There was indeed a blue wave. But the red dikes, where they were available, held up pretty well.
This is the outtake from Tuesday’s midterm election, in which Republicans added three Senate seats while narrowly losing the House. And in places where there were no dikes, such as New York, blue blood flowed like water, to riff on the stormy waters metaphors.
Here are ten observations that came to me while analyzing the results:
Losses Pretty Tame for a Midterm
As midterm elections go, this was one of the tamest defeats for a sitting president in the modern era. Ever since 1874, when the Civil War enemies were just settling down to disagree at the ballot box instead of the battlefield, the president’s party has usually lost seats in the election two years after taking office.
Why? Probably since that’s when the president is most vulnerable. New presidents enter office believing that their election gave them capital to enact change. They quickly hit a wall of obstruction in Congress, where speed is measured in months rather than minutes, where a member in the 50s is often the youngest man in the room, where a committee chairman who can make or break your agenda has been sitting there since you were in grade school.
Battles ensue. Presidents say things they probably shouldn’t have, and the media magnifies it while adding punditry that would lead inventors of the telephone game to sue for copyright infringement. You want your campaign promises converted into legislation ASAP senators grandstand.
All of a sudden, there’s the midterms, and, the media warns ominously, your presidency and re-election prospects hinge on its success.
When it comes to losers, former President Barack Obama leads the pack, with 63 House seats flipping to the GOP in 2010. President Donald Trump lost less than half — 27. And he gained three seats in the Senate, one of only five presidents to do that in a century.
Does the Public Miss Obama? Hardly
Obama made an unusual move for a former president — he actively campaigned for Democratic candidates while directly criticizing his successor in an extraordinarily personal way. The only parallel to this I can think of is Jimmy Carter slamming then-President George W. Bush for Iraq and undermining his Cuba policy. And even then, Carter had been out of office for more than two decades.
Reading media coverage of Obama’s rallies, you detect a strong odor of nostalgia by the reporter for his presidency. It’s almost as if the country yearns for the days when hope and change was alive and in the Oval Office, when his pen and his phone were busily inscribing good tidings and wealth to Americans.
But all three competitive races in which the former president campaigned lost. Bigly.
Obama stumped for Andrew Gillum in Florida’s gubernatorial race — lost by 7 points. He urged Sunshine State voters to keep Bill Nelson in the Senate — lost in a race polls said he would win comfortably. He campaigned for liberal hero Stacey Abrams, who would become the first African-American governor of a state in the Deep South since Reconstruction — lost.
Americans are not that taken by Obama, it seems. Unless it was just the unseemliness of a former president attempting to get back into the limelight.
Media Coverage was Horrendous
More than 90 percent of mainstream media coverage has been hostile to Trump, the media reports. I have yet to come across the bit of favorable press — 2 or 3 percent, perhaps, but 10 percent? Must be hiding behind the Oxford comma.
The bias permeates every article and paragraph. Even the good news is layered with prejudice and seasoned with cynicism. It’s the worst I’ve seen in my 20 years of following politics. Even the press corps is biased — when a reporter for the Daily Caller, a fringe rightwing news website, interrupted Obama during a press conference about immigration, the press was horrified. During Wednesday’s Trump presser, it was CNN’s guy that continually interrupted.
That Trump has executed a successful strategy at countering the media — made plain with his victories this week — can only be considered brilliant. He continuously “owns the libs,” to invoke the vernacular.
Why the GOP Won the Senate but Lost the House
Now comes the biggest mystery of the night — why did voters give the House to the Democrats while padding the GOP majority in the Senate?
I believe that this goes to the heart of how the nation’s founding fathers meant the two chambers to work. The House of Representatives, the Citizens’ House, would be close to the people, hearing their concerns and making sure they’re taken care of. The Senate, originally envisioned as a club for successful people who want to give their final years in service to their country, was the upper house.
Since 1789, the number of citizens per congressional district has risen from an average of 33,000 to about 700,000 today. But that’s still far better than the Senate, which has two per state, even for states such as New York with its nearly 20 million people.
So congressmen are the man of the people, who are judged based on their eclectic personalities and personal achievements, while senators are seen more as representing the president for the state. When the president is doing well, his party gets more senators. When he’s not, the penalty arrives with a shebang at the ballots.
The term “impeachment” used to be uttered with a dread reserved for the ultimate terror. “The ‘I’ word,” according to Oxford Dictionary, was first mentioned in 1987 in the aftermath of the Iran-Contra affair, targeting Ronald Reagan. The word “impeachment” was diminutized, likely, to avoid saying it. In the Trump era, it is shortened to “the ‘I’ word” since it’s used so often.
But Democrats are not likely to pursue impeachment, if only because they barely have a House majority, will fail in getting red state Democrats to vote on it, and will become an even greater clown show than they accuse Trump of having.
A caveat — the Democratic base wants Trump impeached. Will the leadership resist the Resistance? Nancy Pelosi, likely speaker, has proven to be pragmatic in the past when it comes to governing. Time will tell to prove her mettle.
Trump is Here to Stay, Democrats
While Democrats will now control the House, let them take a lesson from the six years during the Obama administration when Republicans controlled, first the House, and then the Senate as well.
Well, for those who don’t want to consult a history book, here it is: They accomplished nothing. Presidents have that much power. Perhaps work with the president to pass some legislation on things you care about and hope that voters reward you with two more years in 2020.
So, Was it a Blue Wave?
It was a blue wave in blue states and a red wave in red states. Republicans in places like New York were decimated, possibly for a generation. Every close and not-so-close race ended in the Democrat’s favor, and New York City has not a single Republican in Congress.
On the other hand, the list of Democratic senators in the South and Midwest has dwindled post-Tuesday to not more than one or two.
New York GOP is Officially a Dying Breed
I think we could say after Tuesday that Republicans are becoming as minor a party in New York state as the Conservatives or Independence.
Marc Molinaro may be a great man, as I’m sure he is. But many of you are reading his name here for the first time. He lost to Gov. Andrew Cuomo in a landslide — 59 to 37 percent. Few even bothered finding out his positions. He barely campaign in the Orthodox Jewish areas which comprise 15 to 20 percent of the Republican voter pool.
Worst of the Tuesday bloodbath was the utter loss of the state Senate. It had been a last bastion of GOP power in the state, and then it was gone. The rampage that began when Democrats obliterated the Independent Democratic Conference in the summer steamrolled the Republican holdouts and went from 23 seats to 39.
The gubernatorial candidate was uninspiring. The Senate leadership was out of ideas and deprived of message. And it showed through like a flashlight in the dark.
The Republicans have done a lot for the Orthodox community in recent years. Mainly due to the efforts of state Sen. Simcha Felder, they extended free busing to yeshivos who come home late, clarified for the first time which secular studies yeshivos must teach, and introduced the concept that culture be taken into account when placing a special needs child.
A question mark is whether askanim who devote their lives to lobby for the community can successfully make the transition and create the kind of relationships with the new Democratic majority that can bring the same results.
Assemblyman-elect Simcha Eichenstein
One welcome new face in Albany is Simcha Eichenstein, a young man with great ideas, a likeable personality and a bulging rolodex. He has been backstage for the past four years in the mayor’s office, quietly moving forward many of the biggest accomplishments for the community.
He has indicated that he wants to continue doing the work quietly, in the conference chambers of the Assembly, in the hearing rooms of the committees, and give the community a seat at the table as the laws take shape. Working with Simcha Felder in the Senate and Kalman Yeger in the city council, this may be the most heimishe team ever to represent the community.
What Does This Mean for the Klal?
Uppermost on everyone’s minds is, what does this mean for the community? For the yeshivos?
The state Education Department is due to release its long-awaited report on yeshivah education in another two or three weeks. While the original complaint had singled out only 30 out of the state’s 275 yeshivos, whatever the report decides will impact every single one of them.
Does a suddenly-solid Democratic majority and control of every lever of power in the state mean that the report will take a hard stance? Will it allow them to go softer? Will they demand that yeshivos teach five hours of secular studies a day? Will they have to cast limmudei kodesh to the afternoon?