I’m home from two weeks in New York City and hope to write about the trip soon, but not before one last post about the midterm election.
Prior to November 6, I read stories saying the vote would be a referendum on Donald Trump. Isn’t everything about him these days? As David Roth notes in an only semi-facetious article at Deadspin, “Trump is nearly as ubiquitous in the culture as he has always believed he should be; the one deeply held belief that has been evident throughout his whole faithless disgrace of a life is people should be talking about Donald Trump more, on television, and he has just about seen that part through.”
So how can we best measure the verdict on Trump? I propose using the House vote, since it was national in scope: every seat was at stake, as opposed to the Senate (35 of 100 seats) and state governor (36 of 50 seats) races.
According to the New York Times, as of last night (November 14) Democratic candidates for the House had received 54,400,053 votes, Republican candidates 48,899,696 — 51.8% to 46.5%, a 5.3% margin. In 2016, Hillary Clinton’s popular vote margin over Trump was 2.1%, so the House Democrats did an impressive 3.2% better. Comparing the 2018 House vote to the 2016 House vote, the swing is twice as large (6.4%), as the Republicans won the 2016 election by 1.1%.
We can also use the House election to determine which party would have taken each state’s electoral votes in a presidential contest. North Carolina was extremely close, but if you gave it to Trump, he still would have lost the Electoral College this year, 286–252. Even though Trump held on to Florida and Ohio, three key states he won in 2016 swung decisively toward the Democrats: Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Iowa.
Caution: this analysis assumes few voters would split their ticket, i.e. vote for a presidential and House candidate from different parties. There’s growing justification for that assumption, but it remains a weakness. That said, Trump isn’t going to change — I would go so far as to say he’s incapable of it — and the economy and other material circumstances are apt to get worse in the next two years. So I’m not sure where he’ll get additional votes in 2020.
Let’s not wax too hopeful, though. Even if Trump loses in 2020, it will be hard to undo the damage he’s done. In addition to the highly ideological judicial appointments he’s made, he’s created a roadmap for smarter, slicker authoritarians to follow — and one of them will win eventually.