The results are in. The 2018 midterms concluded with a new look House of Representatives run by Democrats, a firmer grip in the Senate for Republicans, and gains in state races for Democrats. Both sides have leaped to claim victory, with Democrats observing a blue wave and President Trump interpreting a positive referendum on his Presidency. From a historical perspective, the Democrats pulled off some massive gains, posting the third-biggest swing in 40 years. Former Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi claimed a tsunami, asserted that she would regain her control over the Speakership. Almost every liberal news outlet echoed her claims, touting a blue wave victory for the Democrats in what appeared to be a referendum on the President. While the midterms were historic in terms of turnout and women elected to Congress, the Dems’ gains were only half as large as the GOP in 2010, sobering the narrative that this was an unprecedented liberal victory. Though facing a challenging battle for the Senate, the end result disappointed liberals as losses in Florida (probably), Texas, and Missouri squashed any hope for a majority. Other key losses include the Florida governorship and the Georgia governorship. With Florida status as a key swing state, this should alarm DNC strategy makers. However, what stuck out to me most was the lack of an emergence of leadership from the Democratic party at the culmination of election night.
A gaping hole in Democratic leadership presents a challenging obstacle for Democrats who want to take back the White House. Despite two years to plan out a cohesive message and vet potential candidates, there is no one in charge of the party. Let’s start with the leadership of the newly gained House majority.
As mentioned earlier, we are expected to roll over and accept that the ever-present Nancy Pelosi should be handed the Speakership on a platter. And why is that? Pelosi is an embodiment of every aspect of the Democratic party that bungled an election against one the most unpopular candidates of the modern era. She has served in the House since 1987, and impressed many with her meteoric rise to the highest position ever held by a woman in politics. However, she has repeatedly shown her inability to acknowledge her failure in 2016. Last year, she claimed that talk about a rigged Democratic primary was “almost a waste of time.” For former Bernie supporters and those alienated by the party’s unquestioning rally around Hillary, hearing comments like this from top officials are a perfect reason to stay home in 2020. Pelosi represents the very elites that drove centrist voters into President Trump’s arms. Look no further than a 60 Minutes report that exposed her and a few other representatives who allegedly participated in insider trading. The above problems have made her an easy target for conservative ads, and even taken a hit on her approval rating amongst Democrats, less than half of whom want to see her regain control. Earlier this week, when faced with motivated young people desperate for a radical climate policy, she postured and put out her own weak plan in response. While I acknowledge the current lack of suitable alternative for Speaker, her unquestioned grip on power despite her ineptitude needs to be changed.
Even more alarming for Trump opponents is the lack of appetizing candidates for 2020. Cory Booker was voiced as a potential candidate in the weeks following the election, but his performances in the spotlight show how much these expectations are weighing on his mind. In a viral video in January, Booker ripped into DHS secretary Kirstjen Nielsen for her amnesia on Trump’s comments on foreign countries, leading some to hope for a White House run. But while Booker may seem like a progressive social champion, he represents nothing more than big money and sellout politicians. Look no further than his vote against an amendment to lower prescription drug prices, despite claiming to support affordable health care.
Next up we have Kamala Harris and Kirsten Gillibrand, two opportunistic senators hoping to capitalize on an unpopular president and ride that wave to Pennsylvania Avenue. However, both senators embody the coastal elites that central America rejected in favor of Trump. Gillibrand is a fascinating person for Dems to rally behind. First, she claimed Clinton should have resigned for the Lewinsky affair, which is comical given her unflinching acceptance of Clinton money throughout her political career. Back in 2009, she earned an “A” rating from the NRA along with a moderate label upon her entry into the Senate. Are we supposed to assume she had an awakening and veered sharply to the left? It is more likely she chose an oft-criticized Trump strategy of flip-flopping on issues to meet the public’s political whims. Harris might be the most palatable of the choices being pushed by major media sources. She is a staunch liberal who opposed Trump’s agenda at every turn. However, her strategy of emphasizing race and cultural divides are not going to pull back Obama’s voters into a winning coalition, as these issues don’t resonate with voters outside the Democratic base. If she can tweak her tune, it might be possible for a her to win broad support.
Incumbent presidents are at an electoral advantage, as George H.W. Bush is the only sitting Republican president to lose a re-election bid since 1932. While President Trump’s approval rating is still below 50 percent, it may not matter if Democrats cannot diagnose what wrong two years ago. There is no better way to disillusion young people who voted for the first time last week than to reinstall an out-of-touch career politician. Whether or not you like the president’s policies, he will tell you straightforward what he thinks via Twitter or a press conference. For a Democratic party struggling to find a strong message and make Trump a one-term president, last week’s elections did little to soothe concerns.
Jack Leger is a member of the class of 2021 and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.