Politics & Policy

How Russia Will Shape the 2018 Midterm Elections

(Reuters photo: Jonathan Ernst)
By enabling Democrats to ignore their political shortcomings.

A month and a half after the presidential election, Democrats are obsessed with the idea that they didn’t really lose: The election was stolen from them by Russian hackers, by the FBI, and by the Electoral College.

This week, the Electoral College voted to choose Donald Trump as the next president, despite fantastical campaigns urging it to undo Trump’s victory. The FBI released the search warrant that was used to look at Anthony Weiner’s laptop and reopen the Hillary Clinton e-mail probe, and the warrant instantly came under attack as a political instrument rather than an investigative tool: Clinton lawyer David Kendall said the warrant “highlights the extraordinary impropriety of [FBI] Director Comey’s October 28 letter” that informed Congress of the reopened e-mail investigation, which, says Kendall “produced devastating but predictable damage politically and which was both legally unauthorized and factually unnecessary.” Clinton-campaign spokesman Brian Fallon added that the warrant revealed that “Comey’s intrusion on the election was as utterly unjustified as we suspected at [the] time.”

But the biggest source of leftist election denial is, of course, Russia. Congressional Democrats want investigations. The Atlantic ran a piece this week titled “The Most Urgent Questions About the Russia Hacks: No foreign power has ever intervened to try to shape a U.S. election with this kind of sophistication and potency.” The Washington Post says “A bipartisan committee should investigate Russia’s election hacking.” The New York Times has a flowchart “following the links from Russian Hackers to the U.S. Election.”

This isn’t to say that Russia didn’t try to influence the election — Putin is a man whose entire political career is steeped in blood, and I wouldn’t put anything past him. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if he was behind the leaks that exposed corruption in the DNC and humiliated myriad Clinton staffers. But what difference does that make to the Democrats’ political future? They won’t get anywhere whining that they should have won. They haven’t been so weak a party since they lost the Civil War, and there’s just no plausible way to pin that on the Russians. Now, as in 1865, they have to adapt or die.

In 2018, the Democrats will be staggeringly exposed, defending their Senate coattail-windfall from Obama’s reelection in 2012. Including caucus members Bernie Sanders (a Vermont Socialist) and Angus King (a Maine independent), the Democrats will be defending 25 seats. The Republicans will be defending just 8, and only one of those in a swing state (two, if you count Arizona, where John McCain just won reelection by 13 percentage points). Of the Democrats’ 25 at-risk seats, 10 are in states won by Donald Trump.

Democrats will also be defending a seat in Minnesota, which Hillary won by just 45,000 votes, a 1.5-point margin. Then there’s Maine, where Donald Trump won one of the state’s four electoral votes, and where Trump’s popular-vote total combined with Libertarian Gary Johnson’s total exceeds Hillary’s. The same was true in New Mexico, where Johnson was the Republican governor from 1995 to 2003. If Republicans could induce Johnson to reenter the GOP fold, the party might easily win a New Mexico Senate seat from Democrat Martin Heinrich — who won his seat in 2012 with 51 percent of the vote, underperforming President Obama by two points in a strong coattail year. New Mexico, like Maine, has a Republican governor; unlike Maine, New Mexico’s Republican governor is quite popular (she is also Hispanic in a heavily Hispanic state).

If, in 2018, Republicans were to win all the states that Trump won in this year’s presidential election, they would have a Senate supermajority of 61.

Then there are a couple of seats that would normally be quite safe for Democrats, but that bear mentioning because of some improbable polling. The two most popular governors in the country are Charlie Baker of Massachusetts and Larry Hogan of Maryland; in fact, they’re the only two governors in the country with approval ratings over 70 percent. And they’re both Republicans. If either were to run for the Senate, Maryland and Massachusetts’s 2018 Senate races could become toss-ups.

If, in 2018, Republicans were to win all the states that Trump won in this year’s presidential election, they would have a supermajority of 61. Add Nevada’s seat, which is currently held by Republican Dean Heller, and that becomes 62. Add Minnesota, New Mexico, and Maine, and they’d have 65. Add Massachusetts and Maryland and they’d have enough to endorse an amendment to the Constitution, override a veto, or approve a treaty.

And then there’s Virginia. Virginia has a Senate seat coming up in 2018 (Tim Kaine’s seat); it will also host the first test of the Democrats’ ability to reform after the crushing losses of 2016, because it has an off-year gubernatorial election, in 2017.

The incumbent, Democrat Terry McAuliffe, won’t be able to run for reelection, because Virginia prohibits consecutive gubernatorial terms. In the weeks leading up to McAuliffe’s election in 2013, most polls had him leading his Republican opponent, Ken Cuccinelli, by six points or better. The final poll before the election actually had McAuliffe beating Cuccinelli by twelve percentage points; in the event, he won by just two and a half.

The next year, Democrat Mark Warner successfully defended his Senate seat against Republican Ed Gillespie. The final polls had Warner winning by seven, nine, and twelve points; on Election Day, Warner won by just eight-tenths of one point. President-wise, Virginia has turned reliably Democratic over the last decade–but in non-presidential years, the votes have been close enough to count the state as a toss-up. If, in the next twelve months, Democrats continue to insist that their only problem is a vast Russo–Right Wing conspiracy, and that there’s nothing wrong with basing their platform entirely on identity politics, Virginia may end up presaging worse things to come — an unprecedented slaughter of Democratic Senate candidates, one that would essentially erase their influence in Congress.

#related#Temper your hopes; a Republican majority in the mid 60s is axiomatically unlikely; Americans instinctually dislike concentrating too much power in the hands of any one group. For this reason, midterm elections tend to favor the party not in White House. On the other hand, midterm elections also tend to favor Republicans, because fewer casual, drive-by voters turn out.

Predictions of a major American party’s demise are, as a rule, silly. No big party has been snuffed out since the Whigs in 1854. Nevertheless, delusional Democrats — determined to ignore unpleasant facts in favor of comforting paranoia — should be lots of fun to watch.

Josh Gelernter — Josh Gelernter is a weekly columnist for NRO, and a frequent contributor to The Weekly Standard.

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