Slaughtered in the Suburbs and Affirmed in Rural Areas: How Trumpism Was Both Rejected and Celebrated on Election Night 2018

Technically, President Donald J. Trump, wasn’t on the ballot on Tuesday, November 6. But for all intents and purposes, the 2018 midterms became a referendum on Trump’s presidency—and Trumpism received some positive feedback from rural voters along with a great deal of negative feedback from non-rural voters. The positive feedback came in the United States Senate, where Trump’s relentless campaigning on behalf of fellow Republicans appeared to work in rural areas: Republicans expanded their Senate majority by at least two seats. And Republican Ron DeSantis’ narrow victory over Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum in Florida’s gubernatorial race was also a narrow victory for Trump and a disappointment for Democrats. But Trumpism was decisively rejected in the House of Representatives, where Democrats obtained a majority—and that majority will be a definite game-changer for Trump’s presidency. Steve Schmidt, a NeverTrump conservative and former Republican strategist who was a senior campaign advisor for the late Sen. John McCain in 2008, summarized the election results perfectly during a Tuesday night appearance on MSNBC. When MSNBC projected that Republicans would be losing the House but keeping the Senate, Schmidt declared that Trumpism had been rejected by Urban America and Suburban America but will be “emboldened” in Rural America. His analysis was spot on. Republicans suffered one loss after another in urban and suburban House districts—a definite rebuke of Trumpism. But in the Senate, Trumpism received the stamp of approval from many rural voters. Indiana’s Sen. Joe Donnelly, North Dakota’s Heidi Heitkamp and Missouri’s Sen. Claire McCaskill, all centrist Democrats, were voted out of office by Trump supporters. And in Florida’s Senate race, Gov. Rick Scott appears to have narrowly defeated incumbent Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson. But Scott’s lead was razor thin—50.2% for Scott compared to 49.8% for Nelson—and Nelson has requested a recount. In Texas, incumbent Sen. Ted Cruz defeated Democrat Beto O’Rourke by only 3%—another disappointment for Democrats. But it wasn’t voters in Houston, Dallas, El Paso, Austin or San Antonio who gave Cruz his narrow victory; it was all the rural Texas counties where Trump is still wildly popular. Democrats fared better in the Nevada Senate race. Democrat Jacky Rosen narrowly defeated incumbent Sen. Dean Heller, who Trump campaigned for aggressively. Trumpism lost in Nevada. Republicans picked up Senate seats in North Dakota, Indiana and Missouri, but they lost a seat in Nevada. In Arizona’s Senate race, pro-Trump Republican Martha McSally appears to have pulled off a narrow victory over centrist Democrat Kyrsten Sinema—who, as of Thursday morning, November 8, was trailing by 1% in the vote count. Green Party candidate Angela Green, despite dropping out at the last minute and endorsing Sinema, had picked up about 2% of the vote, according to the New York Times. If Sinema concedes, Democrats will inevitably call Angela Green a spoiler and accuse her of costing Sinema the election—while the Green Party will counter that instead of pointing the finger at Angela Green, Americans should rethink the two-party system (an argument the Libertarian Party often makes on the right). Trump has been downplaying Democrats’ victory in the House, even going so far as to claim that his party enjoyed “tremendous success” on Election Night. But as usual, Trump exaggerates, misleads and distorts. While Rural America gave Trumpism some victories in high-profile Senate and gubernatorial races, Election Night was hardly a failure for Democrats—quite the contrary. Having obtained a House majority, Democrats now have all kinds of investigative and subpoena options. With House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi having just performed a victory dance, the days of Trumpism getting a free ride in the House of Representatives will be coming to an end—and it was Urban America and Suburban America, not Rural America, that made this possible. Trump has claimed that Republicans lost so many House races because they rejected Trumpism, but the facts don’t bear that out. Some major-league Republicans were voted out of the House on November 6, including Texas’ Rep. Pete Sessions (chairman of the House Rules Committee) and California’s Dana Rohrabacher. Rep. Dave Brat, the Tea Party wingnut who defeated former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor in a GOP primary for not being far-right enough, lost to Democrat Abigail Spanberger in Virginia—and even in deep red South Carolina, Democrat Joe Cunningham pulled off a narrow 1% victory over Katie Arrington (who ran a stridently pro-Trump campaign). Earlier this year, Arrington declared, “We are the party of President Donald J. Trump,” but that message couldn’t get her past the finish line even in a state as Republican as South Carolina. It’s important to remember that some of the GOP’s most high-profile victories on Election Night were close races. In Florida, Gillum ran a decidedly liberal/progressive campaign yet just barely lost to DeSantis. And even in Georgia’s gubernatorial race, Democrat Stacey Abrams ran to the left politically yet appears to have narrowly lost to far-right Republican Brian Kemp by only about 2%. White Rural Georgia might have pulled Kemp and his Trumpista agenda past the finish line, but Suburban Georgia and Urban Georgia went for Abrams. Further, Kemp (who is Georgia’s secretary of state) ran a sleazy, racist voter suppression campaign aimed at non-white areas and voided or held up a lot of votes that probably would have gone to Abrams. Without a full recount—or even with a full recount—Kemp will enter the governor’s office with the stink of corruption and illegitimacy. On top of all that, Democrats picked up more than 300 legislative seats at the state level on November 6—which was yet another rejection of Trumpism. That includes the 12 seats that Democrats won in Texas’ House of Representatives. Outside of rural areas, the 2018 midterms were definitely a “blue wave” in favor of Democrats. And President Donald J. Trump lost a lot of ground when the election results came in.

Donald J. Trump at Marriott Marquis NYC, September 7, 2016
Photo Credit: Michael Vadon / Flickr

Technically, President Donald J. Trump, wasn’t on the ballot on Tuesday, November 6. But for all intents and purposes, the 2018 midterms became a referendum on Trump’s presidency—and Trumpism received some positive feedback from rural voters along with a great deal of negative feedback from non-rural voters. 

The positive feedback came in the United States Senate, where Trump’s relentless campaigning on behalf of fellow Republicans appeared to work in rural areas: Republicans expanded their Senate majority by at least two seats. And Republican Ron DeSantis’ narrow victory over Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum in Florida’s gubernatorial race was also a narrow victory for Trump and a disappointment for Democrats. But Trumpism was decisively rejected in the House of Representatives, where Democrats obtained a majority—and that majority will be a definite game-changer for Trump’s presidency.

Steve Schmidt, a NeverTrump conservative and former Republican strategist who was a senior campaign advisor for the late Sen. John McCain in 2008, summarized the election results perfectly during a Tuesday night appearance on MSNBC. When MSNBC projected that Republicans would be losing the House but keeping the Senate, Schmidt declared that Trumpism had been rejected by Urban America and Suburban America but will be “emboldened” in Rural America. His analysis was spot on.

Republicans suffered one loss after another in urban and suburban House districts—a definite rebuke of Trumpism. But in the Senate, Trumpism received the stamp of approval from many rural voters.

Indiana’s Sen. Joe Donnelly, North Dakota’s Heidi Heitkamp and Missouri’s Sen. Claire McCaskill, all centrist Democrats, were voted out of office by Trump supporters. And in Florida’s Senate race, Gov. Rick Scott appears to have narrowly defeated incumbent Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson. But Scott’s lead was razor thin—50.2% for Scott compared to 49.8% for Nelson—and Nelson has requested a recount.

In Texas, incumbent Sen. Ted Cruz defeated Democrat Beto O’Rourke by only 3%—another disappointment for Democrats. But it wasn’t voters in Houston, Dallas, El Paso, Austin or San Antonio who gave Cruz his narrow victory; it was all the rural Texas counties where Trump is still wildly popular.

Democrats fared better in the Nevada Senate race. Democrat Jacky Rosen narrowly defeated incumbent Sen. Dean Heller, who Trump campaigned for aggressively. Trumpism lost in Nevada. Republicans picked up Senate seats in North Dakota, Indiana and Missouri, but they lost a seat in Nevada.

In Arizona’s Senate race, pro-Trump Republican Martha McSally appears to have pulled off a narrow victory over centrist Democrat Kyrsten Sinema—who, as of Thursday morning, November 8, was trailing by 1% in the vote count. Green Party candidate Angela Green, despite dropping out at the last minute and endorsing Sinema, had picked up about 2% of the vote, according to the New York Times. If Sinema concedes, Democrats will inevitably call Angela Green a spoiler and accuse her of costing Sinema the election—while the Green Party will counter that instead of pointing the finger at Angela Green, Americans should rethink the two-party system (an argument the Libertarian Party often makes on the right).

Trump has been downplaying Democrats’ victory in the House, even going so far as to claim that his party enjoyed “tremendous success” on Election Night. But as usual, Trump exaggerates, misleads and distorts. While Rural America gave Trumpism some victories in high-profile Senate and gubernatorial races, Election Night was hardly a failure for Democrats—quite the contrary. Having obtained a House majority, Democrats now have all kinds of investigative and subpoena options. With House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi having just performed a victory dance, the days of Trumpism getting a free ride in the House of Representatives will be coming to an end—and it was Urban America and Suburban America, not Rural America, that made this possible.

Trump has claimed that Republicans lost so many House races because they rejected Trumpism, but the facts don’t bear that out.

Some major-league Republicans were voted out of the House on November 6, including Texas’ Rep. Pete Sessions (chairman of the House Rules Committee) and California’s Dana Rohrabacher. Rep. Dave Brat, the Tea Party wingnut who defeated former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor in a GOP primary for not being far-right enough, lost to Democrat Abigail Spanberger in Virginia—and even in deep red South Carolina, Democrat Joe Cunningham pulled off a narrow 1% victory over Katie Arrington (who ran a stridently pro-Trump campaign). Earlier this year, Arrington declared, “We are the party of President Donald J. Trump,” but that message couldn’t get her past the finish line even in a state as Republican as South Carolina.

It’s important to remember that some of the GOP’s most high-profile victories on Election Night were close races. In Florida, Gillum ran a decidedly liberal/progressive campaign yet just barely lost to DeSantis. And even in Georgia’s gubernatorial race, Democrat Stacey Abrams ran to the left politically yet appears to have narrowly lost to far-right Republican Brian Kemp by only about 2%. White Rural Georgia might have pulled Kemp and his Trumpista agenda past the finish line, but Suburban Georgia and Urban Georgia went for Abrams.

Further, Kemp (who is Georgia’s secretary of state) ran a sleazy, racist voter suppression campaign aimed at non-white areas and voided or held up a lot of votes that probably would have gone to Abrams. Without a full recount—or even with a full recount—Kemp will enter the governor’s office with the stink of corruption and illegitimacy.

On top of all that, Democrats picked up more than 300 legislative seats at the state level on November 6—which was yet another rejection of Trumpism. That includes the 12 seats that Democrats won in Texas’ House of Representatives.

Outside of rural areas, the 2018 midterms were definitely a “blue wave” in favor of Democrats. And President Donald J. Trump lost a lot of ground when the election results came in.

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Alex Henderson is a news writer at AlterNet and veteran political journalist. His work has also appeared in Salon, Raw Story, Truthdig, National Memo, Philadelphia Weekly, Democratic Underground, L.A. Weekly, MintPress News and many other publications. Follow him on Twitter @alexvhenderson.