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The midterms were a referendum on Trump — and he failed

Democrats took control of the House of Representatives on Tuesday night, in an election that President Trump himself acknowledged was a referendum on his presidency.

In districts across the country, including deep-red enclaves that supported Trump in 2016, Democrats picked up seats by the dozen. The overall national vote was still being counted on Tuesday night, but the popular vote appears to have created one of the most lopsided midterms in recent history.

Yes, it was a referendum on Trump — and he failed.

He failed in Virginia, where GOP loyalist Barbara Comstock was washed away by anti-Trump voters. He failed in West Virginia, a state that backed him overwhelmingly in 2016 and then reelected their Democratic senator, Joe Manchin. He failed on both ends of Pennsylvania, where Democrats picked up GOP-held seats. He failed in Colorado. He failed in Michigan. He failed in New Jersey. He failed in Kansas, where the president’s handpicked gubernatorial candidate lost in a bright-red state and the Democrats picked up a House seat. He failed even in Texas, where suburban seats held by Republicans flipped to Democrats.

In the coming days, Democrats will need to figure out how to use their new House majority, and whether they can find a way to push through issues that matter to them such as reforming immigration, preserving Obamacare, and passing more gun control. It won’t be easy: Republicans are still in control of the Senate and the White House. But Democrats on their own can convene hearings, issue subpoenas, and exercise oversight on the administration that is lacking it now.


The most important near-term priority for Democrats should be to put chairmen and chairwoman in charge of oversight committees who can be aggressive, effective watchdogs. Two veteran Massachusetts lawmakers, Richard Neal and James McGovern, are in line for senior posts.


But focusing entirely on the Democrats would be the wrong takeaway from Tuesday. What might be most consequential is how the Republicans react to their drubbing.

The lesson they should take away from the midterms is that, for all his bullying rhetoric, and for all their fears of alienating his most fervent supporters, GOP politicians have more to fear by embracing Trump than by rejecting him. He was a millstone around the necks of congressional Republicans, especially in suburban districts like Comstock’s and in the Texas districts that changed hands.

But the Republican Party could just as easily lock itself into a tighter embrace with the president. Republicans did poll well in some pockets of the country, beating Democratic incumbents in Indiana and Florida.

That would be a mistake. The loud and clear message from American voters is that they don’t like the racially divisive and inflammatory leadership from the White House. The Republican Party followed Trump right into Tuesday’s rout, and should think twice about following his lead again.