This election was all about Donald Trump. His brash, off-the-cuff nature, his utter repudiation of anything resembling conventional political wisdom, and his ability to break outside of the strict confines of any party orthodoxy made him an irresistible topic. And with the benefit of hindsight, we can now see that it was all for good reason. Simply put, Trump upended politics as we know it, and in so doing ushered in a completely unforeseen Republican wave.
But one person does not a wave make, and focusing purely on Trump threatens to ignore the incredible success of other, down-ballot Republican candidates.
It was not supposed to be this way. As recently as October 10, polls showed that down-ballot Democrats stood to win big because of Trump’s candidacy. An NBC/Wall Street Journal poll found that 49 percent of Americans said they would support Democrats for Congress, while 42 percent said they would support Republicans. That was Democrats largest lead since the 2013 government shutdown.
At that point, it was a given that Democrats would capture a Senate majority, and there was even some talk that a lead of that magnitude would give them “very good chances of winning back the House.”
Of course, everyone was wrong. Apparently, the same Americans that Washington tends to forget when creating policy were also forgotten by pollsters.
The biggest victory came in U.S. Senate races, in which Republicans maintained control of the chamber after fending off numerous well-funded Democratic challengers who led in the polls for most of the race. Senators Ron Johnson in Wisconsin, Richard Burr of North Carolina, Todd Young of Indiana, and Patrick Toomey of Pennsylvania each made late-inning comebacks to win re-election. This is a remarkable feat given that Democrats were playing offense in 24 GOP-held Senate seats, seven of which Obama won. To put things in perspective, Democrats could have reclaimed the majority by solely winning states that Barack Obama won twice. Now, Republicans head into the 2018 midterms with the wind at their backs and a much more favorable map to contend with.
The story is much the same in the House of Representatives, where Democrats appear likely to pick up just five additional seats, well short of the 30 needed to retake the majority. Prior to Election Day, nonpartisan estimates projected that Democrats could pick up anywhere between five and 20 out of the 25-or-so seats considered up for grabs. A few prominent pollsters suggested that Trump could underperform, leading to the possibility of a Democratic wave that could wash away the Republican majority. Ultimately, it was Democrats who underperformed, leaving them at the lowest ebb of their potential pick-up opportunities.
But perhaps the most important successes came in state races, where Republicans continued an era of dominance that is unmatched in history. Republicans were able to flip three state legislative chambers, including the Kentucky House of Representatives, which hasn’t been led by the GOP in almost 100 years. Republicans also chipped away at Democrat dominance in a few Democratic strongholds. For instance, Republicans picked up four seats in the Illinois house, which ends a Democrat supermajority, and three seats in the Connecticut Senate, which is now deadlocked. All told, Republicans now hold majorities in 68 out of 99 state legislative chambers, and have control of both chambers in 33 states, up from 31.
Republicans also now hold 33 out of the nation’s 50 governors’ mansions, just one shy of the historical high set in 1922. The party expanded their ranks by winning Democrat-held seats in Vermont, New Hampshire and Missouri.
Taken together, Republicans’ dramatic success at the local level will allow them to serve as laboratories of democracy that can test policy ideas that can bubble up to the national level. It will also allow the party to build a bench of stars that can rise to compete in House and Senate races in coming years.
These are incredible feats in any election year, but they’re made more stunning by the fact that they were so unexpected. It’s clear that voters believe in Republican ideas. They trust in Republican’s ability to govern. And they’re tired of not seeing the remarkable progress achieved by state-level Republicans matched at the federal level. Our party has been entrusted with significant power, and it’s up to us to prove we’re deserving by focusing on conservative ideas that restore Americans’ dignity and lift them to prosperity.