On election night 2018, the dour countenance of Democratic strategist James Carville filled our TV screens. In a tone of resignation, Carville opined, “There was some hope the Democrats would have a wave election. It’s not going to be a wave election.” Across the country, crestfallen Democrats took his prediction as gospel.
But Carville was wrong.
Like many other Democratic operatives, he couldn’t see beyond the beltway and the rust belt. He couldn’t imagine that the Southwest and parts of the Rocky Mountain West might more than make up for a few disappointing results east of the Mississippi, that even iconic Orange County, the birthplace of Reagan conservatism and longtime GOP stronghold, would turn completely blue.
Yes, the blue wave rolled in slowly. And, yes, there were some heartbreaking losses, made all the more painful and infuriating by extremely close margins, the result of minority vote suppression. Stacey Abrams’ race for Georgia governor is Exhibit A.
But as the wave slow-rolled across the country, Democrats picked up seven state governorships, hundreds of legislative seats, and a robust majority in the House. In a year when the Senate map overwhelmingly favored Republicans, Democrats lost some seasoned incumbents but picked up long-held GOP seats in Arizona and Nevada. Not since the election of 1974 – right after Watergate – had Democrats fared as well.
In the days leading up to the election, Trump shelved his golf game to campaign non-stop for Republicans. Repeatedly, he bellowed from the podium, “I am on the ticket, because this is also a referendum about me.” His number one target was Montana Senator Jon Tester, who had the audacity to raise questions that led to the embarrassing withdrawal of Dr. Ronny Jackson, Trump’s personal physician, as the nominee for secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Trump held rally after rally in Montana, barnstorming the state four times, hell-bent on seeing Tester defeated. Trump Jr. also campaigned there and, like a chip off the old block, called Tester “a piece of garbage.” But incredibly, by the narrowest of margins, Tester won re-election in this state Trump carried by 20 points. After the election, Trump, who excels at evading responsibility, saw no rebuke, weakly whining, “But my name wasn’t on the ballot.”
Exit polls tell us the Democratic wave was largely fueled by women – college-educated women, women of color, women from the suburbs, independent women, and Republican women who, at long last, had had enough of a trash-tweeting president and his inhumane policies.
And the wave was also fueled by those most likely to sit-out midterm elections – young people. In record numbers, younger voters laid claim to their futures as citizens and inhabitants of an endangered planet. Even white working-class men, Trump’s base, began to peel ever-so-slowly away, likely noticing that more manufacturing jobs were heading overseas and ill-considered trade wars don’t sell soybeans.
Maybe it’s just as well the blue wave didn’t crest on election night. The gradual and growing realization that the nation had rejected Trumpism dominated headlines for weeks. But, going forward, pundits like Carville would do well to remember that, in 2018, Montana re-elected Jon Tester and Orange County turned blue, that Ben McAdams won a congressional seat in Utah and Krysten Sinema beat Trump sycophant Martha McSally in Arizona. They would do well to remember that the Rocky Mountain West and the Southwest are also part of the American electorate – a part that is palpably turning from red to purple to blue.