As waves go, this was closer to Wrightsville than Waikiki. But there is hope.
Voters on Tuesday gave America and North Carolina hope, not for Democratic policies, but for a taste of balance, for some checks on unchecked power, for baby steps back to a day when our politics didn’t seem so hopelessly out of control.
By taking away Republicans’ command of the US House and breaking NC Republicans’ grip on veto-proof majorities in the legislature, voters sent a message: We as a country had gone too far. So they created conditions in which no one party can steamroll everyone in its path, as Republicans have done in recent years, especially in Raleigh.
To be sure, that could be a recipe for gridlock. But it also could promote collaboration and conversation. Imbued with new relevance, Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s looming veto will perhaps prompt legislative Republicans to rein themselves in – and even take Democrats’ temperature on legislation before passing it.
We are too cynical (or realistic?) to believe that Tuesday’s results will mend our dysfunctional state and national politics. But they could help. And they should yield better policy, including continued health care coverage for pre-existing conditions at the federal level and more responsible budgets with bigger investments in education at the state level.
The results were also encouraging in another way. Tuesday’s election up and down the ballot was in large part a referendum on President Donald Trump. CNN exit polls showed that 65 percent of voters cast their congressional vote with Trump in mind. A big Republican night would have cemented the status of the last two years – that we are a divided nation. An angry nation. A nation where the majority endorses the lies and hate and poisonous politics in which the president traffics. A big Republican night would have served as affirmation that Trump was no anomaly, and that we are a nation roiled and riven and perpetually ready for the next pitched battle.
Instead, voters forcefully rejected much of that. We are still a divided nation, of course, but on Tuesday a majority stood up and repudiated Trump’s rhetoric and policies. Perhaps that slap from voters will persuade some Republicans to let go of their politically motivated fealty to Trump and return to the Republican party of Eisenhower or Reagan that many voters long for.
Tuesday’s results feel big right now. But the 2020 election starts Wednesday. Elections are a running subtotal more than a final bill, and as well as Democrats performed, the results were in line with several other midterm elections of the past 60 years. Many presidents have suffered large midterm losses before winning a second term just two years later, including Barack Obama, Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan.
Republicans will regroup, and 2020 will be the ultimate referendum on Trump. With gridlock probable in Washington over the next two years, Democrats will surely need more than the “Trump is awful” message that was enough this time.