Washington Wednesday: Election takeaways


MARY REICHARD, HOST: It’s Wednesday, November 21st, 2018. Glad to have you along for today’s edition of The World and Everything in It. Good morning, I’m Mary Reichard.

NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher. First up on The World and Everything in It: Washington Wednesday.

Two weeks ago we brought you the initial results of the midterm elections. But more results are in, and we have a better idea of the political landscape now.

Here now to discuss it is Henry Olsen. He’s a senior fellow for the Ethics and Public Policy Center. He also writes the politics page for WORLD Magazine.

Henry, welcome back!

OLSEN: Glad to be back.

EICHER: Well, the last time we spoke it was very late on election night. And things look pretty different now than they did then.

For starters, Democrats flipped two Republican seats out West—one in Nevada and another in Arizona. Now, Republicans flipped four seats, but at best, they have a net gain of two seats in the Senate. And they’re defending another one in a Mississippi runoff, so the gain could be as little as one.

What is the story, to your way of thinking, with respect to the Senate?

OLSEN: That the Obama/Trump voters in the rural and small-town areas stuck with the party by a much larger share of the vote than many people had anticipated, and that brought the Republicans home. You take a look at the cities in some of these areas and you find that the Democrat won enough of the vote that based on how they had done six years earlier, you would have expected them to win reelection. They lost because they got annihilated in small-town depressed industrial towns and rural areas.

EICHER: I guess, though, and I mentioned this at the beginning that we would talk about the House and that seems to be the big story. One seat after another has flipped from red to blue as the late results have trickled in. And take this whichever direction you want to, Henry, but a net gain of 37 now for the Democrats, with five races still not called.

What do you say about that?

OLSEN: Well, it’ll end up being 38 probably. When you take a look at the vast majority of those seats, they are seats that either Hillary Clinton carried two years ago, or they are seats that Trump narrowly carried—even if he carried them by a reasonable margin because of the third party vote and he got under 52 percent in them. And they are largely in the suburbs. They are largely in the cities and in the upper income suburbs with few exceptions.

And I think it’s a tale of two Americas. It’s a tale of what David Wasserstein at the Cook Political Report calls the battle between Whole Foods and Cracker Barrel. That if you’re in an area that’s got a Whole Foods and not a Cracker Barrel, you probably saw a shift to the Democrats. If you’re in an area that’s got a Cracker Barrel and not a Whole Foods, you probably saw either a shift to the Republicans or a maintenance of Republican dominance.

EICHER: I know the answer to this question, but I’m going to ask it anyway because I’m interested in sharing your analysis with everyone else. But do you think the parties are taking the right lessons away from this election? And let’s start with the Republicans.

OLSEN: The early signs are, no, that the Republicans are not. That they are, I think, more likely to do what is not in their best interest, which is to think that they can get these upper income suburbs back quickly, which I think is not going to happen in a Trump presidency and may not happen after a Trump presidency. They have been trending towards the Democrats for quite some time now.

And what they should be doing is trying to find common ground between the suburban voter who likes Republicans on some things but doesn’t like Donald Trump and the rural and small-town voter who likes Donald Trump but doesn’t like Republicans on some things, and try to find something that can go both ways at once. But if they have to choose, they should go with the lady what brung them, which is the reason they hold the presidency and the Senate, which is the rural small-town Obama/Trump voter.

EICHER: What about the Democrats? Are they taking the right lessons?

OLSEN: I think the Democrats remain unsure what to do. I think they recognize that the admission of upper-income, educated, former Romney voters into their coalition makes things more complex. You’ve got Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez running around not even been sworn in yet and talking about primarying Democrats who she considers to be too centrist. Imagine what she thinks about the voters who made them a majority in the House, if the Democrats who have been representing Democratic areas aren’t good enough.

I think the Democrats are going to do what every political party does in the modern age, which is punt the decision, because they know that they couldn’t overrule a nominee anyway, and they’ll wait until they see who is going to lead them.

EICHER: Well, let’s talk about Nancy Pelosi for a minute. I think she’s the one who is caught in that vice grip between the old and the new. She’s been leading the House Democrats—I mean, Michael Jordan was still NBA all-star when she took over. Do you think that she’s going to survive this challenge to her leadership?

OLSEN: She doesn’t have so much of a challenge, because there’s nobody who has said, “I’m going to take you on.” The problem is that a number of people were elected by saying they wouldn’t vote for her, and now they’ve got a majority and they’re going to have to either fish or cut bait… You never want to bet against an incumbent who wants the job. On the other hand, if the Democrats know what’s good for them, they will understand that you don’t want to make your freshmen walk the plank by going back on their word with their first vote, and it’s not clear that she would have a clear majority without those people.

EICHER: Regardless of who leads the House Democrats—and we talked about this on election night—do you have the sense that there is room for bipartisan deal-making? Or do you expect Democrats to exact some payback for the way that the Republicans treated President Obama?

OLSEN: I expect that there will be a lot of investigations, a lot of finger-pointing, a lot of subpoena throwing, and I think there will be occasional nods toward bipartisan cooperation and where it’s in both parties’ interests.

I can see that just as with the last two years when there’s been a lot of vitriol and heat, they still managed to avoid a government shutdown by passing a spending bill that accommodated both parties’ spending priorities—defense for the Republicans and domestic discretionary programs for the Democrats. And it’s possible to see one or two limited areas where that might happen if both parties think that it’s in their interest, but generally we’re going to see confrontation, not cooperation.

EICHER: You mentioned the Cook Political Report a minute ago and before I let you go, I want to ask you something about turnout. That Cook Political Report said that there were 66 districts that saw vote totals at least 90 percent of the 2016 presidential election totals. That’s a pretty remarkable number, isn’t it?

OLSEN: It’s a completely remarkable number. When all the votes are counted, we will probably have had 112 to 115 million ballots cast in the House. We know that there will be many places where the number of ballots cast will be higher than that because there were not competitive House races but there was a competitive governor’s race. It will not surprise me at all if we had 115 to 120 million votes cast, which would be about 85 percent of the turnout of just two years ago. That would be an unbelievable high for midterm in the last 60 years.

EICHER: Henry Olsen is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center. Henry, as always, thank you for your insights and we’ll talk to you again soon.

OLSEN: Thanks for having me on.


(AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite) The Capitol is seen in Washington, Monday, Nov. 12, 2018, before Congress returns to work Tuesday for the first time following the midterm elections.

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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