How Republicans Helped to Fuel a Blue Wave

The Democrats are coming.
October 12, 2018
8 mins read

With less than a month left before the midterm elections, it’s getting pretty hard to find someone who hasn’t heard of the so-often discussed “blue wave.” Just two years after the Republican victory in the presidential election, Democrats are supposedly going to be coming back in full force in a bid to take control over Congress and prove how much Americans don’t like Donald Trump.

Those who believe the takeover will happen say that it’s been fueled by frustration with the Republican-controlled legislature and a sudden drop in voter apathy among those who initially didn’t care about the 2016 election outcome. Those who call it a myth say the silent majority, a term often used in reference to Trump supporters, will carry the midterms for the Republicans with their support for the president’s work so far.

When talk of a blue wave began after Trump’s election, it was understandable that Republicans didn’t take it seriously. After all, they had just won a national election with one of the least popular candidates in recent memory, and, despite the fact that Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by a sizable margin, the hype that surrounded her still wasn’t enough to give her the electoral votes needed to win. Even after the highly-publicized Women’s March, there were plenty of reasons to think that the enthusiasm would start to fade well before Nov. 6. But, while their line of thinking may have been reasonable, it’s also what has left them scrambling to catch up as election day approaches.

For one thing, Republicans didn’t expect Donald Trump to be as terrible of a president as he has been. They probably hoped, as most people did after election night, that all of the despicable rhetoric was just an election strategy to energize America’s conservatives, and perhaps, if given the chance, he’d actually do a pretty good job. But after a year and a half of his presidency, it’s safe to say that they were wrong. If anything, he’s become more controversial than anyone could have possibly imagined. From the sagas of his early executive orders to the separation of children from their parents at the border, the Republican establishment has had to justify and sugarcoat Trump’s actions over and over again. Now, it feels that with every tweet and controversy, Americans only get angrier.

That has been especially true for young voters, many of whom were just under the legal voting age in 2016. Although young Americans have an incredible amount of voting power, they’re generally less likely to go to the polls than their older counterparts. But the past year and a half has seemed to signal a surge of energy among millennials and Generation Z, thanks to student-led movements like “March for Our Lives,” that stressed the importance of voting and helped people to register. It’s an energy that candidates have been quick to take advantage of, and if that translates to a greater turnout at the polls, it could potentially spell trouble for Republican incumbents who have ignored it.

Democrats essentially got a head start on midterms, and now the GOP is struggling to figure out how to catch up. One notable example of this has been the Senate race in Texas between incumbent Republican Ted Cruz and Democratic challenger Beto O’Rourke, which has caused the historically red state to face the possibility of going purple.

At the start of his campaign in 2017, it was somewhat difficult to take O’Rourke’s bid seriously, simply because the odds were stacked so much against him. That was until he became a sort of political celebrity throughout the state, having visited all 254 counties and becoming popular for his sincere yet passionate disposition. The race is now being considered a toss-up, and Cruz and the Texas GOP have had to intensify their offense, which has backfired several times. Perhaps the funniest was when Cruz’s campaign released a song that made fun of O’Rourke for using a nickname, even though Cruz himself goes by Ted instead of Rafael, his given name.

Some might say that the Texas race is atypical and shouldn’t be used to determine the direction of the rest of the country. After all, Cruz isn’t even well liked by his own party, so much so that former Speaker of the House John Boehner called him “Lucifer in the flesh.” Texas has also seen a fast demographic change within the past several years that might be helping it to become less red. But, these occurrences don’t take away from the fact that Texas is mostly conservative, and if the race is really as close as some polls are suggesting, it means that Republicans have failed to maintain the support of those in their own party.

That has left the GOP in a scramble to flex its muscles prior to election day, the most recent example of which was the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. Christine Blasey Ford came forward alleging that Kavanaugh had sexual assaulted her 36 years ago, and the Republican-controlled Senate Judiciary Committee was thrown into a precarious situation that forced the GOP to lend all of their support behind the problematic nominee without hesitation. The hope for Republicans is that the divisive nature of the Kavanaugh saga will give conservative voters as much energy as Democrats are currently displaying and sabotage liberal efforts at taking control of Congress.

With all of the analysis that has been poured into determining whether or not a blue wave is actually happening or gauging the energy on both sides of the political spectrum, it has to be acknowledged that everything is speculative. Energy and excitement around certain candidates don’t always translate into votes, and no one will be able to fully understand the consequences of the events of the past two years until the numbers come in on Nov. 6. Candidates and voters on both sides shouldn’t feel relaxed, especially considering that this midterm is perhaps the most important in recent memory because the outcome could potentially reshape how campaigns are analyzed for years to come.

Candace Baker, University of Texas at Austin

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Candace Baker

University of Texas at Austin

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