Life, Liberty, Civility and the 2018 Election
COMMENTARY: Assessing the midterms
Few midterm elections were as anticipated and hotly contested as the one of Nov. 6, 2018. The expected fireworks didn’t disappoint.
Days after polls closed, several key races were considered still too close to call or subjected to recounts. The exact proportion of seats in each chamber of the federal government, plus many state legislatures, will not be known for some time.
Millions of Catholics cast votes in the midterm election, and many Catholic legislators were on the ballot. As I’ve spoken to Catholic audiences around the country, three issues seemed of chief concern: protection of unborn human life, preservation of religious liberty, and civility in politics. All three were unquestionably affected Nov. 6.
The big news, of course, was what happened nationally in the U.S. House and Senate. At the time of my writing, most tracking polls have the Democrats with a lead of 25-30 seats over Republicans in the House of Representatives. Democrats will see that as a major victory, even though they might have arguably underperformed, given the intensity of their base and given that historically the midterm election often grants an even larger margin of victory for the opposition party (in the 2010 election, Republicans gained 63 seats).
But what does this new Democrat majority in the House mean for the country? What does it portend for life, liberty and civility?
For starters, it means we’re about to enter a period of awful acrimony. The Democrat-controlled House will unceasingly pursue the political scalp of President Trump day by day. If you thought civility in politics was already at a low, well, you ain’t seen nothing yet.
A Democrat-Catholic friend of mine sent me a text on Election Day urging me to vote a straight Democratic ticket, quoting an infamous admonition about Germans who failed to heed warnings about Hitler. That’s the mentality of many liberals and Democrats toward Donald Trump.
Liberal pundit Van Jones describes it as not a blue wave but a blue war, an “infestation of hate and division.”
It is just that.
Prepare also for an infestation of pro-abortion legislation and funding increases for contraception, abortion drugs and Planned Parenthood, which had its budget cut by the Republican Congress. Under House Speaker Paul Ryan, a staunchly pro-life Catholic, Republican leaders had worked (with some success) to get the federal government out of the abortion business.
That will now change completely, with former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California likely returning to the helm. Pelosi, a lifelong Catholic, calls abortion rights “sacred ground to me.”
It’s sacred territory in today’s Democratic Party. House Democrats will elevate pro-abortion legislation to the highest echelon of their agenda. The situation of the last two years — of a Republican Congress and Republican president working together to cut Planned Parenthood funding — is now gone.
In the House, there were some key losses among pro-lifers. Mia Love, a rising star in the Republican Party, lost re-election in Utah. In two districts close to me in Pennsylvania, there were two races of national note.
In Pennsylvania District 16, incumbent pro-life Catholic Republican Mike Kelly (a former Notre Dame football player) narrowly defeated pro-abortion Catholic Democrat Ron DiNicola in a race that became closer than anyone expected. The same wasn’t true for incumbent pro-life Catholic Republican Keith Rothfus, however, who was wiped out by Conor Lamb by a whopping 12% in District 17.
Rothfus, a father of six and a cancer survivor, was a stalwart fighter for the pro-life position. Lamb, who went to the historic Central Catholic High School in Pittsburgh, attempted to straddle the fence on abortion on the campaign trail, though he conceded he would not have voted for the bill banning partial-birth abortion.
For Pennsylvanians, Lamb is likely to be a House version of Bob Casey Jr. in the Senate, meaning a major pro-life disappointment and a complete betrayal of his pro-life political family that brought him the name recognition that elected him. On the Senate side, Republicans are surely happy with what they got. Quite the opposite of the House, they gained seats and are looking at a majority of roughly a half-dozen. They achieved major pickups in Missouri, Indiana and North Dakota and probably Florida.
Among these, in Indiana, Republican challenger Mike Braun unseated Democratic incumbent Joe Donnelly. Braun is pro-life. Donnelly claims to be a pro-life Democrat, but, like Pennsylvania’s Casey (who was re-elected overwhelmingly), his voting record favors abortion, and at the expense of religious liberty.
Also for Senate Republicans, Texan Ted Cruz, who powerfully articulates the pro-life position and eloquently defends religious liberty, squeaked by in a very tough race, and Marsha Blackburn won handily in Tennessee. Life News describes Blackburn as a “Planned Parenthood archenemy.”
David Catron of The American Spectator described this late Senate surge by pro-life Republicans as “the Kavanaugh revenge.” For good reason. The Brett Kavanaugh melee clearly hurt Senate Democrats.
This more-Republican Senate equates to the confirmation of more court nominees who support unborn life and religious liberty.
Many people think of the judiciary as the Supreme Court and little else. Thus, they figure, unless Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer step down in the next two years, this court advantage isn’t much. But that’s not the reality.
The fact is that there are so many more court nominees that come before the Senate Judiciary Committee that never receive media attention, though are still critically important, such as for the U.S. Court of Appeals. Some of those nominees likewise in 2018 were narrow party-line votes, just like the Kavanaugh vote. Beyond the House and Senate races, abortion was on the ballot in a number of states, with Alabama and West Virginia voters approving constitutional protections for unborn children, including no taxpayer funding of abortion in West Virginia. Unfortunately, the news was not as good in the very liberal state of Oregon, where voters rejected an attempt to prohibit taxpayer funding of abortion.
On cultural issues, the vote Nov. 6 was mixed. Some of the most striking gestures were symbolic rather than legislative. Colorado now has an openly homosexual governor, Jared Polis. That is a first. And Kansas elected an openly homosexual woman to the House in Sharice Davids, an ex-MMA fighter.
The Democrats ran a profusion of culturally and politically far-left candidates, including an unprecedented number of self-identified “LGBTQ” individuals and members of the Democratic Socialists of America, the largest socialist organization in the country. The latter is highlighted by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who DNC Chairman Tom Perez calls “the future of our party.” At 28 years old, Ocasio-Cortez is the youngest woman ever elected to Congress, and she’s a staunch socialist.
In all, this means that the 2018 midterm election produced not only a significant numerical majority for Democrats in the House of Representatives but a significant ideological majority of far-left Democrats not friendly to matters of human life and religious liberty — though there was the re-election of pro-life Democrat Dan Lipinski in Illinois. It also means that the battle lines between Democrats and Trump will be stark and explosive. Civility will reach a new low.
Prepare for a divisive two years of political and ideological nastiness in Washington. It’s going to get even uglier.
Paul Kengor is professor of political science at Grove City College.
His latest book is A Pope and a President: