Jim Hartman: In the land of Trump
President Trump’s political approach is to never admit a mistake or setback. So, he proclaimed the midterm election result a “tremendous success.” In truth, the outcome was an overall GOP defeat, and a devastating one in Nevada.
Republican Senate gains were a consolation, with Democratic incumbents defeated in Indiana, North Dakota, Missouri and Florida. The Democrats paid a price for their hyper-partisan hysteria in the Kavanaugh hearing, manifest prior to the 11th hour sexual assault claim made by Christine Ford.
At least 227 demonstrators were arrested for interruptions in the first week of the hearing, and Democratic senators added to “resistance” chaos by making 44 interjections in the hearing’s first hour. The confirmation floor vote was punctuated by shrieks and ejections in the Senate gallery. Republicans framed the issue as “the rule of law” vs. “mob rule.”
In the end, there was never any question about the professional qualifications of Justice Kavanaugh — the American Bar Association gave him its highest recommendation. The story told by Ford was never corroborated even from her closest friends and was refuted by the witnesses she identified.
It was Republican Sens. Mitch McConnell, Lindsey Graham, (even) Jeff Flake and, especially, Susan Collins, who were credited with energizing GOP voters for the midterm election (the “Kavanaugh effect”). Collins’ speech on the Senate floor restored reason to the Kavanaugh confirmation. Earlier, each of these four GOP senators was the subject of insulting “tweets” from Trump.
With an expected two seat GOP Senate gain, it will make it easier to confirm judicial and political nominees and gives Republicans greater leverage in spending fights.
But Democrats won the House decisively, gaining 35-40 new seats. Republicans won rural districts, while Democrats romped in the cities. Most ominously, Republicans lost their House majority because they lost ground in the suburbs, especially in relatively affluent areas with college-educated voters.
The House defeat is also a message from moderate Republicans and independents, especially women put off by Trump’s rancorous style. An October Wall Street Journal-NBC poll puts the problem in sharp relief. While 44 percent of voters approve of Trump’s policies, some 20 percent like his policies but dislike him personally. Worse for Trump, the share of voters who dislike him personally but like his policies increased in the past two years.
The party of Lincoln, Eisenhower and Reagan has become the party of Trump. Political parties require core values and for Republicans those values center on individual freedom. The one value above all others that defined the modern Republican Party, especially the last four Republican presidents preceding Trump, is civility. Trump’s “road rage” bombast with indiscriminate targets isn’t a winning value.
The GOP was most robust when Ronald Reagan was president. To Reagan governing was about finding solutions — in an atmosphere of mutual respect. The differences between Reagan and Trump are stark. Simply put, Reagan was always a gentleman, unfailingly gracious to friends and foes alike.
Reagan appealed to our hopes and painted a picture of a sunnier future. In 2014, Nevada Republicans swept to a landslide victory on the coattails of Gov. Brian Sandoval, whose sunny aspirational vision of a “New Nevada” was in the Reagan tradition.
All was reversed in 2016 and 2018. Led by Trump, the Nevada GOP lost two Senate races, two House seats, the governorship and all constitutional offices except Secretary of State. Both state legislative chambers “flipped” to the Democrats, with Republicans losing 15 seats. In short — political disaster.
If Trump doesn’t expand his coalition, Democrats are poised to create a new progressive government in 2020.
Jim Hartman is an attorney residing in Genoa