Democrats went into Tuesday with the very reasonable expectation of holding the White House. Instead, they were delivered a stinging defeat by the very voters who formed their base 20 years ago. But, it is not just that Clinton was defeated. It is what happened elsewhere.
In Congress, Republicans easily held their history House majority. If not for the self-inflicted wounds of John Mica (FL), Scott Garrett (NJ) and Frank Guinta (NH) the party might have lost only 4-5 seats (instead of the current 6). In the Senate, Democrats garnered a mere 2 seats. The party had 8 significant offensive opportunities.
It’s not just in Congress the party suffered. Democrats are practically extinct in state legislatures. Coming into Tuesday night, the party held only 30 legislatures. After Tuesday, they held, drumroll please, a total of 30 state legislatures. Democrats did regain the Nevada House and Senate and the New Mexico House. They also added to their majority in the Colorado House.
But that is where the good news ends. Republican gains were much more substantial in advancing policy. Whereas New Mexico and Nevada have GOP Governors who can check the legislature rarely can the same be said for Democrats. Republicans took control of the Governorships of Missouri, New Hampshire and Vermont. Both Missouri and New Hampshire have strong GOP legislative majorities. So strong was the GOP wave it carried them to take the blue leaning Minnesota state senate and split the Connecticut state senate.
By Wednesday morning, Republicans had unified control of 25 states. Democrats? A mere 6 (but hey, they again have a super-majority in California). The devastation of the Democratic bench down-ballot under Obama was completed.
No state better epitomizes this better than New Hampshire. The state elected a GOP Governor (and executive council) and red legislatures. But, the state elected its former Governor to replace Republican Kelly Ayotte in the Senate and knocked out its lone GOP Congressman. The state has an all Democratic federal delegation (with little power to shape policy) but unified GOP control at the state level and the ability to dramatically impact voters lives.
With such power the GOP can enact the sweeping agenda they have always dreamed of. With few swing state Senators up in 2018 Mitch McConnell does not have to worry about 2018 (heck, the 2020 map looks good too). Paul Ryan has seen his members run and win in the worst political environment since 2008. Tax cuts, regulatory reform, repealing and replacing the ACA are all on the table as is passing a 5-month ban on abortion.
A President Trump will be able to replace Scalia on the SCOTUS. He will appoint dozens of federal judges just as Obama did. More than that though, Trump will be able to define the GOP (good or bad) that the Democratic Party has no ability to mirror.
Therein lies the true damage for Democrats. They went all in on Clinton and lost. Instead of going with somebody like Joe Biden, who had liberal and suburban appeal, or even Bernie who would have drawn out the Left they went with the tried and true in Clinton. It backfired. Bigtime.
The party has nobody to replace her. She has defined the party for at least the next 2 years and for the health of the party that is not a good thing. Middle America voters (the ones that delivered the election to Trump and control battleground districts) resoundingly rejected Clinton’s brand of cronyism, corruption, big money elitism and greed. Her pleas for a united America might have worked if a Joe Biden said them. But, she is part of the political machine voters loathe. And they seem to see it in the Democratic Party in spades.
This puts Democrats in an extremely awkward spot. For the next 2 years they can be the loyal opposition and hope fortune smiles on them in Congress and the states. Or, they can embrace the candidate they privately and publicly shunned.
It might be shocking but right now the most popular figures in the Democratic Party are Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. They are not Clinton by any stretch and actually have few ties to big business. They could actually create a rift between the GOP and their blue-collar base if given the reigns of the party. But, moderate and business friendly Democrats would likely push back. They sit more on the Clinton-spectrum side of the party.
Ultimately, Democrats gambled on the Obama coalition and lost. Obama built a coalition in 08 unmatched in American politics. In 2012, he held it together by demonizing Mitt Romney as a heartless plutocrat and part of the political machine. Democrats nominated their own Romney in Clinton and tried to rally the same voters Obama did. Instead, the gamble the party made on the future and Obama’s coalition was made too early. Sure, the “Coalition of the Ascendant” may be the future of America. But, right now, Trump’s blue-collar, college-educated white coalition still matters. And Democrats will pay the price for their loss for years to come.