Cautious optimism is still optimism

by Daniel Kelley

I don’t know if you remember, but this time last year Donald Trump was elected president. The GOP took control of both the House and the Senate. It was certain the Supreme Court appointee was going to be a Republican.

Despair. Fear. Anxiety. Uncertainty. I remember it well.

Yesterday, everything changed.

Americans elected:

Myriad ballot initiatives were passed around the country, including a measure to expand Medicaid under the ACA in Maine. In Virginia, Democrats wrested control of their state legislature from Republican control, winning 14 more seats in the House of Delegates.

THIS IS A BIG DEAL. For one big reason: Voter turnout.

In any normal year, and we are not living in a normal year, most people would have been scratching their heads last night going “There was an election today?” That wasn’t the case in 2017.

The Virginia governor’s race was perhaps the most crucial of all. The Republican contender Ed Gillespie Jr. ran a campaign near-identical to that of Trump. A career corporate lobbyist, Gillespie based his campaign on fear and division instead of on substantive promises and policies. His rhetoric was rife with red herrings and distractions (Confederate monuments and threats of the MS-13 gang), undoubtedly because his agenda would have been devastating to families in Virginia. Voters rejected his politics, and within it, rejected the message that got Donald Trump elected one year ago.

They chose Ralph Northam, a physician and veteran who has promised to raise the minimum wage, restore women’s reproductive rights, ensure universal pre-K education, and expand the ACA in his state. And they chose him by a margin of 9 points. This was no small, “just barely” kind of victory. It was a big, loud, decisive message from Virginians telling the country that division, racism, and oligarchy will not rule in their state. It is a message to Trump he is outnumbered.

Further, November 7, 2017 shows that the Dems are might finally be getting their message right. Northam and his ticket, as well as the blue candidates in New Jersey, did not run a campaign of “We are not Trump.” Theirs was one that provided real promises, real solutions to the real issues that Virginians care about: the economy, healthcare, employment, education. The Virginia win shows, above all, that this message can win America back in 2018 and 2020.

This is also a huge statement about Republicans.

They didn’t lose everything yesterday. GOP Representatives were elected in Utah, Kansas, Montana, Georgia, and South Carolina. All pretty red states, sure. But their advantage is slipping. Look at the margin of victory from 2016 to 2017:

  • Kansas: reduced from 30% to 6%
  • Montana: reduced from 16% to 6%
  • Georgia: reduced from 23% to 4%
  • South Carolina: reduced from 21% to 3%

These are “just barely” victories. So what does it mean?

Americans are fed up with the GOP, either because they have embraced Trump or because they haven’t made good on their campaign promises. Think about it: failed health care repeal, failed tax reform, no border wall, ISIS ostensibly still exists. If I were a rock-ribbed Republican who voted R for fewer taxes, better health care, and safer communities, I’d be pretty pissed right about now. It’s clear that Republicans in South Carolina, Georgia, Kansas and Montana are.

All signs point to a blue wave this time next year, but we should be cautious about chalking this up to a W and getting bored again. A year is a long time, more than enough for Americans to forget the division and fear ignited by the right. Republican lawmakers are headed back to Washington — including one who pleaded guilty to assaulting a reporter. They will undoubtedly do what is necessary for Republicans to hold onto their power in 2018, whether it be by restricting voting rights, upholding gerrymandering, or continuing to steer the conversations in this country away from the issues that actually matter to voters. This election will certainly cause Republicans to switch up their tactics, to become more ruthless come 2018. We should be prepared to take them on.

But we should be hopeful, inspired, and charged up by this win. It shows what happens when Americans don’t give way to fear or complacency, and get off our asses and vote. The diversity of Democratic candidates who won yesterday demonstrates that the 2016 election is not an accurate take of our country’s values. And the fact that this is a midterm election, i.e.: “There was an election today?” demonstrates that Americans are more activated, more involved than ever.

The future is yet uncertain — but it is bright. I’ll steal this quote from the New York Times about Danica Roem, the first transgender state representative elected in America.

Get excited, we’re taking our country back.