How to read the midterms: it’s all about the moderates

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With the votes now tallied and the hordes of pundits analyzing the results of the 2018 midterms, there’s one important factor that many seem to be missing in this battle of Red vs Blue: the middle.

The lesson many seemed to have learned from 2018 is to play to the base, but this isn’t how Democrats won the House. When Democrats did try this strategy in swing districts, they lost across the board.

Andrew Gillum, Paulette Jordan and Beto O’Rourke all tried to run well to the left of the seats they were trying to win in the hopes of increasing turnout among the base, though all failed to win races Democrats would have likely won with more moderate candidates. All of these candidates, along with many others in lower-profile races, were running in places that either had quite unpopular opponents or were swing states that, in such a blue year, shouldn’t have been particularly swingy.

Democratic moderates, on the other hand, had quite a good night. Tony Evers, who appears to have defeated Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, ran on a platform of infrastructure and tax cuts. Jacky Rosen, the Senator-elect from Nevada, campaigned on working across the aisle to find bipartisan solutions.

Democratic moderation even worked in Kansas, where the Governor-elect Laura Kelly won by reaching out to moderate Republicans and emphasizing her endorsements by two Republican governors and two Republican senators.

This was just as true in seats Democrats were trying to hold. Of the six most vulnerable Senate Democrats this cycle, only one, Joe Manchin, went across the aisle to vote for Justice Brett Kavanaugh while five others didn’t. Manchin won a state President Donald Trump carried with a 42 percent margin while Senators Joe Donnelly, Heidi Heitkamp, Claire McCaskill and Bill Nelson all voted against Kavanaugh and all got voted out in state’s less red than West Virginia.

In fact, Jon Tester was the only vulnerable Senate Democrat who won despite voting against Kavanaugh, though many on both sides of the aisle concede that Tester is a bit of a unique case. Despite his vote against Kavanaugh, he’s touted his bipartisan work with Trump on many other issues, in addition to the fact that he spent much of this year’s Senate recess harvesting the farm that his family has owned for five generations.

Despite all of these moderate wins, this isn’t the takeaway that many seem to have gotten from the election. This is largely due to the small number of new representatives at the wings who have gotten outsized amounts of media coverage, notably New York’s Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Minnesota’s Ilhan Omar. The flaw with looking at the election this way is that neither of these women represents a seat that was successfully flipped.

Both of these representatives, along with a few others like them, have gotten large amounts of attention for views many people consider out of the mainstream.

Though these views were able to win in Democratic primaries, it’s important to keep in mind they were voted into seats that weren’t in contention, and both now represent areas which voted about 80 percent for Hillary Clinton in 2016.

Despite how one views the election, however, one fact is irrefutable: we’ll have at least two years of divided government. This could mean either two years of stalemate, with Democrats investigating Republicans from the House while Republicans investigate them right back from the Senate, or it could mean bipartisanship.

Trump has already been unexpectedly conciliatory toward Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), opening up the possibility for bipartisanship on an issue like infrastructure or trade. While that might be a pipe-dream in the current political climate, it’s still early enough in the cycle that bipartisanship might be possible.

Instead of talk of bipartisanship, much of the focus has instead been on whether or not the Democrats will begin impeachment proceedings when they get control of the House. This would be a foolish thing to do. With a Senate that’s more solidly Republican than before, impeachment would go nowhere and would result in a 2020 election that’s more partisan than 2018.

The number of moderates who are about to enter the halls of power present a unique opportunity for cooperation across the aisle of the kind that we have not seen in quite some time. If we want Washington to start working again, both sides will have to be willing to work together, and, for once, that hope is within sight. The 2018 Election may have been a victory for the Democrats, but it was also a victory for the center.

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