Conservatives are furiously spinning Tuesday night’s election results. As everyone expected, Donald Trump took to Twitter to tout his party’s “big victory,” a claim he continued to make during a zany and combative press conference on Wednesday. Glenn Reynolds described the midterms as a “purple puddle.”
Don’t buy it. This was a significant blue wave. Democrats, handicapped by extreme gerrymandering, structural disadvantages in both the House and Senate and relentless efforts to suppress their votes, faced one of the most vicious and dishonest campaigns in memory. Yet, as of this writing, they’re winning the national popular vote by around 7 percentage points, and will pick up something like 30 house seats. In 2010, Republicans gained 63 seats in the House while winning by 7.2 percentage points. This may be have been as close to a blue tsunami as is possible on such an uneven playing field.
Democrats lost some marquee races, with Florida gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum and Texas Senate candidate Beto O’Rourke going down and Stacey Abrahams hanging on by a thread in Georgia’s governor’s race. And it was a rough night for Democratic senators in red states. But when you look under the hood, Democrats and progressives made significant gains up and down the ballot. Some of those wins, like the restoration of voting rights for 1.5 million Floridians who were convicted of a crime and served their sentences, will reverberate long after the 2018 election cycle is forgotten.
Democrats picked up seven governorships and over 300 state legislative seats on Tuesday (in addition to the 40 or so they’d already flipped during Trump’s first two years in office). They took control of one or both state legislative chambers in New York, Colorado, New Hampshire, Minnesota, Maine and Connecticut (where the State Senate had been evenly divided). And they doubled the number of states in which they control the governor’s mansion and both chambers of the legislature, picking up seven “trifectas” on the night. These are crucially important wins with redistricting coming up after the 2020 census.
Speaking of which, voters approved redistricting reforms in Michigan, Colorado and Missouri. (A similar measure in Utah is too close to call at present.) Nevada and Michigan passed automatic registration for voters, and Maryland will offer same-day registration. Medical marijuana passed in Missouri and Utah, and Michigan became the first state in the Midwest to legalize recreational weed. Arkansas and Missouri voters went around their state legislatures to pass minimum-wage hikes that will boost wages for around 1 million working people.
Democrats also wrested control of attorney-general offices in Colorado, Michigan, Nevada, and Wisconsin.
Three red states—Utah, Nebraska, and Idaho—voted to expand Medicaid. With Democrats winning gubernatorial races in Maine and Kansas, Medicaid will almost certainly be expanded in five states, four of them red, as a result of Tuesday’s vote. That would bring the number of holdouts down to 14.
There were also a number of races in which progressives could be forgiven for indulging in a little bit of schadenfreude over the outcomes. In Virginia, Democrat Abigail Spanberger beat Representative Dave Brat. In 2014, Steve Bannon, Stephen Miller, and Breitbart went all-in for Brat in his notably xenophobic race against former GOP majority leader Eric Cantor, which was seen as a template for Trump’s own campaign two years later. Republican groups tried to paint Spanberger, a former CIA analyst, as a terrorist sympathizer. Representative Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), arguably the most exuberant supporter of Vladimir Putin in Washington, lost his race. In New York’s 19th district, Democratic challenger Antonio Delgado overcame one of the most racist campaigns in the country to beat Representative John Faso as well as a Green Party candidate backed by deep-pocketed Republican donors. Kim Davis, the Rowan County, Kentucky, clerk who refused to give same-sex couples marriage licenses, lost last night. Karen Handel, who as policy director for the Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation cut off funding for Planned Parenthood, is trailing in Georgia’s Sixth Congressional District by a few thousand votes. Organized labor is celebrating the defeat of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker on their fourth try.
Of course, winning the House was the big prize. Beginning in January, there will be a game-changing check on Trump and the GOP. Dems will control the committee gavels and decide what gets investigated. Trump’s impunity-by-congressional majority is coming to an end.
All in all, it was a very good night for Trump’s opponents. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this piece reported that Representative Peter King (R-NY) lost his race. In fact, he held on to his seat. The piece also initially reported that a medical marijuana initiative failed in North Dakota. In fact, the measure, which did fail, would have legalized recreational marijuana use. The state legalized medical marijuana in 2016.