By Dave Dodson, contributor to The Boston Globe
Republicans spin the midterm election as a split decision and historically normal, while Democrats declare it a repudiation of President Trump. Neither is true. Walking the streets of Wyoming as a recent Republican candidate for US Senate, in the state ranked the fourth worst in the nation economically, I came to understand that voters turn to partisan rhetoric because it’s not that easy to say, “I’m trying really hard, but this is not working for me. And no one seems to care.”
My party went into the elections with the most favorable unemployment statistics since 1969, low inflation, robust GDP growth, and a rising stock market. But there is no statistic that shows what it’s like for the single dad in Ft. Laramie who tells you he’s working two jobs, taking overtime whenever he can get it, and still can’t get ahead. Knock on doors for seven months and you discover that the Mueller Russia investigation and the caravan don’t matter that much to the woman in Lost Springs who has a daughter to take care of and chooses each month between the rent and health insurance.
Going into the election, the GOP had a massive advantage due to 2010 redistricting. It had a 23-seat majority in the House of Representatives, and yet when the final votes are counted will lose about 30 seats. Of the 35 Senate seats up for election this year, 26 were held by Democrats and just nine were held by Republicans, and yet the GOP only picked up two. Some of those Senate victories were so narrow that a rain storm in West Texas or one along the Florida panhandle would have hampered voter turnout and wiped out the gains. Republicans lost seven state legislatures and an equal number of governorships, along with busting several key supermajorities in bellwether states like Michigan and Pennsylvania.
Elections are won and lost through moderate Republicans and Democrats who vote for the person they think will get stuff done. That’s why many voted for Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential race. Enthusiasm for the wall is not about racism; it’s the honest expression of fear over losing your job and not being able to take care of your wife and children. It’s also why many of the same people voted for so many Democrats this week — the prayer that someone might actually get stuff done so there can be rewards for working hard and following the rules.
The party that wants to win in 2020 will be the one that steps away from the mahogany podiums and cable news shows and knocks on some doors. There they will discover an America able to look past personal gripes about Trump or House minority leader Nancy Pelosi if it means they don’t have to bite their pills in half in order to afford their prescription drugs. They will meet fathers who want balanced immigration reform not as xenophobes, but as breadwinners who need a paycheck they can count on. On the main streets of America, career politicians will find couples who worked for decades under the promise they could rely on their Social Security and are now scared it won’t be there for them when they need it. They’d discover American families wise to the misplaced loyalties of our politicians and worn out from their repeated requests for campaign finance reform and federal term limits.
There is room for the 116th Congress to separate itself from the drama that happens every day at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue and to make progress on the issues that matter to voters. By doing so, one party will earn a majority in both houses of government.
Because what I learned is that American families just want results. They want stuff done. This election drubbing was not about Donald Trump. It was about a Congress that failed in its job.
David Dodson is a resident of Wyoming and a former candidate for US Senate.