Whatever happens in Tuesday’s US Congressional midterm elections, I have a bit of good news that should hold no matter what.
I mean it.
Consider this: A shocking number of people I run into know that it will take flipping 24 seats for Democrats to take control from Republicans in Congress’ lower chamber, the House of Representatives.
That’s right, they know the exact number, 24. They drop it into casual conversation. It shows a sense of purpose, like asking for Hendrick’s instead of just plain gin in a martini.
Americans seem to be watching this election like they watch their fantasy sports rankings. If it takes reducing democracy into a pennant race to get citizens jazzed, I’m all for it.
This too: Early voting numbers are through the roof. As of early Sunday, 20 million votes had already been cast. Just who they’re voting for is a question mark (polls show voters tend to be older, with lots of women), but nobody should be too worried about a disinterested populace.
Now the less-good news. On the GOP side, President Donald Trump has abandoned touting standard political accomplishments – booming economy, two Supreme Court justices – and instead sounds like Jon Snow banging on about the White Walkers from the North. Only these walkers aren’t white, or from the North. They’re quite brown. And scary. And throwing rocks. Winter is coming!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 2, 2018
Mr Trump’s message about the Refugee Caravan is racist and cruel. But that it is desperate and appalling doesn’t mean it should not have been anticipated by the Democrats. And that’s why, two years after Mr Trump’s election, there’s anxiety about the Democrats’ ability to beat him back.
New York Times conservative columnist Bret Stephens called Mr Trump’s intelligence “feral. It strikes fast. It knows where to sink the fang into the vein”. He’s right.
Talking about the economy or tax cuts is weak tea to people now used to Mr Trump’s bloodier servings. It also risks stumbling into the fact that some of his base – his beloved coal miners and steel mill workers – aren’t feeling the benefits of the current upturn.
But an approaching horde of Central Americans? That’s a baseless fear we can all share together!
Democrats, meanwhile, are heading into election day without a unified field theory of American progress and no standard bearer. They’ve offered no pungent counter to Mr Trump’s caravan caterwauling.
Stalwarts like Elizabeth Warren and Hillary Clinton made serious gaffes in the past two weeks, demonstrating both political clumsiness and their essential selfishness (a pretty high bar among national politicians).
Partisans might have got goosebumps this week watching Oprah Winfrey and Barack Obama stump for local Democrats, but without someone actually on the ballot winning hearts and minds, this becomes a game about math, not about vision.
In the days leading up to Tuesday, Americans were again buried under duelling polling data, statistical analyses, likely scenarios. It suggests a blue wave, but perhaps not as tsunami-sized as once imagined. More like high tide at full moon.
But polls failed to chart the rise of this year’s most exciting candidates, like New York City congressional candidate Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who knocked of a Democratic veteran in June’s primary. So I trust none of them, after the misleading disaster of 2016. People are starting to remember how they felt that morning after two years ago. They don’t want to feel that way again.
Heading into Tuesday, Democrats feel the need to win for winning’s sake. Please God, they seem to be saying, let there be more people out there like me than the other side! Restore my faith in democracy! And let me just gloat a little bit, OK, please?
Each cycle, candidates claim this election is the most important of their lifetimes.
Considering what Mr Trump has wrought in two years, that’s a fair comment this time around.
But setting the stakes too high could disappoint Democrats beyond repair for 2020. Their message is soft, and their players may not be game-ready. This time out, play to win. But know that the real work begins on November 7, and the road to take back the White House.