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PENN REACTS TO 2018 MIDTERMS

The 2018 midterm elections have been showered with an unprecedented amount of attention and speculation. Yet, despite this burning anticipation, the results of the election yielded an outcome predicted by most pundits when the midterms first arose on the public’s radar a couple months ago: a Democratic victory in the House and a Republican victory in the Senate. 

Democrats do have some reason for celebration. A divided Congress means friction against the president’s policies and a check against some of his particularly controversial ideas. Yet, the loss of a chance for a Democratic Senate majority spells trouble for the party looking into future elections. Amid shifting party lines, it has become glaringly evident that Democrats need to change their strategy for a chance at a 2020 presidency win and a politically congruent Congress.

Democrats have already shown that they have no issue convincing a majority of Americans of their platform; they have won the popular election for the presidency every time except once since 2000. Yet, as the public has seen time and time again, political control does not mean securing an outright numerical majority among Americans, but a majority in political structures that emphasize the voices of rural and working class America (i.e. the Electoral College or, in the case of these midterms, the Senate). 

Credit: Julio Sosa

Thus, a Democratic win in the House and a loss in the Senate shows that they have made no progress in chipping away at this voting bloc of rural and working class Americans that propelled Trump into the presidency. For Democrats to make any developments in breaking down this coalition to give them a chance at a successful 2020 election cycle, it’s important to realize the political shifts underlying the outcome of this election. 

For these races, candidates found themselves navigating the maze of running as a Democrat in Trump territory or a Republican in suburban districts. Therefore, Democrats, guided by Pelosi’s suggestion, chose to focus their campaigns mainly on health care, shedding a light on some Republicans’ decisions to remove coverage for pre-existing conditions. Republicans on the other hand leaned heavily on the Kavanaugh hearings and immigration; Trump made the caravan a central issue days before the election and Republicans never failed to highlight incumbent Democrats’ votes against Kavanaugh. 

This led to an unusual trend of Republicans winning their races mainly due to their stances on social issues while Democrats won their races mainly because of their stances on economic policy. This is a complete shift from where party lines were only eight years ago, when Democrats were the party of progressive social issues — LGBTQ rights, decriminalization of marijuana, and a path toward citizenship for undocumented immigrants — and Republicans were the party of economic policy — economic deregulation and increased military spending.

Therefore, Trump’s coalition has stayed with his party due to cultural and social issues. This is important to understand because in the midterm campaigns, Democrats were mainly complacent regarding the popularity of their social policies. When the president blatantly made unsubstantiated claims that Middle Easterners or criminals were parts of the caravan, few Democrats saw it worthwhile to meet the president and his party head-on, instead opting to emphasize their popular stances on health care and pre-existing conditions. Or when he made public his plans to create a legal definition of gender, a unified response from the Democratic Party was glaringly missing. 

If Democrats are to win over Trump’s rural, working-class coalition — which will be essential for a successful 2020 outcome — they must take concrete stances on these social issues that helped Trump win in 2016 and helped Republicans keep the Senate in the midterms. Incorporeal ideas on paths to citizenship or deferring to health care will no longer do. Democrats must make their own hard-lined stances on social policies and meet the president in his political arena of wedge issues and othering to solidify a chance of future political success.

SIREESH RAMESH is a College freshman from Alpharetta, Ga. His email address is sireeshr@sas.upenn.edu.

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