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Democrats are ecstatic because they won state and local races Tuesday in a few blue places they were supposed to win, but did so by margins larger than expected.

They surmise that those margins validate their theory that all they need to succeed--in next year's congressional midterms and the presidential race two years after--is not be Donald Trump.

What has them encouraged is that midterm congressional elections like those coming next November often are won by the out-of-power party based on disdain for a new president that disproportionately motivates the opposition in nonpresidential years.

What happened Tuesday in Virginia, New Jersey and Washington--Democratic states all--is that the Democratic wins amounted to more than merely holding serve, but were decisive and stirring. And they seem to have occurred because Democrats and suburban moderates who were disgusted by Trump turned out at near-presidential levels while Trump's base was behaving in a normal midterm way, giving maybe a 75 percent effort.

Democrats may be right in what they think Tuesday's results portend for the midterm House races next year--meaning more of what happened Tuesday--although the Senate poses a different challenge because most of the seats coming up for election in this cycle in that upper chamber are in solidly Republican states.

But this is but a pattern, indeed a destructive cycle.

I refer to that of a midterm electorate turning against the new president and his party.

I refer to opponents being driven to vote in midterm and off-year elections while the people who had turned out in droves a year or two before to elect the president are asleep at the switch or hung over. Or maybe they're simply the kinds of people who vote in high-energy presidential races but not lesser contests.

Here's the cautionary tale for celebratory Democrats: By recent history, the new president whose party gets clobbered in the midterms two years into his presidency ... well, he ends up winning re-election two years hence.

In 1994, motivated Republicans turned out heavily for Newt Gingrich's Contract with America and clobbered Bill Clinton's Democrats in the midterm congressional races. They were mad about a tax increase for deficit reduction and gays in the military and general non-conservative trends.

In 1996, Clinton won re-election over Bob Dole, who had no message.

In 2010, Republicans drubbed Barack Obama's Democrats--taking over the Congress in the Tea Party revolution--because they were mad about Obamacare, mainly. Two years later, Obama won re-election over Mitt Romney, who pulled his punches on a message.

Democrats are thinking the Trump disaffection is different--stronger, lasting, permanent. They're thinking Clinton and Obama had political skills for course corrections that utterly evade the seemingly unstable Trump.

They're thinking they won't have to do anything all the way through 2020 except sit back and watch Trump's behavior worsen if possible.

Maybe they'll be proven right. But I'd point out that white rural voters in western Virginia, while considerably less motivated than suburban liberals and moderates, gave the winning Democratic gubernatorial candidate a lower percentage Tuesday than they had given outgoing Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe four years before. They gave this year's nondescript Democratic gubernatorial nominee about the same anemic percentage they gave Hillary Clinton a year ago.

It may be that, in the full nationwide context, there's less change than meets the eye.

It may be that Tuesday indeed was merely a holding of serve for Democrats, albeit with a couple of aces and a love score. But you're supposed to hold serve.

And it's still just one game toward the six needed to win the set, no matter how convincingly you won that single game.

Discounting that Robert Mueller will have spoken in full when 2020 arrives, not being Trump won't necessarily be all there is to it by then.

It could be, as a famous Democrat once said, a simple matter of "the economy, stupid." And the economic indicators aren't exactly dire.

Hillary made the last presidential race all about the unfitness of Trump. I thought it would work. A few thousand working folks in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin said otherwise.

Maybe next time the Democrats should take out insurance. What else have they got, on tax cuts, or fixing Obamacare, or immigration, or protecting the American worker in trade matters, or reforming our politics?

And, of course: Who have they got? A key factor in a race is the runner.


John Brummett, whose column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, was inducted into the Arkansas Writers' Hall of Fame in 2014. Email him at Read his @johnbrummett Twitter feed.

Editorial on 11/12/2017

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  • mozarky2
    November 12, 2017 at 5:53 a.m.

    Now the biggest concern of the dems is getting rid of Hillary, which won't be easy. She intends to run again.
    Clinton has started a new super PAC called Onward Together, and she is taking credit for the wins in New Jersey and Virginia. A Wednesday Tweet from Hilz:
    “Last night was a great reminder of what’s possible when we come together and fight for what we believe in. So I wanted to take a few minutes to celebrate the extraordinary successes of a few groups I — and Onward Together — proudly fight alongside.”
    Good luck ridding yourselves of that albatross, dems!

  • mozarky2
    November 12, 2017 at 7:31 a.m.

    Last night's "A Message From the DNC" skit on SNL was brutal. When your party becomes the object of scorn and derision...

  • BoudinMan
    November 12, 2017 at 8:19 a.m.

    The most encouraging aspect of the Tuesday elections was the progressive voter turnout. We desperately need that phenomenon to repeat itself in 2018.

  • mozarky2
    November 12, 2017 at 8:33 a.m.

    Two democrats running in Virginia, the only one with a "d" by his name won. No enthusiasm at all for the RINO Gillespie.
    I'm sticking with my prediction of House gains and 6-12 Senate pickups for R's in 2018.

  • TimberTopper
    November 12, 2017 at 8:39 a.m.

    The Dems just may come up with very good candidates for the mid terms. Trump may help I his own way.

  • WGT
    November 12, 2017 at 9:22 a.m.

    The momentum will stay. Trump is unstable. His supporters, equally unstable. Trump is a treatable disease. The doctor is in, research complete, diagnosis made, healing therapy and medicine in place, & administered. Get ready. The political machine will stay, the operation will change.

  • RobertBolt
    November 12, 2017 at 10:36 a.m.

    New Democratic voices will emerge elsewhere as they did Tuesday. It serves no productive purpose to keep turning only to old faces for new hope.

    November 12, 2017 at 11:38 a.m.

    Damn you, John, for making me think of Donald Trump in tennis shorts. Disgusting!

  • PopMom
    November 12, 2017 at 11:43 a.m.

    For once, I think that Brummett is totally wrong. The Dems should be excited! While people may not like the Dems that much, they really hate Trump and anybody who defends him. Only in pockets of Alabama, Arkansas, and Oklahoma etc. are the Republicans in good shape across the board. The Republicans had a strong get out the vote effort in Virginia. I was part of the Democratic GOTV, and I ran into crazy looking white supremacist getting out the Republican vote. That 35% went out and voted and they ran up large numbers for Gillespie who had the most votes of any Republican gubernatorial candidate. It was not enough because swarms of people (majority women) including moderates and independents voted against Trump. Polls showed that many of them were voting in opposition to Trump, and they threw out many old white male incumbent Republican legislators in the mix. If anybody out there has ever thought about running for office as a Democrat and if you live in a Republican district with some bits of purple, 2018 is the year to do it. White men with college degrees also went for the Democrats. The Republicans only won white guys without college degrees. The Virginian Democrats really did a poor job with their commercials and their GOTV effort was much weaker than Obama's in 2012. It did not matter. The Republicans had Trump and their own petty closemindedness hanging around their necks.

  • Jfish
    November 12, 2017 at 11:53 a.m.

    WGT, weren't you one of several on here about a year ago that was saying the Republican party was dead and Trump did not stand a chance? You might want to check your ego and mouth at the door. As you will note, John's column is heavy with cautious optimism. mozarky, you are probably correct, however, Uncle Joe with the backing of Obama, plus Bernie will be standing in her way. John, still waiting on your column regarding Donna Brazile's allegations, so far I have only seen one tweet.