Well it wasn’t a blue wave. A blue wave is 1958, when Democrats added 48 seats to what was already a commanding majority in the U.S. House of Representatives — the people’s house.
It wasn’t a red wave either. That would be Newt Gingrich’s Republican Revolution in 1994 — 54 GOP seats gained. Or the 2010 blowout of Barack Obama and his agenda — a 63 seat pickup for Republicans.
The Democratic gain in the House in 2018? A modest 28 seats.
And meanwhile the Republicans gained seats, adding to their majority, in the U.S. Senate — at least three and maybe more when all the votes are counted.
What was it then?
The election was not a wave but a tack — an adjustment or recalibration.
That’s because the country is neither purely blue or red, but more like purple.
Many Americans do not like President Trump’s bloviations or his more than occasional lack of dignity. But they like his booming economy and putting American jobs and interests first. They may not like abortion, but they think it is a private decision. They aren’t overly worried about the snail darter or the wetlands, but they don’t want to sell off the national parks. They think rights talk is overdone, but they believe deeply in the right to free speech and individual conscience.
Many Americans are, in short, in the middle, and when asked if they are liberal or conservative they say: It depends on the issue. And they use our political system the way the founders intended — to balance. For there is little balance within either party today.
It’s not that they want Nancy Pelosi making national policy, or even that they want her as speaker of the House. The voters are using her, and her party, as a balancing weight.
The founders detested faction and factionalism. They built a system in which fervor and loudness alone could not alone prevail. Political interests and aggregations would have to talk and compromise or government would pause, what we now call “gridlock.” It is a brilliant system that has never been equaled, in theory or practice.
The pollsters were close in some races and states but wrong again in many others. They were very wrong in Indiana and in Florida. Pollsters and pundits tend to see the voters as masses caught in waves, rather than sailors who calibrate and tack.
Consider the Ohio governor’s race, in which a liberal Democrat lost narrowly, versus the U.S. Senate race there in which a liberal Democrat won big. Of course there are many factors — the persona of the candidates from both parties in both races and the longevity and familiarity of winners Mike DeWine and Sherrod Brown. But surely it cannot be ignored that in a basically Republican state that Mr. Trump carried in 2016 by 8 percentage points and 446,841 votes, Mr. Brown had almost the same percentage margin in 2018 — roughly 6.5 points. Could this have anything to do with the great issue they both champion: trade and jobs?
The voter is not a fool. He or she knows how to use our brilliant system to calibrate. He or she pays attention to both aspects of statecraft — tone and substance.
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