Midterms: Repub­li­cans Had a Great Story to Tell -- and It Staved Off Dis­as­ter

El Dorado News-Times - - Viewpoint - LARRY EL­DER

As ex­pected, Democrats re­gained con­trol of the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives. But the much-an­tic­i­pated "blue wave" failed to ap­pear. His­tory shows that the first midterm elec­tion for the party in the White House usu­ally re­sults in a loss, of­ten a big loss, in that party's House mem­bers. Pres­i­dent Barack Obama, for ex­am­ple, lost 63 seats in the House and 6 seats in the Se­nate in the 2010 midterms. In the 21 midterm elec­tions held from 1934 through 2014, the Pres­i­dent's party has gained seats in both the Se­nate and the House only twice: dur­ing Franklin De­lano Roo­sevelt's and Ge­orge W. Bush's first midterm elec­tions. The 2018 GOP House lost seats, more than the 23 seats Democrats needed to flip, but not nearly the thump­ing the Democrats hoped for.

Forty Repub­li­cans -three se­na­tors and 37 rep­re­sen­ta­tives -- chose not to run for re-elec­tion in 2018, while an­other 14 left their of­fices early or an­nounced their res­ig­na­tions. This hurt. Only 18 Democrats de­clined to seek re-elec­tion, with an­other four leav­ing of­fice early or re­sign­ing. From 1964 through 2016, 85 to 98 per­cent of House in­cum­bents seek­ing re-elec­tion won.

In Jan­uary 2018, NPR ran a story about the record num­ber of House Repub­li­cans who de­cided not to seek re-elec­tion. Rep. Char­lie Dent, R-Penn., ac­cord­ing to NPR's Kelsey Snell, "didn't want to spend the next 10 months talk­ing about or de­fend­ing Pres­i­dent Trump." Dent said: "You know, this cam­paign cy­cle, 2018, will sim­ply be a ref­er­en­dum on the Pres­i­dent. We'll be talk­ing about him and his lat­est tweet or com­ment or an in­cen­di­ary re­mark or what­ever. So you're re­ally not speak­ing about or talk­ing about ma­jor is­sues." In short, Trump would be on the bal­lot in the midterms, and Dent, likely echo­ing the fears of fel­low Repub­li­cans who chose not to run, wanted no part in de­fend­ing Trump.

But on Tues­day, Democrats lost sev­eral mar­quee races where high-power sur­ro­gates like Barack Obama, Joe Bi­den and Oprah Win­frey cam­paigned. Demo­crat Beto O'Rourke lost his Texas se­nate bid to Ted Cruz. Demo­crat Stacey Abrams ap­pears to have lost the Ge­or­gia gover­nor's race. Demo­crat An­drew Gil­lum lost the Florida gover­nor race to Repub­li­can Ron DeSan­tis, for whom Trump en­er­get­i­cally cam­paigned. For the most part, where Trump cam­paigned, his can­di­date won. That Repub­li­cans held off the much an­tic­i­pated gi­ant blue wave and limited the gu­ber­na­to­rial losses to about a half a dozen re­flects the de­gree to which the me­dia, and many Repub­li­cans, still un­der­es­ti­mate Trump.

Re­mem­ber when se­ri­ous pun­dits urged elec­tors to refuse to cer­tify Trump's elec­tion? Sev­eral con­gres­sional Democrats re­fused to at­tend Trump's in­au­gu­ra­tion, where the new Pres­i­dent gave an ad­dress that Democrats and many in the me­dia de­scribed as "com­bat­ive" and "di­vi­sive" and "par­ti­san." Some crit­ics even pre­dicted that, be­cause of Trump's al­leged "men­tal in­sta­bil­ity," a cabi­net of­fi­cial or an­other "adult in the ad­min­is­tra­tion" would in­voke the 25th Amend­ment. This drum­beat grew so loud that Trump's White House doc­tor dis­cussed the re­sults of Trump's phys­i­cal at a press con­fer­ence, where re­porters asked about Trump's men­tal fit­ness to serve. Pun­dits and ca­ble hosts prac­ti­cally ran out of ad­jec­tives while call­ing Trump "racist," "sex­ist," "anti-Semitic," "ho­mo­pho­bic" and "xeno­pho­bic."

When the deputy at­tor­ney gen­eral ap­pointed Robert Mueller to in­ves­ti­gate the al­le­ga­tion of a Trump-Rus­sia "col­lu­sion," Trump-haters be­gan the count­down on when they ex­pected Trump to re­sign, one step be­fore Mueller outed him as an elec­tion cheat. Rep. Max­ine Wa­ters, D-Calif., called for Trump's im­peach­ment al­most from the mo­ment he took of­fice.

When Trump vis­ited Speaker Paul Ryan, Demo­cratic House mem­bers not only heck­led, but some held up signs crit­i­cal of Trump and his pol­icy of sep­a­rat­ing fam­i­lies that tried to en­ter through our south­ern bor­der. CNN's Don Le­mon has called Trump "racist." Ac­cord­ing to "non­par­ti­san" Pew Re­search Cen­ter, 90 per­cent of broad­cast net­works' (ABC, CBS and NBC) news cov­er­age of Trump has been neg­a­tive. With the ex­cep­tion of Fox News, Trump takes a nightly bat­ter­ing on ca­ble news.

But a funny thing hap­pened on the way to this year's midterms. The stock mar­ket kept hit­ting record highs. The ma­jor­ity of Amer­i­cans, for the first time in years, felt con­fi­dent about their per­sonal eco­nomic con­di­tion and fu­ture. 2018's first two quar­ters of GDP growth came in at 2.2 and 4.2 per­cent, with the third quar­ter reg­is­ter­ing a strong 3.5 per­cent. In Oc­to­ber, 250,000 jobs were cre­ated, ex­ceed­ing ex­pec­ta­tions. Black un­em­ploy­ment reached its the low­est per­cent since the Bureau of La­bor Sta­tis­tics be­gan track­ing un­em­ploy­ment by race in the '70s. An NAACP poll re­leased in Au­gust put Trump's ap­proval rate at 21 per­cent for blacks. The Nov. 5, 2018 Ras­mussen daily Pres­i­den­tial Track­ing Poll showed Trump with an ap­proval rat­ing 5 points higher than Obama's at the same point in his pres­i­dency.

Repub­li­cans had a good story to tell, and it staved off dis­as­ter. Had fewer GOP House in­cum­bents de­cided not to run, the re­sults would have been even bet­ter for Repub­li­cans. Yes, for the next two years, Trump will face in­ves­ti­ga­tion af­ter in­ves­ti­ga­tion. But for the Repub­li­can Party as a whole, Tues­day could have been worse, much worse.

Larry El­der is a best-sell­ing au­thor and na­tion­ally syn­di­cated ra­dio talk-show host. To find out more about Larry El­der, or be­come an "Elder­ado," visit www. Lar­ryElder.com. Fol­low Larry on Twit­ter @lar­ryelder. To read fea­tures by other Cre­ators Syn­di­cate writ­ers and car­toon­ists, visit the Cre­ators Syn­di­cate web­site at www.cre­ators.com.

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