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The Right and Wrong Lessons From 2018

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

BRUNSWICK, Ga. -- People always learn the wrong lessons from elections.

Most people think the election results just prove what they already believed. The smarter people in politics learn something new from the races they win -- and they learn even more from the races they lose.


President Trump could learn from 2018 that immigration isn't everything. Yes, he needs to maintain his base, but also he needs to expand his electorate. In short, he has to try to win back suburban men.

Everybody is going to write about suburban women. Truthfully, the GOP can lose plenty of suburban women as long as it doesn't lose suburban men. But this year, it lost the men.

One place for Trump to start would be changing how he talks about immigration. Insisting on border security is good. The scorched-earth rhetoric isn't.

Why? Because voters don't hold the racial resentments and fears Trump seems to think they do. From the way he talks, Trump seems to think his base is racist. Forget the fact that the media thinks it is; Trump campaigns as if it is.

Retaking the majority will require winning some suburban districts. That will involve cutting a deal -- giving something (such as the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program) in exchange for border wall funding.

If you are the Democrats, your takeaway has to be that a quality candidate at the top of the ticket matters. At the top of the ticket in Texas, Rep. Beto O'Rourke delivered two congressional seats.

Democrats always said they were going to win Texas based on a Latino surge. They didn't. They won it on a suburban surge. They had a candidate who set the suburbs on fire.


The second lesson for Democrats is confirmation of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel's approach: Recruit the types of candidates who make the party's base a bit uncomfortable. Veterans who sometimes talked conservative were a big winner.

Democratic strategist John Lapp deliberately recruited such candidates. "When you have people who really reflect the character of the state and their districts and are unique personalities, they can win over new voters," said Lapp, whose firm, Ralston Lapp, had several House victories with candidates who were more moderate and had military backgrounds.

Lapp, unlike many of the pundits post-gaming the elections on social media and cable networks with too much bravado, understood what Democrats needed going in and what they need to do going forward.

However, Democrats also have lessons to take away from losses in winnable races in Georgia and Florida. In short: Socialism is a loser. Some millennial voters love it. Billionaire Democratic donors love it. Swing voters? Not so much. That's why Stacey Abrams lost Georgia. And that's why Andrew Gillum lost Florida. They both ran against weak Trumpy Republicans, and they both lost.

The reason this wasn't a 63-seat night for the Democrats is because many of their candidates were too far left. That's the same reason Gillum and Abrams lost. Will they learn in time for the 2020 presidential nomination process?


Every election, voters send Washington, D.C., a message with their votes. And every election, Washington misreads their votes. Democrats think they won the House because people like them more. Guess what. They don't. It was more about disliking the other person more.

The president thinks he won the Senate because of the immigration rhetoric. It's not; those races were more about the new realignment in American politics, an insider vs. outsider conservative populist coalition who rejected Washington Democrats who voted too much for their party and not enough with their state.

All of this misreading is why we get the elections we deserve.

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