card with white working-class voters or hand out job guarantees. They don’t need to feel guilty that are somehow not respecting Trumpkin snowflakes when they call out climate-change denial and recoil at casual expressions of white resentment.

In other words, Democrats can ignore the hundreds of media stories written from diners in coal country wherein Trump voters moan about political correctness and complain that elites look down their noses at their anti-immigrant, anti-free-trade, anti-climate-change-science views with disdain. It’s just fine for Democrats to run as grown-ups who are conscientious about their obligations and are unafraid to say that Emperor Trump has no clothes.

Democratic candidates who present themselves as defenders of democratic values, decency and what Republicans used to call “well-ordered liberty” will rack up midterm wins, maybe even enough to win majorities in both houses of Congress. Voters are telling us that they are sick of the Trump show and even more sick of his enablers who insult their intelligence with crackpot defenses of Trump.