They say generals are always busy fighting the last war. The same probably goes for pundits: always busy analyzing the last election.
When Obama won a relatively easy presidential victory in 2012, the common wisdom was that the Republican Party had missed the boat. In a rapidly changing America, it had become a bastion of that increasingly irrelevant demographic: older, white men, living away from the big cities. If the GOP was to ever win an election again, it had to become more diverse, less white, and appeal to the ‘new America’.
Did the Republicans heed that advice? Hardly.
And yet, in 2016, Trump won a surprising presidential victory. Suddenly, the new common wisdom became that the Democrats had forsaken their traditional base: older, white men, living away from the big cities. Those people in the ‘Rust Belt’ and elsewhere, whose jobs had disappeared in the age of globalization and Silicon Valley, and to whom the celebrity feminism of the Hillary Clinton campaign rang meaningless. If the Democratic Party was to become relevant again, it had to reinvent itself as a party that does not take its traditional base for granted.
Did the Democrats heed that advice? Well one thing’s for sure, they fielded a group of candidates in which white men were less dominant than ever before. And these candidates were often successful.
This year’s elections, the 2018 midterms, aren’t so easily capsulated in a simple narrative. They were of course multiple elections, on different levels, with thousands of candidates competing over issues that varied from district to district. The Democrats took the House, and won back some governorships, but their victory wasn’t absolute: Republicans strengthened their hold on the Senate.
So we have a lot to talk about. And we are very fortunate to have two guests who will help us make sense of what happened last month, and what it means for America.
Two guests who, incidentally, look suspiciously like the main culprits in the narratives of the last two presidential elections. That is, if we were to reduce them to their bare demographic characteristics: an older white Republican, and a young Democratic person of color, who has a degree in gender studies.
But while these different backgrounds may hopefully make for an evening with differing perspectives on the 2018 midterms, and will shield us from all-too-comfortable generalizations, it is of course by no means my intention to reduce our two distinguished guests to crude caricatures. So let me introduce them in some more detail.
Depending on who you talk to, one of our guests is responsible for making politicians talk straight, or making them talk newspeak. He is one of America’s best known pollsters and political consultants. He has authored several books about political communication and is a regular contributor to tv networks such as Fox News. His most famous method is to conduct ‘focus groups’, where he gauges how voters react to politicians. He has used his skills to advise Republican politicians in framing their messages to make them stick with voters, but his focus groups have also drawn praise from former president Barack Obama. We are very honored to have Frank Luntz with us tonight.
Our other guest was one of the youngest delegates to the 2016 Democratic National Convention. He had a difficult childhood, growing up with a single mother. But he was determined not to let this initial disadvantage define his life, and went to college, where he majored, I mentioned it briefly already, in women’s and gender studies. After he graduated, he founded the organization GoodProjects, that helps kids from disadvantaged backgrounds find their way to college. Before that, he was involved in the Bernie Sanders campaign, and had worked for congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton. A very warm welcome for Darius Baxter.