The biggest loser in Tuesday’s election was Donald Trump and his style of politics.
Not only did his endorsed candidates get trounced overall, but it’s entirely possible that his aggressive campaigning in the closing weeks tipped the balance away from his party. Don’t forget that Trump isn’t just a polarizing figure; he’s a polarizing figure with a big net drag on the Republican Party. His approval ratings are below those of Joe Biden.
That probably played a role in the big drop off in support for the Republican gubernatorial and Senate candidates in the Milwaukee suburbs. According to an analysis by veteran political writer Craig Gilbert, the WOW counties saw a shift of some 40,000 votes to Democrats between 2018 and 2022. To be sure, that’s a trend that predates Trump, but it’s also likely that Trump has accelerated it. If Republicans move on from Trump and select somebody like Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis in 2024 it will be interesting to see if the erosion in Republican support there is halted or reversed.
But the immediate aftermath of Tuesday’s vote was also a reassuring rejection of Trump’s style. A rash of normalcy and decency broke out. Republican Tim Michels reached out on election night and graciously congratulated Tony Evers. Dr. Mehmet Oz did the same in Pennsylvania. Sen. Ron Johnson was true to form in being a bad winner, but he was the exception to the rule.
And the process itself went smoothly. Worries about armed confrontations at polling places turned out to be overblown. Wisconsin had no drop boxes and guess what? Democracy functioned perfectly well without them. The breathless rhetoric among Democrats about voter suppression proved unfounded. Hats off to the election officials and poll workers who stepped up in a charged environment to make it all work so well.
While Democrats escaped disaster, they did not come away unscathed. They’re still likely to lose the House and here in Wisconsin they lost seats in both houses of the Legislature, a Congressional District they had held for two decades and the meaningless State Treasurer’s office. Doug LaFollette is likely to hold on to the Secretary of State’s office, but just by the skin of his teeth.
So, Democrats were the winners only compared to their worst fears. But Donald Trump and his lies and allies lost big. And that should make us all feel a little more hopeful about the future of American democracy.