The smoke is clearing tonight for the most expensive mid-term election in American history. The outlines are just becoming visible. The results, it turns out, are confusing.
It wasn't exactly a draw but both sides can claim victory. And, of course, they are. In the House, Republicans did slightly worse than average in a mid-term election. In the Senate, they did a little better.
Some of the races played out as referendums on the president's first two years in office. Other races had nothing at all to do with Trump. In some races, hard-edged ideologues won. In others, doughy moderates did. It was basically a patchwork.
There are no obvious takeaways from what happened last night. But there are some useful lessons. What exactly have we learned from 470 individual congressional elections, some big governors races, and a full
year of political debate?
Well the biggest news is that Democrats just won back the House of Representatives after eight years. They are thrilled with that, obviously. And yet, they don't appear to have any idea how they did it.
As of tonight, there really is no Democratic program or platform or message. There's no Democratic plan for making the economy stronger or the country safer. There's only Donald Trump whom they despise. The entire Democratic message is Trump.
The President is often accused of narcissism, of making everything about himself. But on that point, Democrats agree with him. They think everything is about Trump too.
It was a big moment last night when it had just become clear that Democrats would re-take the House. It was really the apex of the night. And at that apex, a senior Democrat called the set at MSNBC to announce his party's top priority now that they have regained power.
“I've spoken to a senior Democratic source on the Ways and Means Committee,” said MSNBC anchor Ari Melber, “who says tonight, breaking news, they do intend to request President Trump's tax returns. Getting your hands on those Trump tax returns, as everyone knows, would be a big deal for the Committee.”
Getting Trump's tax returns. That's the priority for Democrats – not infrastructure, not wages, not the looming threat of China or drug ODs in this country, the shrinking middle-class, not even healthcare. Trump's tax returns – that’s what Democrats really want.
OK. Maybe they'll get them. Maybe they'll get those returns. What then? What exactly will we learn from Trump's tax returns? That a casino owner once employed a clever accountant? That he made less than he claimed he did?
Will anybody be shocked by any of that? Will anyone care about any of that? Or as with the Stormy Daniels saga that went on forever, will voters find themselves titillated for a moment and then lose interest? What do Trump's tax returns have to do with them anyway? Their premiums haven't gone down.
It's all just noise. Almost all of this is just noise.
And for the rest of us, there's a pretty simple lesson. And you'd think Democrats would have figured it out. But they have not figured it out.
Congressman Jerry Nadler will likely be the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. Just today, Nadler was on a train back to Washington from New York and he was overheard by somebody laying out his legislative priorities.
First on the list – impeaching Brett Kavanaugh and removing him from the Supreme Court. Apparently, that's what Democrats really believe voters want more than anything else. "Get that Kavanaugh guy
off the court."
Congressman Adam Schiff of California meanwhile is poised to take over the House Intelligence Committee. He's been the ranking member there for the last couple of years. He says that come January, when he takes over, his main priority will be intensifying the Russia probe because it's not intense enough or long-standing enough.
Schiff apparently thinks that he can prove that Vladimir Putin somehow stole the 2016 election with a few dozen Facebook ads that hardly anybody saw. Can Schiff really prove that? Who knows? Maybe.
What we can know for certain is that nobody outside Washington will care at all if he does prove it. The entire Russia conversation is irrelevant and dumb. That has been proven already. It has nothing to do with anything, and everybody knows it.
Democrats are the only ones who don't know it yet. As of right now, the entire Democratic platform can be summed up in one sentence: "Donald Trump is a bad person. Whoa."
That's what they plan to run on in the next presidential election, which incidentally starts today, right now. Good luck with that. It's a virtual guarantee that Trump will serve a full eight years, if you make it about him.
And by the way, so is all the race talk. That's not helping you. Somewhere along the way, Democrats became convinced they could win elections by denouncing voters as racist.
The Andrew Gillum campaign just tried it in Florida. Remember? He was asked about the FBI probe into him. "You're a racist for asking" was essentially his response. Stacey Abrams' surrogates tried it also in Georgia. Did it work? No. It rarely works. Why would it work?
Here's a bit of hard-earned knowledge from almost 30 years of covering campaigns. When you call voters immoral, they don't like it.
And yet, the Left continues to throw out the racist slur, probably because they enjoy doing it. It makes them feel good about themselves. ABC News’ Byron Pitts said this last night about the Gillum race: “I think for me, progressives in places like Florida and Georgia, they'll be incredibly disappointed, and they'll be giving their White neighbors the hairy eyeball tomorrow, right?”
In other words, ABC News is telling us Andrew Gillum lost because of his skin color, and he lost because of the behavior of people of a certain skin color. ABC News knows that.
You hear things like this all the time, every day. And yet, curiously, nobody ever bothers to prove any of it or even try. Why? Because it's unprovable, and that's the appeal.
Racism is now anything you don't like. A racist is anyone who's in your way. Hurling allegations of bigotry are, from the perspective of the Left, the quickest way to get what you want. That's why they do it.
It happened again today at President Trump’s press conference. Here’s his exchange with PBS Newshour’s Yamiche Alcindor:
Alcindor: On the campaign trail, you called yourself a nationalist. Some people saw that as emboldening White nationalists. Now people are also saying–
Trump: I don't know why you'd say that. That's such a racist question.
Alcindor: There's some people that say that now the Republican Party is seen as supporting White nationalists because of your–
Trump: Oh, I don't believe that. I don't believe that.
Alcindor: –rhetoric. What do you make of that?
Trump: I don't believe. I just – well I don't know. Why do I have my highest poll numbers ever with African-Americans? I love our country. I do. You have nationalists. You have globalists. I also love the world. And I don't mind helping the world. But we have to straight down our country first.
Now that happened at the president's briefing, so you may not even have seen it because you're living a real life, and not glued to the Internet. But trust me, if that had happened even just a few years ago, it would have been everywhere. It would have been international news. An accredited White House reporter calling the president of the United States a White supremacist? Holy smokes.
But now it's just any other day on cable news. Nobody really believes that the reporter means it. It's posturing and, therefore, it is boring. The claim racist is losing its power from overuse. Diminishing returns have been reached. If you've got a problem with nationalism, it might be better just to argue against nationalism. That way we might all learn something.
In the meantime, Republicans should understand that Democrats call them bigots not because they believe they are bigots or even because they care if they are bigots. Al Sharpton and Louis Farrakhan are still allowed in the Democratic Party, after all.Democrats obviously aren't too concerned about bigotry or they'd kick those guys out first step.
Democrats make the charge because they hope it will bring them power. And power is what they want. It's all they want.
Republicans lost an entire chamber of Congress last night. Nobody rioted this morning. Nobody blocked intersections or looted liquor stores. You didn't see Republican consultants on television this morning
questioning the results or attacking the House of Representatives as illegitimate as an institution.
It didn't occur to Republicans to do that. It was just an election. You lose sometimes. That's how Republicans think. That is not how Democrats think. They lost a few seats in the Senate last night.
Already, they're denouncing the Senate itself as somehow undemocratic.
The talking points have gone around. They're all reading them. Joy Behar today on The View tried to read them. Ultimately, she misread the talking points. But she gave it her best shot. Here’s an exchange she had with their guest, Matthew Dowd:
Dowd: So Democrats won the popular vote last night by 8 million votes, right? But they lose U.S. Senate races in red areas so--
Behar: Because of gerrymandering a lot of it.
Dowd: Well that's not gerrymandering, that's the Constitution. The districts are gerrymandering but the states are part of the Constitution.
Well you can't gerrymander a Senate election, of course, because it's statewide. Joy Behar probably doesn't know that. She probably doesn't know really what the Senate is. But she knows power. And like a lot of the Democrats you see on television, she will say whatever it takes to get power.
Republicans should understand that. But it's not just Democrats who should have learned something last night. There were major lessons for Republicans too, ones they should pay attention to.
Here's one: Voters care about campaign promises. If you don't fulfill your campaign promises, it turns out they notice, they remember, and they don't care for it. In 2016, Republicans in Congress promised to, I don't know, build a wall, get rid of Obamacare, de-fund Planned Parenthood. They got elected on those promises. They didn't do any of them once they got elected. Maybe that's one reason they lost the House last night.
Here's another lesson: Immigration matters, not just on the level of individuals and families and caravans – the things that we debate every night – but on the level of entire populations. Immigration changes who
lives in a country and who votes.
Ultimately, that's why it matters. You never know that from listening to the coverage of immigration stories. You would think the question of who comes into your country and under what circumstances was entirely a moral issue, really a question of personal decency. Good people are for open borders. Bad people are against them. It's always the message including today.
Here was CNN’s Jim Acosta at the president’s briefing today:
Acosta: As you know, Mr. President, the caravan was not an invasion. It's a group of migrants moving up from Central America towards the border with the U.S.
Trump: Thank you for telling me that. I appreciate it.
Acosta: Why did you characterize it as such and –
Trump: Because I consider it an invasion. You and I have a difference of opinion.
Acosta: But do you think that you demonized immigrants –
Trump: Not at all. No, not at all. I want them--
Acosta: – in this election to try to keep –
Trump: – I want them to come into the country but they have to come in legally. You know, they have to come in, Jim, through a process. [Pointing to another reporter] You can go ahead.
Acosta: Let me ask one other question. Are you worried –
Trump: That's enough. That's enough. That's enough.
Acosta: Mr. President, I was going to ask one of the – the other folks –
Trump: That's enough.
Acosta: – pardon me, Ma'am. I'm – I'm – Mr. President –
Trump: Excuse me, that's enough.
Acosta: – Mr. President, I had one other question if I may ask on –
Trump: David – let's go.
Acosta: – on the Russia investigation. Are you concerned that that you may have –
Trump: I'm not concerned about anything with the Russian investigation –
Acosta: – indictments – that you may have indictments coming down –
Trump: – because it's a hoax.
Acosta: Are you –
Trump: That's enough. Put down the mic.
Acosta: – Mr. President, are you worried about indictments coming down in this investigation?
Trump: I'll tell you what. CNN should be ashamed of itself having you working for them. You are a rude, terrible person. You shouldn't be working for CNN.
Acosta is such a buffoon. But he's such a buffoon that the White House apparently felt it had no choice but to respond. Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders put out this statement:
"President Trump believes in a free press and expects and welcomes tough questions of him and his Administration. We will, however, never tolerate a reporter placing his hands on a young woman just trying to do her job as a White House intern. This conduct is absolutely unacceptable. It is also completely disrespectful to the reporter's colleagues not to allow them an opportunity to ask a question. As a result of what happened today, the White House is suspending the hard pass of the reporter involved until further notice."
So that's today's Jim Acosta sidebar.
But whatever else the exchange you just saw was, what it really was, was a diversion from the political reality of immigration. Here's the political reality. California was once a solidly Republican state for generations. It is now among the most democratic. Why? Immigration.
Different people live there. And not surprisingly, they vote very differently. Something very similar is happening right now in Nevada, Arizona, Texas, Virginia, North Carolina, many other states, and that was reflected in last night's vote totals.
Check the numbers. Democrats, obviously, know this. That's why they oppose borders because it helps them win elections. Republicans, by profound contrast, have been very slow to pick up on this. They're very literal. They still think immigration policy is about virtue.
Republicans also seem to think that their economic message is working. They're very proud of the tax bill they passed in Congress, the Congress that they will control not much longer. Paul Ryan's always talking about his tax bill.
And by the way, there's nothing wrong with tax cuts. But Republican strategists seem to forget that a huge percentage of Americans don't pay federal taxes. By definition, they don't care very much about tax cuts – cuts to taxes they don't pay.
For them and for many others, the economy is not measured in stock prices and GDP numbers. Their concerns are tangible concerns. What does gas cost? Can I afford to live in a safe neighborhood? Will I go bankrupt if I get sick?
These are real questions for tens of millions of people. The party that effectively addresses these questions generally wins elections. Republicans, for whatever reason, tend to ignore these questions. And
that's a big reason they just lost the House.
But there's a larger question that we ought to meditate on. The Republican Party is a conservative party. Republicans are supposed to care about families, not just a little bit, but above all. And yet, increasingly, the American family is vanishing.
Young people can't afford to get married or to have children. Take a look at the numbers sometime. They're publicly available. They are shocking. And they foretell an ominous future for all of us.
A country without strong families is a weak country. It is a volatile place, a chaotic place. It's a place susceptible to political demagoguery. It's what America is becoming. If you want to stop that slide support families. It's that simple.
Put another way, if your supposedly conservative economic program doesn't make it easier for young people to get and stay married and have kids, how is it really conservative? If couples are too poor to have children and you're not helping, why should I as a conservative vote for you?
I should not vote for you. I will not vote for you. I will work against you. That is my pledge. Supporting marriage and children is the best, maybe the only way for Republicans or any of us to save the country. It will also win them elections. They should start right away.
Adapted from Tucker Carlson's monologue on "Tucker Carlson Tonight" on November 7, 2018.