“I’m pretty excited, but I also know that we have a lot of work to do… you gotta get right to work.” –Denver Riggleman
It’s that most wonderful time of year: Post-Election Day hot takes! Woot woot!
To start with the obvious, this was a relatively good cycle for Democrats and a bad one with some key upshots for Republicans and President Trump. Democrats took the House and a bunch of governor’s mansions. Republicans expanded their Senate majority, maintained the majority of governorships, and retain an even larger majority of state legislatures. Moreover, Republicans won difficult statewide races in key swing states (though not enough of them) that will be valuable in 2020 and beyond.
Perhaps most excitingly, on a personal level, the first ballot I ever cast for somebody I knew personally helped Denver Riggleman win the open race here in Virginia’s 5th congressional district. It was a single bright light amid otherwise dispiriting gloom settling across the Commonwealth, but we’ll take it.
Among the most encouraging developments came from my home state: Florida. I was rooting for Gov.-elect Ron DeSantis early on, back when he was a scrappy underdog in the GOP gubernatorial primary. He was one of my favorite congressmen because of his strident, principled conservatism, and I have fond memories of lively conversations with him and other conservative leaders over bourbon and cigars when I was visiting home years ago. I’m ecstatic that he’s earned the governor’s mansion.
Believe it or not, I once despised Gov. Rick Scott, even after I evolved from a Democrat to a Republican. But his strong record as governor—and the fact that he was clearly right about the high-speed rail boondoggle for taxpayers—brought me around, and he’ll undoubtedly be a marked improvement in the Senate over Bill Nelson.
Like Texas, Florida is an enormous multiethnic state that’s become more Republican as it’s become more diverse. Florida has the second-longest unbroken streak in the entire South (after Texas) of complete GOP rule (since 1999 vs 1995). If the GOP lead in the open race for Agriculture Commissioner holds, then there will be no statewide Democrats left in Florida for the first time since Reconstruction. Minority voters are a key part of this shift.
The 2016 and 2018 elections set records for minority voting in Florida, with sky-high turnout to boot. Republicans won both years—from Marco Rubio to Ron DeSantis—because as minority turnout has increased in Florida, the Republican share of minority votes has also increased. For all the talk of new voters from Puerto Rico padding Democrat margins in the I-4 corridor, Republicans gained significant ground against Sen. Bill Nelson (who came a little closer to victory than Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum) in the Tampa Bay area because Latino Floridians are generally voting *more* Republican, not less, as they get more engaged, just as black Floridians are voting *more* Republican, not less, even when a black Democrat is on the ballot.
Because of the Sunshine State’s growing diversity, Florida Republicans, like their Texas peers, need stronger margins among minority voters than Republicans in many other states. Rick Scott increasing his share of the black vote over his previous two elections is literally why he is in office today. According to exit polls, DeSantis roughly matched or exceeded that already relatively high showing, though neither was quite as high as Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s impressive (for a Republican) 20 percent. DeSantis also earned nearly 40 percent of the Latino vote, about the same as Abbott, with Scott winning even more. This stronger performance among minorities is especially important because Florida Republicans, like Republicans elsewhere, have lost ground among whites with the flight of upper-class suburbanites and need minority voters to make up the difference. In Florida, as in Texas, Republicans are fighting hard for and winning these votes, and national Republicans would kill for such margins.
Of course, there are limits to this good news, as the bigger picture of 2018 reminds us: Minority voters still vote mostly Democratic, albeit much less so in Florida (and Texas) than they do nationally, and Florida Republicans lost two winnable House races in heavily West Indian South Florida (I dearly miss Carlos Curbelo already) and several more in Texas. Still, the numbers offer hope for a constructive way forward.
Now that Floridians have rightly repealed Jim Crow-era restrictions on voting rights for formerly incarcerated citizens, an estimated 1.4 million people with felony convictions are expected to regain the right to vote. They are disproportionately nonwhite. The enduring survival of Republican governance in Florida, along with all the robust economy this governance maintains for the state’s rapidly swelling population, will depend in part on conservatives’ ability to attract and engage those and other new voters. And these lessons and successes will be vitally important for the national GOP, even and especially if Trump continues to drag down Republican popularity throughout growing segments of suburban America.
The blue wave of 2018 was neither as deep as Democrats expected nor as weak as Republicans hoped, but the real impact long-term will come from what we make of the landscape it leaves behind.