The election results for the Democrats were good enough to flip the House on Election Night (and the Virginia delegation with it). The post-Election Night results were, if anything, even better. So as Republicans wallow in their defeats, my party should be riding high, yes?
Don’t get me wrong; the fact that there will, at long last, be someone ready and willing to hold the president to account for his behaviors, actions, and policies are a boon not just to the Democratic Party but to the nation as a whole. While my position on the right side of the Democrats – I have referred to myself often as “the conservative feather of the Democratic Party” – leads me to usually recommend caution to the party, I have made no such recommendation regarding Congressional oversight and investigations. This Administration redefines “a surplus of targets” in that category.
That said, the election results have added evidence (and evidence-free yapping) to the arguments within the party about its direction – arguments that usually converge on two options: go left or go center.
I would submit the election evidence clearly points in the direction of the latter. The Democrats in House races that flipped the suburbs blue across the country were overwhelmingly moderate candidates. Likewise, the realignment of the Southwest – halting and painfully short in 2016 – came to fruition in 2018 with moderate candidates ready to take advantage of it (such as Senators-Elect Sinema and Rosen).
Meanwhile, the left’s favorites – Stacey Abrams, Andrew Gillum, and Beto O’Rourke – all lost, although Abrams was at least able to keep the state’s Chamber of Commerce neutral in the race, a sign she may be more practical than some of her most ardent supporters want her to be.
Still, the midterm results should make Democrats hopeful for 2020, yes?
Over the last 60+ years, four first-term presidents saw one (or both) houses of Congress slip from their parties’ hands in midterm elections: Ike in 1954, Clinton in 1994, Obama in 2010, and now Trump in 2018. The first two increased their electoral vote totals in winning re-election (Obama dropped North Carolina and Indiana in 2012, but still won re-election).
In other words, Trump’s defeat in 2020 is far from guaranteed. The House Committees will likely uncover embarrassing and unethical activities – and just because I didn’t include the word “impeachable” does not mean I’m ruling it out – but denying Trump re-election will rely on winning over once again those suburban swing voters who took the House majority away from his party.
Form my perspective, that means the Democrats have to recognize they need what I call “trade doves” (which just happens to include me) – supporters of freer trade and/or voters who don’t like trade wars. They were key in flipping Midwest agricultural districts (while industrial or ex-industrial ones stayed with the Trump-led, protectionist GOP).
My biggest fear is that, instead, the nominee in 2020 will try to out-protectionist Trump. That is impossible. As the Wall Street Journal  noted today, protectionism is the one thing on which Trump has been consistent for over three decades. He really believes this stuff.
The problem for Trump is that millions of Americans are far smarter about this than he is. The problem for the Democrats is that those millions – while they now include a majority of Democratic voters – may not include a majority of Democratic elected officials.
Thus, we could have the nightmare of Elizabeth Warren or Sherrod Brown trying to beat their own trade warrior drums over the fall of 2020, turning off centrist and center-right swing voters in droves in the process. Even Hillary Clinton refused to defend freer trade and trade agreements against Trump’s rhetorical barrage in 2016 – and we know where that got her.
Democrats need to be smart about the next two years – and very careful with whom we nominate. The Republicans’ woes do not automatically translate to future wins for us.