The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Republicans pay the price for racism and xenophobia

Democrat Gretchen Whitmer, right, answers questions with Democrat Debbie Stabenow after casting her ballot Tuesday in East Lansing, Mich. Whitmer went on to prevail in Michigan’s gubernatorial race, and Stabenow held on to her Senate seat. (Al Goldis/AP)

Not all of the Republican anti-immigrant cranks lost, but enough of them — Rep. David Brat (R-Va.), Kansas gubernatorial candidate Kris Kobach, and Senate candidates Lou Barletta (Pa.) and Corey Stewart (Va.) — got rejected that it might serve as a warning. (Unfortunately, Rep. Steve King of Iowa, among the most blatant race-baiters, hung on to his seat. Shouldn’t Republicans now kick him out of their caucus?) Even for Republicans, there are limits, I suppose.

More important, Republicans’ wipeout in the suburbs, among women, with young voters and college-educated voters can in part be attributable to the GOP’s turn toward nativism. These groups in poll after poll have all showed high levels of dissatisfaction with President Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric, obsession with building a wall, family separation policy and insistence on stripping “dreamers” of legal protection.

Moreover, 74 percent of voters in exit polls said extremist violence was the most important factor or an important factor in casting their vote for the House. Democrats got 62 percent of those who thought it was the most important factor and won, 51-47, among voters who said it was at least a factor. (A mere 16 percent of Jewish voters cast ballots for Republicans for House races, perhaps a sign that they, too, have figured out that Trump’s nationalism and the party’s not-so-subtle anti-Semitic mailers reveal a party not reflective of their values, no matter how much Trump does for Israel.)

Post columnist Max Boot, who called for a blue tsunami after leaving the Republican Party, breaks down the results of the midterm election. (Video: Gillian Brockell/The Washington Post)

Republicans have built a party around evangelicals (whom they carried overwhelmingly) and white rural Americans. They still do well with men. But outside the South and deeply red states such as Missouri, Tennessee and North Dakota, the party is in full retreat. In Pennsylvania, Democrats won races for governor and senator, and eradicated the GOP’s 13-5 advantage in the House delegation. It will now be a 7-7 partisan split. (Pennsylvania voters, it seems, were not impressed with Trump’s visit in the wake of the Squirrel Hill slaughter, his harping on the caravan or his insistence on turning up the vitriol after the murder of 11 innocents.) In Virginia, where Democrats won every statewide office in 2017 and picked up 15 House of Delegate seats, the U.S. Senate was a runaway, and Republicans lost three more House seats. Likewise, in Michigan, Democrats won the governorship, held their Senate seat and flipped House seats, in addition to approving a ballot measure to legalize recreational marijuana use.

When Republicans have to compete outside states with large numbers of evangelicals, their best bet has been to utterly repudiate Trump’s right-wing populism. That’s how Republican governors in Vermont, New Hampshire, Maryland and Massachusetts hung on to governorships. Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker (R) had left little doubt about what he thought of Trump. “Outrageous, disgraceful and a divider” was his terse description of the president.

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In 2020, when we again look at the national map, not only for the House but also for the presidency, and when many more blue-state senators will be on the ballot, the extent of the Republicans’ retreat might hit home.

Finally, Republicans pay a price for cultivating white racism in another respect: Their House and Senate delegations become less and less diverse, while Democrats go in the opposite direction. On the Democratic side, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez became the youngest woman to win a House seat; Ayanna Pressley will be Massachusetts’s first black female House member; Ilhan Omar from Minnesota is the first Somali American to win a House seat; Deb Haaland from New Mexico and Sharice Davids from Kansas are the first Native American women elected to the House; and Omar and Rashida Tlaib  from Michigan are the first two Muslim women to win House seats. Democratic women also flipped governorships in at least four states (Maine, New Mexico, Kansas and Michigan). Democrats elected the first openly gay men to serve as a congressman from New Hampshire and governor of Colorado.

By contrast, a party whose elected officials remain overwhelmingly white and male might find it increasingly difficult to appeal to an electorate that is becoming more diverse. When 72 percent of voters say they think it’s important to elect more racial and ethnic minorities and 78 percent say it’s important to elect more women, Republicans might want to consider why they have so few nonwhite and female candidates and whether they are leaving votes on the table.


CNN's Don Lemon and guest Julia Ioffe are being criticized after provocative on-air claims. Columnist Eugene Robinson says hold your pitchforks. (Video: Gillian Brockell/The Washington Post)

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