America’s body politic has been scarred by excruciating political shingles and 2018 campaigning was equivalent to acid reflux. But this year’s elections indicated that some political antibodies are strengthening the nation’s immune system.
These past elections were on balance, deflating to Democrats, who learned — or perhaps not — that despising this president, although understandable, is insufficient. His comportment caused his congressional party only slightly more than half the carnage that Barack Obama’s party suffered in the middle of his first term.
The GOP depressingly ends 2018 more ideologically homogenous than it has been for 11 decades. Hitherto, it has been divided between Theodore Roosevelt progressives and William Howard Taft conservatives; between Robert Taft conservatives and Thomas Dewey moderates; between Nelson Rockefeller liberals and Barry Goldwater libertarians. In today’s monochrome GOP — color it orange, for the coiffure of its Dear Leader -- postures range all the way from sycophancy to adoration.
Americans are sensibly parsimonious with their trust, preferring divided government to one party’s control of both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue. So, when the 116th Congress adjourns in autumn 2020, the nation will have completed 40 years in which one party controlled the presidency and Congress for only 10. Tuesday’s results refuted two tiresome and shopworn axioms: Americans “vote their pocketbooks,” and “all politics is local.” This past year, Americans voted their competing national aversions, some against the president’s palaver, others against those he baited into carpet-chewing tantrums.
America’s political dyspepsia produced 2018’s surge in midterm voting, which should, but won’t, sober those Pollyannas who insist that high turnouts indicate civic health. (In four German elections 1930-1933, as the Weimar Republic crumbled, German turnout averaged 84 percent.) Campaign spending -- about $5.2 billion in House and Senate campaigns over the 2017-18 cycle; about what Americans spend every two years on Halloween candy -- should, but won’t, end hysteria about “too much” money spent on political advocacy.
Neither will this redundant evidence of the steeply declining utility of campaign dollars: Beto O’Rourke raised $7 million, then $10 million, then $38 million in 2018’s first three quarters, and his Quinnipiac poll numbers were 44 percent in April, 43 in July, 45 in September, 46 in October. Tuesday he received 48.3 percent, and his cable-television groupies, impervious to discouragement, instantly segued to speculation about his possible presidential candidacy.
Tuesday’s winners included the Affordable Care Act. Referendums in three crimson states -- Idaho, Utah, Nebraska -- mandated Medicaid expansion (Nebraska’s Legislature had rejected it six times), which is Obamacare’s arrhythmic heart. And Republican candidates everywhere genuflected at this altar: Pre-existing conditions shall not preclude access to health insurance. Now, however, many Democrats, artists of self-destruction, might forfeit the health care ground they have gained. The 157 million Americans content with their employer-provided health insurance will rightly hear menace in “Medicare for all.”