Kevin Kapenda // Columnist
Divisive politicians eventually reap what they sow. Therefore, it should be no surprise that after three years of Donald Trump, it was a diverse wave of female candidates and voters that propelled Democrats to a decisive victory in the 2018 midterm elections. While the Democratic party won a majority in the House of Representatives and seven governorships, which is cause for celebration, this moment calls for just as much reflection. This election was proof that Democratic voters don’t want the same people talking about diversity. They want politicians that reflect their diversity and oppose discrimination. 10 years ago on Nov. 8, Americans elected this kind of President. A decade later, after a disastrous 2016 ticket, it appears Democrats have finally realized the key to victory are candidates that reflect the identities of their most important voters: women of colour. It was this group of voters that stole the election from right under Trump’s nose.
On Nov. 6, the Democrats won at least 230 house seats to the Republicans’ 197, with seven seats still uncalled as of Nov. 15. This could mean the Democrats’ advantage could balloon to 237 – 19 seats more than required for a majority in the House. What defined this election was the number of women elected to Congress. At least 100 women won house races this year. The previous record for women elected to the House in a single year was 85. However, even more significant was the diversity of Democratic women elected to Congress. Democratic House caucus will include the first two Native American women ever elected to Congress – Sharice Davids of Kansas and Deb Haaland of New Mexico. It also featured numerous other firsts, including two Muslim women, Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan. Even more inspiring was that many of the new women in Congress ran in white-majority districts and defeated male incumbent Republicans, including Illinois congresswoman-elect Lauren Underwood. A nurse by trade, Underwood is widely considered a rising star in American politics and will be one of 20 black women sworn-in on Capitol Hill in 2019.
Let’s be clear though, this diverse conference of Democrats was delivered by diverse voters. After falling short in 2016, the Democrats’ new diverse candidates were needed to energize their increasingly brown coalition of voters in the age of racial polarization. According to CNN exit polls, Trump won just less than half of the votes (49 per cent) of white women. However, 92 per cent of black women, 74 per cent of Hispanic women and 66 per cent of all other visible minorities voted Democratic, demonstrating that racial identity continues to be the faultline in American politics. Furthermore, it is women leading the resistance against Trump, with 88 per cent of black men and 63 per cent of Hispanic men voting Democratic. These numbers suggest two things: that we have much to learn from the strong women in our lives, and that the male demographic needs to get in line if Trump is to be defeated in 2020.
After falling short in 2016, the Democrats’ new diverse candidates were needed to energize their increasingly brown coalition of voters in the age of racial polarization.
When a president characterizes members of American society as lemons, you make lemonade by electing individuals from those groups to public office and challenging white nationalism. There is no greater rebuke of Trump’s racism than being chosen by citizens from all walks of life to serve as their voice. After a ban imposed on people from seven muslim-majority countries, two veiled women were elected to Congress. The result of Vice President Mike Pence and numerous homophobic cabinet members was the re-election of an LGBT Governor, two Senators and a handful of other gay female lawmakers. Additionally, nine new black women were elected to the House of Representatives, 20 in total, all of whom are Democrats. While Stacey Abrams, an African American, fell short in her bid for the Georgia governorship, she outperformed her two predecessors, both of whom were white males, by four and 5.8 per cent respectively. Abrams, along with Andrew Gillum in Florida, are proof that the key to turning out black voters in states where they are critical to Democratic hopes is not through statistical models and similar hipster hoodoo. It’s by having candidates the electorate trusts to have their back, because you can’t hide from your community.
Many Democratic strategists and political pundits have said the party must run a “white male” if they hope to challenge Trump in 2020. This approach, despite being characterized as safe, could actually not be any riskier. This November was proof that fortune favors the bold and the Democrats can’t afford another lame duck candidate four years after the Clinton-Kaine debacle in 2016. Clinton’s bid for the White House could have been saved with a much stronger running mate. Kaine didn’t hurt Clinton’s odds her like Sarah Palin did John McCain four years earlier, but unlike Palin, Kaine had no positive impact with key Democratic groups such as African Americans and Hispanics. Corey Booker or Deval Patrick could have helped Clinton with African American turnout in 2016 and can’t be overlooked as a presidential hopeful this time around. Kamala Harris is another good choice. One thing that is clear that if the Democrats win the Presidency in 2020, a visible minority or woman will be sworn in as either President and Vice President (Sorry, Bernie). It’s the only way they’ll win.