Republicans Still Don’t Get The Point Of The 2018 Election

The verdict of last month's elections was clear, but Republicans still don't seem to get it.

Chris Cillizza notes that Republicans still don’t seem to be getting the point of the 2018 elections:

After Republicans lost the 2012 presidential election, Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus commissioned an election autopsy report — known as the “Growth and Opportunity Project” — to grapple with the demographic (and other) problems presented by the defeat.

Six years later, Republicans suffered another near-total loss: 39 seats and counting in the House, seven governor’s mansions and hundreds of seats in state legislatures across the country.|

Six years later, Republicans suffered another near-total loss: 39 seats and counting in the House, seven governor’s mansions and hundreds of seats in state legislatures across the country.

How did they handle this latest defeat? By changing absolutely nothing

This, from Jonathan Martin in the Sunday New York Times, is eye-opening stuff:

“Yet nearly a month after the election, there has been little self-examination among Republicans about why a midterm that had seemed at least competitive became a rout.

“President Trump has brushed aside questions about the loss of the chamber entirely, ridiculing losing incumbents by name, while continuing to demand Congress fund a border wall despite his party losing many of their most diverse districts. Unlike their Democratic counterparts, Republicans swiftly elevated their existing slate of leaders with little debate, signaling a continuation of their existing political strategy.”

This is, definitionally, whistling past the political graveyard. I’ll give you two reasons why:

1) In 2014, Republican House candidates carried suburban voters by 12 points over Democrats. In 2018? The suburban vote split evenly between the two parties: 49% each.

2) In 2014, Republicans lost among women 51% to 47%. In 2018? Republicans lost women by 19 points.

Those are not problems that will fix themselves. Nor are they problems that will simply go away when the 2020 presidential race starts. (Oh, who am I kidding?! It’s already started.)

So why aren’t Republicans doing anything about all of this? Fear, mostly. To acknowledge that the 2018 election was a bad one and that major course corrections are needed is to go against President Donald Trump and his preferred narrative about the last election, which goes basically like this: Everything is great!

As Cillizza goes on to note, Trump has so far refused to acknowledge the fact that the midterm elections were a repudiation of him, his demeanor as President, and the agenda that he and the Republicans on Capitol Hill have followed since January 20, 2017. Indeed, at the now infamous White House press conference the day after the election, Trump proclaimed “To be honest — I’ll be honest, I thought it was a — I thought it was a very close to complete victory.” The truth could not be further from the reality that the President apparently wants to create for himself.

Rather than the “complete victory” that Trump touted, Republicans saw themselves suffer a defeat of historic proportions. In the House of Representatives, Republicans have lost at least 39 seats with several more seats still undetermined, meaning that the total will likely be at or near 40 seats when all is said and done. This is comparable to the Election of 1974 when Republicans lost 49 seats in the House of Representatives, the most they have ever lost in one election cycle in the modern era. Of course, 2018 and 1974 are very different years. The biggest differences, of course is that forty-four years ago, the nation was faced with the beginnings of a cycle of slow economic growth and high inflation that would not be alleviated for another decade and with the aftermath of the Watergate scandal, which had seen the first Presidential resignation in American history in the face of what clearly would have been a case of impeachment and removal from office.

This year, by contrast, voters headed to the polls with a relatively healthy economy, expanded hiring, and rising wages. Under those circumstances, the fact that the GOP lost what at the end of the day will be close to forty seats is extraordinary and something that ought to cause Republicans around the country to evaluate the future of their party. In addition to these losses, the GOP also suffered loses at the Gubernatorial and state legislative levels, where Democratic pickups are likely to help that party in the redistricting battles that will take place after the 2020 Census. Yes, the GOP did gain seats in the  Senate, but those are seats where they were heavily favored from the start of the year, and it’s also worth noting that they lost seats in Nevada and Arizona that are likely harbingers of those two states becoming much more competitive in future Presidential elections. Far from being a “complete victory,” 2018 ought to be seen by Republicans as an even more alarming year than 2012 when they lost the Presidency along with eight seats in the House and two seats in the Senate. If that election prompted an autopsy, which of course the GOP never bothered to follow up on anyway, what happened last month should cause Republican to take a good long look in the mirror and reflect on what their party has turned into. The fact that they most likely won’t do this says everything about the current state of the GOP that needs to be said.


FILED UNDER: 2018 Election, The Presidency, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Kathy says:

    The GOP is stuck in the afterglow of El Cheeto’s improbable, minority-of-the-vote election.

    But, hey, it’s their funeral.

    BTW, if Trump had owned the Titanic: the ship got a little wet, but other than that it was the most successful transatlantic crossing ever!!

  2. Kylopod says:

    But remember what happened after that 2013 “autopsy.” With the nomination of Donald Trump three years later, the GOP tossed out the recommended strategy in that “autopsy” (most notably, trying to win over the growing Latino population through comprehensive immigration reform) and won anyway, doubling down on racism, vastly increasing their share of whites without college degrees, picking up three states the party had not won in decades…and still doing slightly better among minorities than Mitt Romney had.

    There’s a case to be made that the 2016 election was fluky enough that it won’t help the GOP’s long-term survival, and that the demographic shifts that were supposed to doom the GOP that year may turn out to happen anyway. Just because the predictions were premature doesn’t mean they were totally false. Even in 2016, some of the results revealed what should have been warning signs for the party, but which were largely ignored because they didn’t have any immediate impact on that particular election. For example, Hillary did much better in Arizona and Texas than any Democrat in decades, and she became the first Dem to win Orange County, CA since the 1930s. In 2004, Bush won New Mexico, Colorado, and Nevada, all of which have since voted Democrat in every succeeding presidential election. The Southwest has been gradually slipping out of GOP hands.

    The problem is that the Smart People essentially cried wolf in 2016, so the GOP is not inclined to listen to them now. All the GOP remembers is the 2012 autopsy report and how Trump completely upended it, and so while the 2018 midterms may be a setback for them (just as 2012 was), they don’t think they have to change their strategy.

  3. MarkedMan says:

    This is the tale of the California Republican Party writ across the whole nation. The Republicans who lose their seats are in districts where people are a) skeptical of the Republican agenda, and b) repelled by the basic assholery of the modern Republican Party. The Repubs from such districts tended to be a moderating influence. They are now out of the equation. The ones that remain feel they won their seat by doubling down on the past. And they are probably right. Repeat at each election and eventually what you have left is as noxious a group of butholes as you can imagine, completely disconnected from reality. But in their district, that disconnect pays. The voters are also a noxious group of true believers.

    So we are left with a seeming paradox: the members of the party keep doing things that will guarantee the party’s influence shrinks. But it’s only a dilemma if we accept the Supreme Court’s ridiculous position that [organizations] are people. In reality the “Republican Party” doesn’t have strategies or plans. Individual members do, and the most powerful of those members are reps and senators that are 100% invested in their own re-election.

    This viewpoint makes a lot of things clear. Why do police unions defend even the most vile, egregious cases? Because the union reps who make up that organization only care about the individual officers who will vote them in or out. The repulsed public has no vote. Why do corporations fail to respond to a crisis in a way that enhances their public image, despite the fact that the Tylenol poisoning tragedy
    is literally the text book example of the best way to deal with such events? (It is actually taught in MBA classes.) It is because there is no “corporation” that can speak or act. Rather, there are a couple of dozen execs who have it drilled into them over and over again that being associated with a failure is the surest way to end a career.

  4. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    Today’s Republican Party is truly the party of Individual-1.
    They are lashed to him and when/if he goes down…they will go down with him.
    All their principles, and beliefs, mean nothing.
    Orin Hatch admitted that he doesn’t care if Individual-1 committed a crime.
    As goes Denison so goes the Republicans.

  5. JohnMcC says:

    I somewhat disagree. The Repubs in Wisconsin, Michigan & NCarolina definitely understand what happened to them. That’s why they are redoubling their efforts to make sure that rural white male voters continue to have something like 1.5 to 2.0 X the voting power of urban diverse voters.

    And as MM pointed out above, that’s what worked before.

  6. gVOR08 says:

    @Daryl and his brother Darryl: They are certainly the Party of President Individual 1 today. But I can’t hep feeling there will come a day when the rats recognize the ship is sinking. If it breaks, it’ll break fast. One day they’ll all be good Trumpskyites, and a month later no Republican will have ever supported Trump. They’re already looking at what Trump’s coattails will look like in ‘20. They’ll be good in Lower Hogwaller TX, but maybe less so in ex-urban Houston. Koch likely has minions gaming out if there’s some way to get his toadie, Pence, the nomination.

  7. Barry says:

    @Kylopod: “But remember what happened after that 2013 “autopsy.” With the nomination of Donald Trump three years later, the GOP tossed out the recommended strategy in that…”

    It was never accepted.

  8. al Ameda says:


    I somewhat disagree. The Repubs in Wisconsin, Michigan & NCarolina definitely understand what happened to them.

    Republicans have hardwired the system in the states where they’ve controlled the governor’s mansion and the legislature. It will take a while to undo the damage.

    In Wisconsin Democrats won 54% of the popular vote yet control 1/3rd of the seats in the legislature.

  9. Kathy says:


    It was never accepted.

    I suspect they’re like many men these days in the face of a strong #MeToo movement. Instead of asking “How can we get along with women without harassing, demeaning, and sexualizing them?” they ask “But how can we go on abusing and harassing women without being called sexist?”

    Rather than ask “what can we do, within our political principles, to attract more minorities?” they ask “How can we keep on discriminating against people we don’t like without being called racist?”

  10. Sleeping Dog says:

    It is the curse of safe seats, as Masked Man pointed out, the remaining Repub controlled House seats are the safest, aka, the most Gerrymandered. Going forward the Reps in these districts will be finding that change is happening and it is too late to scamper to the middle.