Today is the one-year anniversary of Donald Trump’s presidential victory and the day after voters cast ballots in races across many states. What a difference a year makes as Democrats won in races up and down the ballot. So what does it all mean and where are we as a country today politically and culturally? I have five key takeaways.
Backlash against the man in the Oval Office
This was definitely a referendum on President Trump. Today President Trump’s national disapproval rating is near 60 percent. In some states yesterday it was slightly worse and in some states slightly better, but everywhere it was in negative territory. Voters by a two-to-one margin said they came out to vote against Trump as opposed to supporting him. In addition, 87 percent of the voters who disapproved of President Trump voted against the GOP. This does not bode well for Republicans in the 2018 elections. Keep in mind in 2010, when the Dems and President Obama lost badly in the midterms, Obama’s disapproval rating wasn’t as bad as Trump’s is today, and 84 percent of Obama disapprovers voted against the Dems. Yes, a wave is coming, the only question is its size. It looks moderate to large at the moment.
Trumpism without Trump
Many pundits have said in the aftermath of this election that Trumpism without Trump doesn’t work. First, Trumpism lost yesterday. For example, GOP candidate Ed Gillespie ran a few years ago as a GOP mainstream establishment candidate and barely lost a race for the U.S. Senate. Yesterday, he embraced Trumpism, and lost overwhelmingly by a much larger margin in his race for Virginia governor. Second, Trumpism without Hillary Clinton has a very hard time winning politically. Trump won in large part in 2016 because he asked people to vote for him by voting against Clinton. Without Clinton on the ballot yesterday, the GOP and Trump lost badly. This explains why he and the GOP keep trying to bring up Hillary. They know they don’t do well standing alone.
Transformation versus restoration
In 2016, there was an epic battle between restoration and transformation: of change to go backward or change to go forward. A large group of voters who supported Trump were fearful and frustrated by all the change in America and longed for an America of yesteryear. Many of the voters casting ballots for Clinton were part of the transformative change disrupting America and changing its color and culture. On that Election Day it was a split decision: one side winning the Electoral College and one winning the popular vote. Yesterday, transformative change asserted itself and inclusion and diversity won the day. In state after state there was a series of firsts: First Sikh elected mayor of major city, first openly transgender legislator, more Latinos and Latinas, first women mayor of Manchester, New Hampshire, first African-American women mayor of Charlotte, first African-American elected mayor of a town in Montana, and on and on. Every study shows that the more diverse and inclusive an organization, business, state or country is, the more successful it is over time. Transformative change won the battle yesterday.
What about demographics
The other epic battle from 2016 that also ended in a split decision was geography versus demography. By and large, the GOP has far more territory, counties and state jurisdictions in their “red” camp. Since many political jurisdictions are determined by geography alone, they have an Electoral College advantage. Democrats have difficulty with this geography but have demography on their side. The fastest growing groups of voters are those that vote heavily democratic: People of color, people who are single, people who are culturally progressive, people who don’t attend traditional church, etc. This is why Democrats have much easier time winning the popular vote nationally. Yesterday, demography asserted itself, and won the day for the Democrats. Though the GOP has had success over the last few cycles appealing to a shrinking voter group, betting your long term political health on non-college educated white voters, which shrinks each election, is not a recipe for success.
A third way
There is still a huge opportunity for Independents to run and win in this environment with the right message and right campaign, and look ahead to 2018 where you will likely see many of those Independents emerge. Both major parties are still disliked and this showed on Election Day yesterday. While Democrats won consistently, this was more a vote against Trump and the GOP than a vote for them. In fact, the mayor of Syracuse got elected as an Independent when voters rejected both major party candidates with the GOP candidate finishing a distant fourth. Democrats would be smart not to dance in the end zone too much, and put together a strategy that can appeal to all voters but especially to those independent voters who are looking for something totally new. If Dems don’t do this they will again have temporary victories and no long term success.
The months and years ahead are going to be a roller coaster ride through all this disruption. Keep an eye on the special election for U.S. Senate in Alabama where the Democrat has an outside chance at winning in a deep red state. I am very hopeful and optimistic that we will continue to transform as a country and create the political institutions we need to get us to the common good. It is an exciting time to be a founding father, mother, daughter, son of the 21st century America.
Matthew Dowd is an ABC News analyst and special correspondent. Opinions expressed in this column do not necessarily reflect the views of ABC News.