House Speaker Paul Ryan (R) and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy during a news conference on Capitol Hill, November 15, 2016. (Yuri Gripas, AFP Getty)
It was not the best of times, nor was it the worst of times. Tuesday’s epic nothingburger of an off-year election was like Game Three of any given World Series, worth spilling oceans of ink over by paid-shill sportswriters eager to exhibit their chicken-entrail-reading skills, only to have their prognosticative prose instantly rendered fishwrap and birdcage lining by events the next day. So let’s all take a deep breath and, with the benefit of 20-20 hindsight, reflect upon the epochal results of Midterm 2018.
Our collective obsession with transient election results—and our cocksure belief in the their predictive value—is akin to the novice Rotisserie Baseball player’s classic error in thinking that what happens in April is likely to obtain through September and right into the Fall Classic: the Hall of Fame is littered with the corpses of flash-in-the-pan flameouts. For statistics, and election results, can only be evaluated over time; it doesn’t matter when they happen as long as they do happen, and can be put into the proper statistical context at the end of a finite period. In baseball, that’s a season. In politics, it’s a lifetime, and even beyond.
Which means that Tuesday either was the Most Important Election of Our Lifetime, or just another day when Ted Williams went 0-for-3 on his way to hitting .406 in 1941. Right now, in the middle of the season, we don’t know. We can’t know. Over time, you can see the 0-fers as part of the overall record, and understand that failure is part of winning. Only a churl can argue the counter-factual alternative—that Williams might have hit .410 or higher with a few lucky dinks, dunks, and drops. As the old Yiddish proverb has it: Az di bobe volt gehat beytsim volt zi geven mayn zeyde. And as Casey Stengel said, you can look it up.
But are the media sportswriters or umpires? Fox News’ egregious error in calling the House for the Democrats before California poured itself its first glass of Chardonnay was reminiscent of the bad old days of the Carter-Reagan election, but for today’s media it’s more important to affect the course of an election than it is simply to report on it. Best to treat CNN and the rest as the shamans they are, and move on.
In other words, here we are. For Trump, who claimed victory Wednesday morning, the outcome was practically an alloyed triumph: the GOP increased its lead in the Senate and eliminated a host of RINOs in the House, whether through self-inflicted, “retirement” or outright defeat—including, crucially, Speaker Paul Ryan, but also including ineffectual cowards like California’s Ed Royce and Darrell Issa, as well as embarrassing clowns like soon-to-be-former Nevada senator Dean Heller. It’s too bad that House Freedom Caucus stalwarts like Dave Brat of Virginia can be caught in the prop wash, but he, like other conservative candidates who were defeated in the primaries by more centrist Republicans, were poorly served by their chiefs of staff and campaign advisers.
For make no mistake: it was Ryan, California’s Kevin McCarthy, and other nerd members of the widely loathed House “leadership” who just gifted a quivering, virginal nation with Maerose Prizzi as the once and future Speaker of House, wielding her outsized gavel with all the enthusiasm of one of the Marquis de Sade’s priapic bishops. Ryan’s wonkish ineptitude and passive-aggressive malevolence also delivered his home state, Wisconsin, to the tender mercies of the Democrat Party, and while the pride of Janesville may well return home to his first love—delivering copies of the Milwaukee Sentinel door-to-door along his paper route—he more than likely will stay plopped on the doorstep of the K Street banditos, there to feather his nest with tales of derring-do during his heroic first two years of #Resistance against the ogre Trump.
So the loss of the House is, from Trump’s point of view, addition by subtraction: he gets rid of Ryan et al. as “friends,” adds Pelosi and her rum crew—including the ineffable Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez!—as cartoon enemies; enhances his majority in the Senate (through which the next generation of two of federal judges will now pass); and positions himself over the next two years for 2020. For now he knows who his friends are and, even more important, his enemies: better to be attacked from the front than stabbed in the back.
The results of Election 2018 have made the 2020 battlefield less like the court of the Borgias than the plains of Phillipi, where Octavian and Antony destroyed the plotters Brutus and Cassius, avenged Caesar, and set the Roman Empire on course and in motion. For, absent the RINOs, Trump can turn his attention toward the decisive battle two years hence, between the country as founded, and the new Socialist-Justice Republic the Democrats now so openly desire.
Which brings us back Jeff Sessions. The hapless former senator from Alabama is one of Washington’s nice guys, but in his case the truth of Leo Durocher’s famous maxim was never more evident. By resigning from the Senate to take the attorney general’s job, Sessions opened the path for the election of Doug Jones, when the spectacularly ill-advised candidacy of Roy Moore crashed and burned. By immediately and groundlessly recusing himself from the bogus “Russian collusion” investigation, Sessions nullified whatever value he might have brought to the incoming administration. And by remaining obdurately in place—despite having been manifestly manipulated out of his job by Rod “All Roads Lead To” Rosenstein, his malicious deputy—he became a cancer on the presidency.
So, bottom line: GOP increases its majority in the Senate. Trump gets the increasingly incoherent Pelosi as a punching bag. Nothing the House does for the next two years will amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world; legislation will die in the Senate and should anything escape to the Resolute Desk, it immediately will be vetoed by the president. Thanks to Harry Reid’s hubris, the next couple of Supreme Court appointments will sail through the upper chamber.
And in 2020, Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden, or some other superannuated Boomer fossil will lose to Donald J. Trump. The president should send Ryan a case of champagne, appoint a new attorney general forthwith, get on with the business of governing, and leave the rest to the electorate 24 months from now.