Democrats got slaughtered last night—here are 6 important takeaways

The votes have been counted and the few political reporters who don’t have thumping hangovers this morning are debating the appropriate calamity to describe Democrats’ fortunes. Was it a wave? An earthquake? The Huffington Post skipped Mother Nature entirely and called it a bloodbath.

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Whatever it was, it was a top-to-bottom rout of the Democratic Party. The GOP picked up at least seven Senate seats, 12 House seats, and three governor’s mansions, and made significant gains in state legislatures. Martha Coakley lost her second election in five years. Charlie Crist became a trans-partisan loser, having now been defeated as a Republican, an independent, and a Democrat. The electoral map is splattered with red.

But what were voters really trying to say last night? Here are a few takeaways.

The Democrats’ war on women is over

Election 2

After garnering some wins in 2012 thanks to Republicans tripping over their shoelaces on social issues, Democrats tried to make terrifying women voters a centerpiece of their 2014 campaigns. Last night the two Democrats who cited the war on women most often, Senator Mark Udall of Colorado and Wendy Davis of Texas, were trounced. Udall in particular is a bellwether, having been reduced to running ads portraying his opponent, Cory Gardner, as a kind of prince of contraceptive thieves. By the end of the campaign he’d earned the nickname “Mark Uterus.”

This isn’t to say that Republicans have stabilized themselves on cultural concerns. But it does mean that social issues can backfire as explosively for Democrats as they can for Republicans. Democrats should negotiate a cessation of hostilities in the war on women—not that they will.

It was a good night for hawks

Election 1

Yes, Scott Brown lost after trying to convince voters that New Hampshire was on the verge of invasion by Ebola-infected ISIS immigrants. But neoconservative darling Tom Cotton won in Arkansas, and newfound senators like Joni Ernst and Thom Tillis postured as tough on terrorism. Even Dan Sullivan, the newly minted Republican from occasionally libertarian Alaska, is at best a mixed bag on national security issues. Republicans won in Colorado, but at the expense of Mark Udall, one of the most redoubtable civil libertarians in the Senate. Seventy-two percent of voters told exit pollsters they’re worried about a terrorist attack on American soil.

If 2010 was the opening shot in the GOP’s foreign policy civil war, last night was The Hawks Strike Back, a reflexive reversion to the party’s comfortable Bush-era bellicosity.

Still, it wasn’t a bad night for libertarians

Election 3

Whatever Jennifer Rubin is saying today (and I still haven’t mustered up the antibodies to check), last night wasn’t primarily about national security. It was a general rage election, as many are saying, but it was also more sketched out than that: a rejection not just of the president, but of his tax-and-spend, anti-gun policies.

Take Maryland, the scene of last night’s most incredible upset. Republican Larry Hogan won by defining opponent Anthony Brown with a somewhat verbose slogan: “a second string for O’Malley’s third high-tax term.” That was enough for Maryland voters, who viewed former governor Martin O’Malley as a tax-and-spend liberal and accordingly tossed his protégé out the door. Something similar happened in Colorado where Republican Bob Beauprez defeated Governor John Hickenlooper by running as a fiscal conservative, and demanding more fracking and gun freedoms.

Also three states legalized marijuana and California passed sentencing reform for nonviolent and drug crimes, both items high on the libertarian wish list.

Republican victories even extended to the Northeast


In addition to the aforementioned Hogan victory, the GOP also won unlikely governorships in Massachusetts and Maine, two states with monolithically Democratic legislatures. It wasn’t all good news for Northeastern Republicans: Connecticut will redeploy Dannel Malloy to its governor’s mansion, despite his having immiserated their state and not possessing any apparent charm or otherwise human qualities. But even there his Republican opponent ran a competitive campaign, bolstered by Malloy’s tax increases and punitive gun control legislation.

There’s a very optimistic lesson for the GOP here: even in the cerulean Northeast, voters are willing to curb Democrats’ appetites. You just have to run the right Republican.

The GOP shouldn’t pop too much champagne

Election 5

“It’s not that you’ve got the qualifications, for this or any other work,” art collector Julius Gore-Uquhart tells Jim Dixon upon hiring him in the novel Lucky Jim. “You haven’t got the disqualifications, though, and that’s much rarer.”

Last night the public’s chief disqualification was Barack Obama, and the GOP, not being Barack Obama, reaped the benefits. But polls continue to show that voters don’t trust Washington Republicans with managing an ice cream truck, let alone the nation’s finances. If the GOP thinks it can persist without revamping its brand, it won’t win anything in 2016.

Seriously though, last night was a Democrat slaughter

Election 6

Let’s not take this away from Republicans. If you want to see how merciless voters were to Democrats, take a gander at the governors map: most of the gubernatorial class of 2010, heavily Republican, was up for election last night, and not a single one lost except for Pennsylvania’s Tom Corbett. Even Kansas Governor Sam Brownback, pronounced dead at the scene for his supposedly extreme fiscal policies, won handily. The Democrats’ historic advantage in local politics has been completely squashed, and bread-and-butter issues like the minimum wage and entitlements aren’t working like they used to.

All of this presents great problems for The Narrative. Promoted relentlessly by Washington elites and Republican insiders, The Narrative holds that congressional Republicans are extremists and can only compete by ditching all that unruly fiscal conservatism. Last night the public reacted in the opposite direction, recognizing that the president’s neo-Keynesian agenda has failed to revive the economy and voting accordingly.

All of which plays into a different, even slightly Tea Party-ish, narrative. Your move, Jeb Bush.

What do you think?

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