In Minnesota and nationally, election was all about Trump, U panel agrees

MinnPost photo by Craig Lassig
President Trump, right, made stops in the mostly rural 1st and 8th congressional districts to endorse Republican candidates Jim Hagedorn, left, and Pete Stauber.

What, you might ask (but perhaps don’t need to), that occurred Tuesday was about Donald Trump?

Everything was about Trump, said a bipartisan panel of political analysts Wednesday morning at the University of Minnesota’s Center for the Study of Politics and Governance.

Why did Jenifer Loon (a 10-year veteran Republican legislator of the Minnesota state House of Representatives, who represented Eden Prairie) lose, moderator Larry Jacobs asked veteran Republican strategist Ben Golnik? Replied Golnik:

“It was a referendum on Donald Trump. He’s very unpopular in the suburbs.” Golnik also mentioned a huge increase in turnout in Dinkytown, adding: “That was Donald Trump too.”

But where Trump wasn’t political poison, he was political magic. Golnik said that on his pre-midterm campaign swing through Minnesota, Trump made stops in the mostly rural 1st and 8th congressional districts to endorse Republican candidates Jim Hagedorn and Pete Stauber. Trump drew huge, excited crowds, and he told the audiences, “Pretend like I’m on the ballot.” Hagedorn and Stauber both won, offsetting the two other seats, in the mostly suburban 2nd and 3rd Congressional Districts, in which DFLers ousted Republican incumbents.

“Obviously, Trump was a huge factor, everywhere, both pro and con,” Golnik said.

Veteran DFL operative Denise Cardinal also “credited” Trump, and a general change in suburban politics, for activating some formerly inactive suburbanites to go to the polls. “Suburban Democrats are not sitting at home anymore …,” she said. “The suburbs have changed. They’ve become bluer.”

Former Minnesota Republican congressman Vin Weber, now a Washington-based lobbyist and a Trump critic, said the national story was likewise very Trumpy. A big part of that story was that Trump inspired a spike in turnout among energized Democrats that led to the Democratic takeover in the House.

Sure, Republicans increased their numbers in the U.S. Senate on Tuesday, Weber noted, but that was a fluke of the political calendar that put a disproportionate number of Democratic Senate seats on the ballot. “If different seats had been up in the Senate, the Democrats would have taken that too,” Weber said. “Trump motivated both sides, but he motivated the Democrats more.”

(Turnout was up overall significantly over every midterm election of the last 50 years. Tuesday’s turnout was 49 percent of eligible voters. That was up from 36 percent in 2014.) By the way, I wrote a piece recently, headlined “We suck at voting,” about our nation’s poor voter participation rates in general. I specified midterms, where turnout in recent cycles has been more like 40 percent. So 49 is better, but still looks terrible compared to most democracies for an election when all seats in the House are on the ballot. Minnesota, as usual, did much, much better than the national average. This wasn’t part of the panel, but Secretary of State Steve Simon put out a preliminary number for voter participation: 63.8 percent. Minnesotans do not suck at voting.

Also on the panel, Ilhan Omar, one of two Muslim women elected to Congress, said the message of Tuesday was “that we do not like being pushed around. … [It was] a clear rejection of the politics of fear and division … a kind of resistance that came out of opposition to this awful person who’s in the White House.”

When Jacobs asked what Democrats need to do heading into the 2020 campaign, Omar replied: “We have to stand up to Donald Trump, without getting down to his level.” Political leaders, she said, need be “bigger, braver, and more accountable to the people.”

While Weber shared the consensus that anti-Trump sentiment was a huge explanatory factor for Tuesday’s results, he cautioned Democrats about assuming that the same magic will work again when they hope to dump Trump in 2020. He noted that Democrats got clobbered in the 2010 midterm, during President Barack Obama’s first term, but Obama was re-elected two years later. The same thing happened during President Bill Clinton’s first midterm. Weber’s theory:

“Midterm elections are largely grievance elections.” [Voters] are “more motivated by what they’re pissed off about,” and, in the case of 2018, “it was Donald Trump.”

And they were pissed off at Trump despite the fact that, by many measures, the U.S. economy is strong, which usually helps the president’s party during midterms. Polls suggested that the top issue on many voters’ minds was health care, which was not a good issue for Republicans.

Cardinal cited an exit poll that showed that 74 percent of Minnesotans who voted for Tim Walz for governor said health care was their No. 1 issue. “Republicans missed that message,” she said.

Golnik agreed with the critique on health care, and expressed surprise bordering on shock at Trump’s decision to make his last big pre-election push on scaring people about the group of migrants moving toward the U.S. border. Trump could have and should have made it about the great economic numbers, Golnik said, but “It’s just not in his DNA to make it about the economy.”

Cardinal said that when polled on what was the top issue on their minds heading into the election, 50 percent of respondents said health care compared to 22 percent who said immigration.

You can also learn about all our free newsletter options.

Comments (27)

  1. Submitted by Greg Smith on 11/08/2018 - 10:55 am.

    Imho, each election tends to be its own animal. Trying to make predictions for. The last election to the upcoming one is akin to the generals preparing to fight the last war. in this cycle, so much is personality driven by one outsized personality, To make prognostications off this election would be pointless. Case in point : Currently, I observe those celebrating the demise of the GOP. Before that it was the end of the Dem. according to some pundits, and before that the GOP. Those in Power always overstep what they perceive as a grand mandate, basking in hubris. Then the pendulum swings, the wheel turns and we go on.

    • Submitted by Frank Phelan on 11/08/2018 - 12:25 pm.

      Obama showed no such hubris. While is campaign excited many on the left, he governed as a centrist corporate friendly Democrat. Rather than attempting to implement single payer, he compromised with himself right out of the chute and proposed a center-right plan pushed by the Heritage Foundation. While even Reagan’s Justice Department put white collar crooks in jail in the wake of the S & L scandal, Obama approached Wall Street on bended knee, not once even indicting one of the Wall Street crooks who’s schemes crashed the global economy.

      Significantly, Obama continued to shovel vast amounts of our treasure toward the Pentagon so it could continue our ill fated and ill advised foreign misadventures. He didn’t even close Gitmo.

      Even his stimulus package was modest.

      But yeah, hubris. Sure.

    • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 11/08/2018 - 12:25 pm.

      The GOP as we knew it has died at the hands of Trump.
      Only the label has survived.

  2. Submitted by Steve Roth on 11/08/2018 - 12:54 pm.

    As anyone seen numbers yet on the total number of voters, broken down by political affiliation?

  3. Submitted by Tim Smith on 11/08/2018 - 12:56 pm.

    all about Obama first mid term – 69 house/senate. All about Trump mid term = -35 or so. Not bad.

    • Submitted by Frank Phelan on 11/08/2018 - 05:40 pm.

      Whoa whoa whoa!

      In November 2010, unemployment was 9.8%. Today it’s at 3.7%. Not only does this mean it’s better to inherit the Obama Recovery and stock market boom (Established March 2009, now in our 9th year!) than to inherit the Bush Recession, but it means that Don Trump and the GOP vastly under performed on Tuesday.

      How can a party in power lose the House and 22 of 34 Senate seats with a tail wind like that? This was the best Senate map for the GOP since the popular election of Senators began. In January 2017, we were told there would be 60 vote GOP majority.

      In fact, in October of 1998, Clinton and the Dems used an unemployment rate of 4.8% to gain 5 Congressional seats. This election was a repudiation of Don Trump, who told everyone he was on the ballot.

      I realize we’re in the Everybody Wins a Trophy Era, but anyone who thinks this was a good election for Don Trump and the GOP is sporting some rose colored glasses.

      On the other hand, maybe the slumping stock market was to blame. It’s been sideways all year.

  4. Submitted by John Edwards on 11/08/2018 - 01:32 pm.

    Vin Weber’s assessment that Tuesday’s results were a fluke of the calendar is not valid. In 2020 Republicans will defend 24 seats, Democrats 12. But . . . only five Republican seats are in states that Democrats have a realistic chance of winning ( i.e. the partisan lean according to is fewer than double digits.)

    Kyl, AZ; Ernst IA; and Tillis NC fit that category. Collins ME is in a state that leans 5 percentage points Democratic and Gardner’s CO leans 1.5 Democratic.

    Democrats will defending in seven contests where the bipartisan Democratic lean percentage is fewer than double digits: Warner, VA; Peters, MI; Smith MN; Udall NM; and Merkley, OR. Democrat Doug Jones AL will be far worse off defending than Collins and Gardner in that he is in a state that leans 27 percent GOP, according to 538. Shaheen NH is in a 1.7 lean GOP state.

    The calendar in 2020 will be no different than 2018, which also had about a dozen tossups. With the current GOP edge likely to be 54-46, it will again be a very narrow road for Democrats to gain control.

  5. Submitted by Connie Sullivan on 11/08/2018 - 01:40 pm.

    Poor Donald Trump: If the election, any election, isn’t all about him, it’s not exciting.

    The reason he rejected a last-minute campaign on the health of the economy was, in his words, that it’s not exciting. Driving people to screams of hatred and fear and resentment, and having them chant empty slogans from mid-2016 like “Lock her up!” is so much more exciting. His words.

    But the many hypocrisies of a TV personality like Trump (he’s still scratching the ground over Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email servers–in 2009 to 2012!–at the same time that we’re all forgetting that Trump is regularly revealing top secret security details to his unsecured iPhone buddies like Sean Hannity) will begin to bore even his cult fans at those rallies.

    His “schtick” is getting really old. Same thing, every rally. No movement. No ideas. Just hate, fear, demonizing the Other, and begging the audience again and again to reaffirm for him how Great He Is. He begged them to imagine that he was on this recent ballot, in many cases because he barely could remember the name of the GOP candidate[s] he had come to boost!

    Trump doesn’t have a political ideology. He is lazy, and doesn’t really know what is a security detail and what is simply a datum like “Today is Thursday.” He has no policy details, so no one can trust his word on anything. He lies all the time. He has authoritarian tendencies that are getting worse by the day (“His” generals; “his” Attorney General; the loyalty oaths he forces people to take; his idea that he is above the laws of this country; his attempts to use the power of the administration to destroy his political enemies; his multiple attempts to silence press critics and his support for that Saudi thug who had a WaPo journalist murdered. Not to speak of his collaboration with GOP efforts to suppress the Democratic vote nationally.)

    Many of us voted for Democrats because that’s where the healthy, constructive policy ideas are coming from. That’s where people caring about people other than themselves are to be found. Not with The Donald; we all realize he doesn’t give a rip about any of us, although it’s taking Trumpites longer to figure that out.

    • Submitted by Solly Johnson on 11/08/2018 - 05:26 pm.

      Some people voted for Democrats as the lesser of two evils, not because of any constructive policy ideas, since the establishment Democrats have refused to adopt policy positions that favor many average Americans. For example, Pelosi publicly stated that she opposes Medicare for All because we are a capitalist nation. Also, Perez and the DNC recently began taking fossil fuel money again after previously rejecting it.
      The establishment Democrats refusal to adopt policies that most Americans want such as a ban on fracking, Medicare for All, a $15 minimum wage, attacking the obscene military budget, free public university education, more federal control of Wall Street, etc., kept their gains at a minimal level compared to other off-year elections. Simply having opposition to Trump rather than adopting strong policy positions will not result in any long-term gains for Democrats.

  6. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 11/08/2018 - 01:51 pm.

    Trump campaigned mostly in safe districts that he had carried in 2016. It is not likely that he made a significant difference.

  7. Submitted by Frank Phelan on 11/08/2018 - 02:09 pm.

    What this article misses is that racism and anti-immigrant hysteria about Scary Brown People lost big. Not as big as I had hoped, or would have liked. But suburban folk finally decided they just don’t like as much racist chatter as Don Trump likes.

    Not every GOP voter or politician is racist. But what has become clear is that for far too many GOP voters and nearly all GOP politicians, racism is not a deal breaker. But there are not enough of those voters to have carried the day on Tuesday.

    Don Trump will be in full 2020 campaign mode for the next two year. (Hey, rallies are a lot more fun than governing. That’s why we got Pence.) It will be nothing but demonizing the media, powerless immigrants, and confirming more corporate friendly judges from here on out. In 2016, after 8 years of a black POTUS, Don Trump was able to fill an inside straight, which 538 gave him a 1 in 7 chance of. Not enough people bought it this year. I doubt enough will in 2020 either, but I may be wrong about that.

    Don Trump’s immigrant bashing works in rural areas, where there may not be more than a few immigrants for hundreds of miles. For middle and upper income suburbanites, that Scary Brown Guy lives across the street, is an engineer for General Mills, and has kids in the same schools as everyone else. Or it may be the landscaper who is working hard to get his kids through college. No wonder why they rejected Don Trump and those who embraced him.

    • Submitted by Curtis Senker on 11/09/2018 - 11:24 pm.

      “No wonder why they rejected Don Trump and those who embraced him.”

      The facts that everyone Trump campaigned for won and the GOP lost less than 1/2 the seats the Dems did under Obama’s wing withstanding, this observation falls quite short.

      • Submitted by Frank Phelan on 11/12/2018 - 06:07 am.

        Everyone? Including Scott Walker and Leah Vukmir next door in Wisconsin? I’m pretty sure they lost, despite “accepting the embrace”. (What, does Don Trump See himself as some sort of mafia boss? The embrace?)

      • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 11/12/2018 - 09:33 am.

        Trump only campaigned in safe districts. You’ll notice that he stayed the heck out of New York.

        You don’t think his campaigning actually changed anyone’s mind, do you?

  8. Submitted by Tom Christensen on 11/08/2018 - 11:58 pm.

    When they say the election was all about Trump they don’t mean it was about any of his accomplishments, it’s all about his obnoxious personality. Trumps limited list of accomplishments may or may not survive the test of time, it’s too soon to tell. Trump is anxious to take credit now before they are proven to be worthless to anyone beyond his base.

  9. Submitted by Curtis Senker on 11/09/2018 - 08:09 am.

    I agree it was about Trump. The fact that the party in power (GOP) this year lost 1/2 as many seats as Obama did under the same circumstances bodes very well indeed for T’s re-election.

    We’re very happy on my side of the street.

    • Submitted by Tom Christensen on 11/09/2018 - 10:23 am.

      You are assuming Mr. Mueller has nothing on Trump, which is highly unlikely.

      • Submitted by Curtis Senker on 11/09/2018 - 11:33 pm.

        The fact that Meuller’s already been digging for two years, and come up with nothing withstanding, carry on.

        • Submitted by Tom Christensen on 11/10/2018 - 09:00 am.

          You may have noticed Mr. Mueller doesn’t need daily headlines to do his job contrary to the current White House occupant. You may have noticed that no one knows what evidence he has. I’m not sure how you know what evidence he has. Please provide your evidence. Mr. Mueller’s silence is not evidence.

    • Submitted by Frank Phelan on 11/09/2018 - 12:42 pm.

      Given the significant head winds of a below 45 unemployment rate, voter suppression laws, and severely gerrymandered House districts, the Dems winning about 35 seats and losing only 2 – 4 Senate seats (with the most Dem unfriendly map since popular election of Senators began), Don Trump and the GOP saying Tuesday went well is like saying the Bay Of Pigs Invasion was a success.

      And Don Trump doesn’t believe his own bluster, as was shown by is temper tantrum, I mean, press conference, on Wednesday. He wasted no time in lashing out in a staged event by “spontaneously” picking a fight with a reporter, all the while behaving like a cornered rat, fearful and lashing out.

      Don Trump’s legislative agenda is done, over. He can appoint more judges, but that’s it. He’ll nothing past the Dem House or a Senate filibuster. Given the state level results and ballot initiatives, the GOP will no be able to rely nearly as much on gerrymandered districts after the next census.

      So if conservatives are feeling comfortable with all that, please, go ahead and relax. In the everybody deserves a trophy era, you’re certainly entitled to one too.

  10. Submitted by Joe Musich on 11/09/2018 - 08:56 pm.

    So I have had it with geographic voting maps that display voting results by the standard red or blue. I want to see another sort of map overlay of education achievement levels over the entire voting map. Not a graph but a national map, a state map, a district map , etc. The red blue map structure configuration pushes the mind to urban rural images. However this does nor reveal education, the ability to accept cultural differences, rigidity in dogma, being welcoming to new all sorts of new things, and lots of other views that that might be more complicated to present as images but more broadly accurate then the usual. And more deep analysis of the attendees in terms of whom they represent at his rallies would be a valuable piece of information. But do it shortly because soon it might be too late.

  11. Submitted by Frank Phelan on 11/08/2018 - 01:56 pm.

    And don’t forget those post 2016 election predictions of a 60 seat GOP majority in the Senate. How’d those predictions pan out?

  12. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 11/09/2018 - 09:03 am.

    Who made those predictions?
    On what were they based?
    I know that a few delusional Republicans may have expressed a hope, but I don’t recall anyone taking them seriously.

  13. Submitted by Curtis Senker on 11/09/2018 - 01:21 pm.

    I think we have all the majority we need to quickly confirm another SCOTUS justice next year. It’s all good.

  14. Submitted by Frank Phelan on 11/09/2018 - 05:15 pm.

    The same people who are now crowing about what they are trying to sell as the “blue ripple” are the same people who were crowing that they’d have a filibuster proof majority in the Senate after this election.

  15. Submitted by Frank Phelan on 11/10/2018 - 08:16 am.

    It’s fortunate for you that you are pleased with that. Because that is all Don Trump and those who erroneously call themselves conservative have now.

    Come January, Don Trump cannot pass a single piece of legislation without that evil San Francisco liberal Nancy Pelosi signing off on it first. Of course, Roberts et al can still legislate from the bench, which they love to do. (Citizens United anyone?)

Leave a Reply