Much of what I know about politics I learned from sports. If you want to know what’s going on in a baseball game, for example, you’ve got to know not only the score, but the inning, number of outs, what runners are on which bases, who’s batting, who’s pitching, who’s on deck, and who’s warming up in the bullpen. I could go on.
Baseball’s endless complexity is part of what serious fans love about it. Some of us can be great bores on the topic. But bear with me. Sometimes, too, things get really simple and obvious to even the most casual observer.
It helps to understand the rules, and also to be able to count.
So I went to bed on election night a few weeks ago somewhat puzzled. TV pundits were portraying early results as pretty much a wash. (This is still the Trump administration’s, and therefore Fox News’, party line. I’m sure it’s also what they’re saying on RT, the Russian state network.)
Were these characters watching the same scoreboard I was? Evidently not.
Democrats were alleged to be demoralized by their seeming failure to prevail in Texas, Florida and in the Georgia governor’s contest. No doubt some were disappointed. Elsewhere, the fact that Trumpism was taking a beating in Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin and the Ohio Senate contests wasn’t seen as terribly significant. Because it was expected, the fact that Democrats were winning nearly every seriously contested congressional race from east to west was also downplayed. And the California results hadn’t even come in yet.
So let’s just take the big, simple stuff first, OK? That Texas, Florida and Georgia races were so competitive was bad news for Trumpists. In Texas, charismatic Democrat Beto O’Rourke cut Sen. Ted Cruz’s margin of victory from 16 to 2.6 points. Enthusiasm about his candidacy drew much higher turnout among urban voters that helped flip a Houston congressional seat and helped to elect numerous Democrats down-ballot.
Anyway, don’t look now, but Texas could be a swing state. Also Arizona. Maybe Georgia too. As I write, Trump has hustled down to Mississippi to haul a seg academy cheerleader across the finish line. Mississippi!
This too: How did Hillary Clinton win 3 million more votes than Trump but lose in the Electoral College? By losing Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin. Also, no Republican has ever won the presidency without winning Ohio. All of these results were on the scoreboard before I turned in on election night.
Nobody was saying so, but President Trump’s re-election chances had taken a bad hit.
Having campaigned nationwide calling the election a referendum on him, the president had laid what baseball fans call a goose egg. More like an ostrich egg, actually.
Over the ensuing weeks, it’s become even clearer how badly things went for the GOP. Democrats didn’t merely take back the House of Representatives. They did so, Nate Silver points out, “with exceptionally high turnout. Turnout is currently estimated at 116 million voters, or 49.4 percent of the voting-eligible population. That’s an astounding number; only 83 million people voted in 2014, by contrast. Democratic candidates for the House will receive almost as many votes this year as the 63 million that President Trump received in 2016.”
Trump’s rural white base turned out too, but there just aren’t enough of them. Rural voters too shifted left, helping to re-elect Montana Sen. John Tester despite Trump’s several campaign rallies there. They also helped defeat Trump “voter fraud” fraud Kris Kobach for Kansas governor. Nationwide, congressional districts shifted an average of 8 percentage points from Republicans to Democrats.
Women voters voted Democratic, yes. But minority and younger voters, the so-called Trump “resistance,” also turned out in great numbers. Silver, who as a baseball analyst studies box scores and ponders statistics – as I do not – warns Democrats not to get cocky. Presidents Clinton and Obama both lost the House in midterm elections and were subsequently re-elected. But he also thinks it’s clear that Trump’s “base alone will not be enough to win a second term.”
Flexibility helps, but a politician can’t adjust if he refuses to admit error. Besides, my own suspicion is that one way or another, Trump won’t be on the ballot come 2020.
And what will congressional Democrats do with their newfound power? I agree with Nancy Pelosi: Investigate yes, impeach no. Not without ironclad evidence, anyway. Leave that to Robert Mueller.
Indeed, Leader Pelosi wrote a Washington Post column on Democrats’ plans without mentioning the president’s name. She promised to “put an end to partisan gerrymandering” and “renew the Voting Rights Act,” to lower health care costs and runaway drug prices, to “rebuild the United States’ infrastructure, raise the minimum wage” and “advance common-sense, bipartisan solutions to prevent gun violence.”
Not if Sen. Mitch McConnell can help it, of course, and he surely can.
But come 2020, Republicans will have to answer to an engaged electorate again.
Arkansas Times columnist Gene Lyons is a National Magazine Award winner and co-author of “The Hunting of the President” (St. Martin’s Press, 2000). You can email Lyons at [email protected]