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Democrats are ecstatic because they won state and local races Tuesday in a few blue places they were supposed to win, but did so by margins larger than expected.

They surmise that those margins validate their theory that all they need to succeed--in next year's congressional midterms and the presidential race two years after--is not be Donald Trump.


What has them encouraged is that midterm congressional elections like those coming next November often are won by the out-of-power party based on disdain for a new president that disproportionately motivates the opposition in nonpresidential years.

What happened Tuesday in Virginia, New Jersey and Washington--Democratic states all--is that the Democratic wins amounted to more than merely holding serve, but were decisive and stirring. And they seem to have occurred because Democrats and suburban moderates who were disgusted by Trump turned out at near-presidential levels while Trump's base was behaving in a normal midterm way, giving maybe a 75 percent effort.

Democrats may be right in what they think Tuesday's results portend for the midterm House races next year--meaning more of what happened Tuesday--although the Senate poses a different challenge because most of the seats coming up for election in this cycle in that upper chamber are in solidly Republican states.

But this is but a pattern, indeed a destructive cycle.

I refer to that of a midterm electorate turning against the new president and his party.

I refer to opponents being driven to vote in midterm and off-year elections while the people who had turned out in droves a year or two before to elect the president are asleep at the switch or hung over. Or maybe they're simply the kinds of people who vote in high-energy presidential races but not lesser contests.

Here's the cautionary tale for celebratory Democrats: By recent history, the new president whose party gets clobbered in the midterms two years into his presidency ... well, he ends up winning re-election two years hence.

In 1994, motivated Republicans turned out heavily for Newt Gingrich's Contract with America and clobbered Bill Clinton's Democrats in the midterm congressional races. They were mad about a tax increase for deficit reduction and gays in the military and general non-conservative trends.

In 1996, Clinton won re-election over Bob Dole, who had no message.

In 2010, Republicans drubbed Barack Obama's Democrats--taking over the Congress in the Tea Party revolution--because they were mad about Obamacare, mainly. Two years later, Obama won re-election over Mitt Romney, who pulled his punches on a message.

Democrats are thinking the Trump disaffection is different--stronger, lasting, permanent. They're thinking Clinton and Obama had political skills for course corrections that utterly evade the seemingly unstable Trump.

They're thinking they won't have to do anything all the way through 2020 except sit back and watch Trump's behavior worsen if possible.

Maybe they'll be proven right. But I'd point out that white rural voters in western Virginia, while considerably less motivated than suburban liberals and moderates, gave the winning Democratic gubernatorial candidate a lower percentage Tuesday than they had given outgoing Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe four years before. They gave this year's nondescript Democratic gubernatorial nominee about the same anemic percentage they gave Hillary Clinton a year ago.

It may be that, in the full nationwide context, there's less change than meets the eye.

It may be that Tuesday indeed was merely a holding of serve for Democrats, albeit with a couple of aces and a love score. But you're supposed to hold serve.

And it's still just one game toward the six needed to win the set, no matter how convincingly you won that single game.

Discounting that Robert Mueller will have spoken in full when 2020 arrives, not being Trump won't necessarily be all there is to it by then.

It could be, as a famous Democrat once said, a simple matter of "the economy, stupid." And the economic indicators aren't exactly dire.

Hillary made the last presidential race all about the unfitness of Trump. I thought it would work. A few thousand working folks in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin said otherwise.

Maybe next time the Democrats should take out insurance. What else have they got, on tax cuts, or fixing Obamacare, or immigration, or protecting the American worker in trade matters, or reforming our politics?

And, of course: Who have they got? A key factor in a race is the runner.

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John Brummett, whose column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, was inducted into the Arkansas Writers' Hall of Fame in 2014. Email him at jbrummett@arkansasonline.com. Read his @johnbrummett Twitter feed.

Editorial on 11/12/2017

Print Headline: Belay that excitement

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