Washington Wednesday: Midterms 2018

MARY REICHARD, HOST: It’s Wednesday, the 7th day of November, 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 today: Election night in America.

A divided Congress for a divided country.

Joining me now is Henry Olsen. He’s a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington. He writes about politics for WORLD Magazine.

Hi, Henry.

OLSEN: Hello! Late night, eh?

EICHER: Yeah, it’s very early in the morning as we speak. We don’t know everything, but we know enough to say that the bottom line is as you predicted, Henry. Not a big surprise—to you, anyway—Republicans increase their hold on the Senate. Democrats flip the House.

But it sure seems that the Kavanaugh effect, the backlash over the Supreme Court confirmation fight, turned out to be quite a boon to the GOP, picking off at least four, maybe more, anti-Kavanaugh senators in pro-Trump states. Is that the Senate story?

OLSEN: I think there’s a lot of things. I think that Kavanaugh helped, but these were mainly very Republican states—the Donnelly, McCaskill, and Heitkamp were accidental senators in 2012, running behind Obama and running against flawed nominees. They should always have been favored to lose and, in fact, they did lose when they ran against competent nominees. I do think Kavanaugh helped, but I think what mattered more was the partisan lean of the states and the fact they were running against people who actually were competent campaigns who deserved to be in the Senate.

And you can see that with Tester in Montana is that he is still ahead even though he, too, voted against Kavanaugh in a very red state.

EICHER: Let’s talk about the House. Again, no big surprise there. It was a good night for the Democrats, but not the expected blue wave. I heard Lindsey Graham, the South Carolina senator, in a TV interview saying the Republicans have a real problem with suburban women. That has to be the—if we can say the Kavanaugh effect on the Senate side—the Trump effect on the House side. From your analysis, Henry, would that be right?

OLSEN: Well, yes, it’s clearly a suburban woman problem that has something to do with Trump, but the fact is this was also a group of people who tends to be more liberal than the party on a whole host of issues that simply addressing it as if it were a Trump question, because of his personality and his past, actually overlooks the degree to which moderate suburban women like people like George W. Bush and Mitt Romney but don’t like the sort of harsh, what they perceive as harsh, policies that Donald Trump is advancing. So, I think you have to address it from a number of ways, not simply from a male-female question.

EICHER: Let’s talk policy. I listened to Nancy Pelosi, the House speaker in waiting. I heard health care, I heard transparency, I heard bipartisanship. I did not hear impeachment. Managing editor J.C. Derrick reminded me the last time we had a Democrat House and a Republican Senate and White House was 1981 to 87, the Reagan glory years. So, do you hold out some hope, now that Democrats have a little skin in the governing game, that maybe there will be some deals, who knows, maybe a deal on immigration?

OLSEN: I think the question about a deal on immigration depends on the degree to which Trump moves off of the wall and moves on to other measures to protect the border, and I think it’s likelier that they will want deals on something like infrastructure, which is one of the things that Senator Graham talked about on television tonight.

Look, the Democrats went into this election believing their rhetoric that the country was going to reject Donald Trump, and the fact is we have another split verdict. The cities of America and suburbs, particularly outside of the South, are moving against Republicans. But the other parts of the country are moving toward Republicans. And a smart Democratic strategy recognizes that they need to be competitive in both if they want to be a clear majority.

EICHER: I mean, I wonder, frankly, whether Beto O’Rourke would have had a better chance in Texas had he had a more moderate message. Is that possible?

OLSEN: I think it would have been possible, but I do think that there’s still enough of a Republican base in Texas that even a more moderate message would have been hard for him to overcome the partisan lean. He’s going to do very well there even with the very progressive message that he had. He’s going to win a lot of those urban areas that have been moving against the Republicans. I mean, right now I see Cruz is ahead by about 3 percent. O’Rourke would have needed to find a way to energize young people and moderate Republicans while at the same time reaching out to rural Texas. And that’s a very hard thing to do.

EICHER: I have been paying attention to politics for a very long time and the situation that you describe, the scenario that you describe with the cities moving progressive and the rural areas moving more toward the GOP, that’s not peculiar to Donald Trump. That’s been going on for awhile, has it not?

OLSEN: Well, at one level it’s something that was written about in 1969 by Kevin Phillips and his famous book the Emerging Republican Majority. If the questions in America are increasingly going to be over culture, then you’re going to have a divide based on class and education, and that’s going to manifest itself in a rural/urban divide. But the Democrats were very competitive in many rural areas as recently as a decade ago. So, the magnitude of the shift really has something to do with the way that Donald Trump has brought issues to the floor and the personality he demonstrates.

EICHER: Before I let you go, Henry, and I know it’s pretty early. Still some more analysis to do. But what were some of the big surprises to you? I mean, the whole conversation here was, well, we could have had this conversation a week ago, but what surprised you last night?

OLSEN: Right now the biggest surprise I have is—I’m going to be pretty right about the Senate, in my pre-election prediction, and pretty right about the House. You always miss a couple districts here and there, but I think I’ll be pretty close to the margin. I was wrong about the governorships. It looks like Republicans have won—they’ve obviously won Florida, they’ve won Ohio. They’re leading in Iowa, Scott Walker might pull it out in Wisconsin.

I was more bearish on that, and I think what happened on that was either the polls are just missing Obama-Trump voters—so those blue collar people—or they came around at the end, just like they did four years ago, which was being pulled in both different ways but deciding they like the president more than they like their former party. And they came around to propel a lot of people to victory—or bring them close. That’s the biggest surprise to me tonight.

EICHER: Henry Olsen is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center. Henry, I hope that today, Wednesday, is a restful day for you at some point. Thanks so much!

OLSEN: Thank you very much.

(AP Photo/John Minchillo) Voters cast their ballots at the Whetstone Community Center polling location, Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018, in Columbus, Ohio. 

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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