The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Forget DeSantis. Whitmer and Shapiro are defining the future.

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) acknowledges supporters at an election night event in Detroit on Tuesday. (Nick Hagen for The Washington Post)

Here’s my vote for the values that Americans endorsed in the 2022 elections: reasonableness, democracy, governing, progress and freedom. Here’s what they voted against: extremism, Trumpism, culture wars and intolerance.

Okay, let’s stipulate that all this applies north of the Florida state line. Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, the top draft pick of those longing for Trumpism without Donald Trump, swept to a landslide victory there by playing on all the divisive themes his mentor-turned-enemy thought he had patented. No wonder Trump is going crazy.

On Nov. 9, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D-Mich.) gave remarks after being reelected as governor. (Video: The Washington Post, Photo: Nick Hagen/The Washington Post)

But in large parts of the nation, voters formed what Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio) called an “exhausted majority,” desperate to move on to problem solving. Ryan, alas, lost his Senate race to J.D. Vance in Ohio, but two nearby Democratic victors on Tuesday effectively carried this banner and stand as the antithesis of DeSantis-ism.

Meaning that every gushing story about DeSantis should be balanced by pieces about Gov. Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan and Gov.-elect Josh Shapiro of Pennsylvania.

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Like DeSantis, both Democrats won landslides in states that Trump carried in 2016. Both had coattails for down-ballot Democrats. Both linked progressive objectives, staunch support for the labor movement, a moderate tone and pragmatism about governing. Both showed how to isolate far-right culture warriors and broaden what you might call the live-and-let-live coalition.

Their success reflects the inverse failure of the right-wing Republicans to reach beyond their strongholds. The anti-extremist vibe was felt in the near-universal rejection of election deniers in contests for secretary of state, and the inroads Democrats made in state legislatures. And it was especially obvious in two states where moderate Republicanism had thrived during the Trump years.

By nominating Trumpist candidates, Republicans instantly threw away two governorships held by outgoing middle-of-the-road Republicans Charlie Baker in Massachusetts and Larry Hogan in Maryland. Maura Healey, Baker’s Democratic successor, and Wes Moore, the Democrat who will take over from Hogan, swept to victory by winning back the moderates and independents who had been quite happy to balance power in their very Democratic states with a Republican chief executive. These voters could not abide putting Trump apologists in charge.

There were earlier hints of how important governors will be to the next political era in the fights picked by California Gov. Gavin Newsom with two of his most conservative colleagues, DeSantis and Gov. Greg Abbott in Texas. But by repainting a purple state a surprisingly deep blue, Whitmer has earned equal billing with this trio and is now a plausible presidential candidate should President Biden decide not to run again.

She won notoriety as one of Trump’s favorite punching bags during the pandemic, and, terrifyingly, as the target of a kidnapping effort by a right-wing paramilitary group. But Whitmer’s political savvy matters most. She built her big majority by immediately grasping the power of the abortion issue after the Supreme Court overruled Roe v. Wade. A referendum to enshrine abortion rights in Michigan’s constitution undoubtedly brought out a big Democratic vote on Tuesday.

At the same time, Whitmer stayed true to the very practical agenda she ran on four years ago, highlighted by her sassy, back-to-basics slogan: “Fix the damn roads.” She raised that battle cry again in her victory speech while renewing pledges to restore safe drinking water (in response to the contamination of Flint’s water supply) and to improve health care and education.

After much ink-spilling since Trump’s election over the loss of blue-collar industrial jobs, she joined Biden and Democrats elsewhere in describing a new manufacturing future involving making more electric cars, “semi-conductors and clean energy right here in Michigan.” Watch this theme: How to build a new economy is the big issue of the next decade.

In the same speech, she praised “movements for women’s rights and civil rights and LGBT rights” and organized labor, while also extolling the residents of her state for fighting for “family, friends and community.” Two litanies, progressive and traditional, defined the ground on which a broad Election Day alliance was built.

It’s too early for Shapiro, just elected to his first term, to be thought of as a 2024 candidate. But his ability to run well ahead of Biden’s 2020 showing in Pennsylvania’s blue-collar counties spoke both to the toxicity of his radical-right foe, Doug Mastriano, and to the governor-elect’s success in defining a progressive middle ground.

One example: Shapiro took on right-wing talking points about cleansing school libraries of books that offend some parents and turned them into an un-American idea. “It’s not freedom,” he declared, “to tell our children what books they’re allowed to read.” And he included in his acclamations about “real freedom” a bow to one of the oldest Democratic traditions. “It’s not freedom,” he insisted, “to say you can work a 40-hour work week but you can’t be a member of a union.”

So don’t get too obsessed with a Trump-DeSantis rumble rooted in a tired, old cultural politics. “Fix the damn problems” is the sound of the future speaking.

The 2022 Midterm Elections

Georgia runoff election: A runoff between Sen. Raphael G. Warnock (D) and Republican challenger Herschel Walker on Dec. 6 will cap a turbulent election year. Here’s how the runoff will work and what triggered it.

Divided government: Republicans narrowly won back control of the House, while Democrats will keep control of the Senate, creating a split Congress.

What the results mean for 2024: A Republican Party red wave seems to be a ripple after Republicans fell short in the Senate and narrowly won control in the House. Donald Trump announced his 2024 presidential campaign on Tuesday, experts helped us game out what would happen if he wins again.

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