Four take­aways from midterm elec­tions for Repub­li­cans

Tri-City Herald - - Front Page - BY KATIE GLUECK kglueck@mc­

In the late hours of Elec­tion Day, Repub­li­cans were deeply con­flicted.

They had eas­ily main­tained the Se­nate, ward­ing off the kind of shock up­sets that many were dread­ing as re­cently as the pre­ced­ing week­end. But their mount­ing House losses sug­gested prob­lems for the party’s brand na­tion­ally, as both sides now re­group with an eye on the 2020 pres­i­den­tial cam­paign.

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump proved his strength with con­ser­va­tive vot­ers and deep­ened the ur­ban-ru­ral di­vide, but it came at the cost of the cen­trist sub­ur­ban vot­ers who have long been a cru­cial part of the GOP coali­tion – and on Tues­day, they demon­strated a will­ing­ness to aban­don their party.

Here are four take­aways as Wash­ing­ton braces, again, for di­vided govern­ment: Repub­li­cans got smoked in the sub­urbs, los­ing a cru­cial seg- ment of their tra­di­tional coali­tion: One Repub­li­can strong­hold af­ter an­other fell on Tues­day night in House dis­tricts from Vir­ginia to Kansas, il­lus­trat­ing the ex­tent of the GOP chal­lenge in mod­er­ate, welle­d­u­cated en­claves, and es­pe­cially with col­lege-ed­u­cated women, in the Trump era.

“Tonight’s re­sults should be a wake-up call to Repub­li­can can­di­dates in 2020 that vot­ers – es­pe­cially sub­ur­ban women – who share our po­si­tions on pock­et­book, kitchen ta­ble is­sues also ex­pect their can­di­dates to share their val­ues,” said Alex Schriver, a GOP strate­gist with the firm Tar­geted Vic­tory.

Repub­li­cans didn’t lose in ev­ery sub­urb.

But gen­er­ally, from sub­ur­ban Hous­ton to sub­ur­ban Kansas City, there was ev­i­dence Tues­day that Trump’s hard-edged rhetoric and the di­vi­sive na­ture of his pres­i­dency alien­ated mod­er­ate sub­ur­ban­ites who had pre­vi­ously made dis­tinc­tions be­tween Trump and their GOP mem­bers of Congress.

On Tues­day, they saw them as one and the same, and – for the mo­ment – Repub­li­cans lost a foun­da­tional el­e­ment of their coali­tion.

Repub­li­cans had a good story to tell on the econ­omy. If only Trump had talked about it: Trump spent the fi­nal weeks of the midterm cam­paign rail­ing against birthright cit­i­zen­ship and a car­a­van of mi­grants mov­ing north through Mex­ico. It elec­tri­fied his base and played well in the many red states that hosted Se­nate races.

But for the sake of the sub­urbs, per­haps he should have kept the fo­cus on the econ­omy.

“That may have been a pos­i­tive im­pact for get­ting the base out, but it may have turned off some of these in­de­pen­dents, women, col­lege-ed­u­cated vot­ers in sub­ur­ban ar­eas in par­tic­u­lar,” said Bren­dan Stein­hauser, a Texas-based GOP strate­gist. “It may have been a dou­ble-edged sword.”

Plenty of Repub­li­can in­cum­bents tried to make their mes­sage about jobs and what they saw as an ef­fec­tive tax law. But, as is of­ten the case in the Trump era, the pres­i­dent dom­i­nated the na­tional nar­ra­tive and made it harder for in­di­vid­ual House mem­bers to of­fer a dif­fer­ent mes­sage.

Austin Bar­bour, a GOP strate­gist based in Mis­sis­sippi, stressed the his­tor­i­cal chal­lenges that the pres­i­dent’s party of­ten con­fronts in the first midterm cam­paign of an ad­min­is­tra­tion.

But, he went on, when it comes to the House, “we must not have moved enough in­de­pen­dent vot­ers who maybe are more fo­cused on the econ­omy than they are on other is­sues like im­mi­gra­tion and for­eign pol­icy.”

Trump has a lock on the base: Repub­li­cans eas­ily held the Se­nate on Tues­day and tri­umphed in sev­eral key gov­er­nors’ races as many of those con­tests played out across states Trump won in 2016, a re­minder of Trump’s enor­mous strength with con­ser­va­tive vot­ers across red Amer­ica.

“Tremen­dous suc­cess tonight,” he tweeted Tues­day night even as the House slipped away from Repub­li­cans. “Thank you to all!”

In the last weeks of the race, Trump was ubiq­ui­tous on the Se­nate trail, stump­ing for these can­di­dates across the coun­try. And in those red states, he suc­cess­fully juiced turnout, a dy­namic that also played out in con­ser­va­tive House dis­tricts where Trump showed up to cam­paign, from Ken­tucky to North Carolina.

The Se­nate re­sults ce­ment Trump’s icon sta­tus with con­ser­va­tive base vot­ers, un­der­scor­ing just how chal­leng­ing – and at this point, likely fu­tile – it would be for a Repub­li­can to mount a 2020 pri­mary chal­lenge to him. The pres­i­dent is keep­ing the GOP from ex­pand­ing its tent: If the GOP base is more com­mit­ted to Trump than ever be­fore, the party’s abil­ity to broaden be­yond that core group of vot­ers has got­ten harder, as Tues­day night’s re­sults showed.

“We need to re­ally ap­proach things with some self-aware­ness,” Stein­hauser said. “We need to look at our mes­sage, look at our can­di­dates. We need to think about build­ing the Repub­li­can Party of the 21st Cen­tury.”

Af­ter the 2012 pres­i­den­tial cam­paign in which Mitt Rom­ney lost to Barack Obama, the Repub­li­can Na­tional Com­mit­tee au­thored an “au­topsy” re­port, call­ing for a more in­clu­sive ap­proach to Lati­nos and young peo­ple.

Trump, with his un­com­pro­mis­ing stand on im­mi­gra­tion, re­buked that re­port when he ig­nored it all, and won any­way. Many of the suc­cess­ful Repub­li­can can­di­dates on Tues­day, run­ning in red ter­ri­tory, em­braced his tone on im­mi­gra­tion.

But some Repub­li­cans worry that’s not sus­tain­able.

“We need to do much bet­ter among women, Lati­nos, young peo­ple,” Stein­hauser said. “We can’t con­tinue down the path that we’ve been on.”


Bren­dan Stein­hauser, a Texas-based GOP strate­gist, on Trump’s im­mi­gra­tion rhetoric


Sup­port­ers cheer as Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump speaks at a rally in Cape Gi­rardeau, Mo., on Mon­day. One of the take­aways from the midterm elec­tions: Trump has a lock on his base and knows how to mo­ti­vate his sup­port­ers.

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