Editorial: Blue wave sweeps the county
If ever there are days of the year when analysis follows the news cycle, it’s during an election — particularly one as critical and anxiety-driven as this year’s midterms. The news is what it is: As it stands Wednesday evening, Democrats control 46 Senate seats, while Republicans so far control 51 and are slight favorites in three races still too close to call. In the House, the Democratic Blue Wave swept the country to gain a comfortable majority, flipping more than the 23 seats they needed. Democrats now have 233 seats versus 199 for Republicans with three races still undecided. A simple majority is 218 out of the 435 House seats.
Give credit, then, to a political surge that split the balance of power in Congress and helps put a check on President Trump. Clearly, that was a key part of the sentiment behind the high voter turnout and the anti-Trump vote.
But the Blue Wave wasn’t the tsunami Democrats had once hoped for. It wasn’t as strong as the Blue Wave back in 2006 mid-way through President George W. Bush’s second term, and it was about half as big as the Red Wave that swept Republicans into control of both the House in the 2010 election when Republicans gained 63 seats. (Arguably, Democrats should have won more seats in 2018 based on leading House races by 7.1 percent of the popular vote, but gerrymandered districts by Republicans since 2010 kept GOP losses to a minimum.)
Interestingly, in states where Trump campaigned heavily, he seems to have made a difference in rallying his troops and may have helped swing a few close races. It’s all part of a new political order Trump has ushered into this era known as tribalism, the backlash of which may have swept through Vermont and Addison County. Consider:
• Of the states that Trump campaigned in, his popularity hovers closer to the 50 percentile not the sub-40 percent he has nationwide, and in close elections he put his full-time effort into rallying his base. (Remember, Trump is also the first president in recent memory to campaign nonstop as if that were his full-time job.) The Trump rallies added fire and brimstone to a base that is susceptible to such appeal. In Florida, Texas, Indiana, Iowa, Missouri and other states where the Republican candidate was in a tight race, getting every voter to the polls might have made a significant difference.
Of the three Senate races still undecided as of late Wednesday, for example, Florida’s Senate race has Gov. Rick Scott, R, with 50.2 percent against Sen. Bill Nelson, D, at 49.8 percent — a difference of 30,000 votes out of 8 million. In Texas, Sen. Ted Cruz, R, appears to have won a narrow victory over Beto O’Rourke, 51 percent to 48.3 percent, out of roughly 8,250,000 votes. In Arizona, Rep. Martha McSally, R, holds a slight edge over Rep. Krysten Sinema, D, 49.3 percent to 48.4 percent with 75 percent reporting. In that race the numbers are smaller, with McSally leading by just 16,000 votes — 851,298 to 835,368 with 25 percent of the vote still unreported as of this writing. The point is that many elections in these midterms will have been decided by close margins with Democrats on the short end of the stick — again, partly because of gerrymandered districts and partly due to Trump’s rallies.
• Democrats appealed to their tribal communities as well, but it was the anti-Trump movement that galvanized the larger opposition, rejecting Trump’s authoritarian instincts and his overt abuse of presidential power and his disdain for the rule of law. It was also a rejection of the Republican Party’s failure to fulfill its constitutional role of being a check on the executive branch — hence a movement in some circles to vote against all Republicans.
One interesting observation is there seems to be a pattern in which the bluer the region, the bluer it went, and the redder a region, the redder it went.
In blue Vermont, for example, Democrats gained a couple seats in the Senate and nearly gained a veto-proof majority in the House — and that was against a group of mostly moderate and well-considered Republicans.
In Addison County, which has seen a remarkable shift since 2000 from a bipartisan legislative body to solidly Democratic today, this year’s blue wave swept aside moderate and well-liked Republicans like Rep. Fred Baser in Bristol. It also swept two Democrats easily into the county’s two Senate seats (with numbers beyond anyone’s expectations), and even sent two Democrats to the House from Addison-3 representing Vergennes, Ferrisburgh, Addison, Panton and Waltham — what used to be a solidly conservative district.
For the first time since we could find, the county’s legislative delegation is down to one lone Republican — Rep. Harvey Smith of New Haven. Why? The mantra among some Democrats, as witnessed in some social media posts ahead of the election, was to send the Republican party a message by voting a straight Democratic ticket. That is, vote for no Republican and no other candidate who wasn’t willing to reject Trump’s policies.
Such a premise also helps explain why the county’s two Independent candidates for Senate, Paul Ralston and Marie Audet, received such little support. Despite being highly qualified and excellent candidates that either political party would have been excited to have on their respective tickets, they polled fourth and fifth out of the six candidates. Even Republican Peter Briggs polled better, evidently getting the solid pro-Trump vote, but very little else. Moderate to liberal voters, it seems, wanted to be part of a bigger whole, a voice that rejected Trump in no uncertain terms.
This would be tribalism, defined loosely as the desire to vote in accordance with a leader or group and be part of that tribe (Trumpism or anti-Trump), as opposed to voting on political principles or a candidate’s qualifications.
For Republicans at the national level, the tribe now centers solely on Trump, the persona. He is their be-all and end-all. Just as precariously, the Democratic tribe may be focused too much on being anti-Trump, without a bold enough message and agenda beyond that.
Unfortunately, it’s a political reality with no end in sight. As long as Trump makes his presidency all about him — and he appears incapable of doing anything else — tribalism will rule, with the effect of driving the country and the parties further and further apart.
Perhaps in Vermont we could try to buck the trend, but in these midterms, at least, Trump’s brand of tribalism appears to have taken hold, hurting state Republicans with moderates and independents caught in the crosshairs.