Tuesday's elections show voters taking things into their own hands — both parties should take notice

Tuesday's elections show voters taking things into their own hands — both parties should take notice
© Getty Images

Yes, Democrats now hold all the levers of power in the Commonwealth of Virginia. And yes, President Donald Trump's last-minute rally in Kentucky failed to save Republican Gov. Matt Bevin. But, these next-day headlines miss some of the broader implications of the elections that took place this Tuesday.

There is no question that the results were dismal for the Grand Old Party, but Tuesday's off-year election has shed some light on what election night 2020 could look like. After the elections of 2017, 2018, and now 2019, it can now clearly be stated that Republicans have lost their stronghold among suburban, college-educated voters, a critical ingredient to GOP electoral successes across the country for a long time.

In messaging and agenda, President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump says his advice to impeachment defense team is 'just be honest' Trump expands tariffs on steel and aluminum imports CNN's Axelrod says impeachment didn't come up until 80 minutes into focus group MORE has transformed the Republican Party from right of the center to right off the road.


By pushing forward an agenda hyper-focused on hardline regressive immigration policy and doubling down on out-of-mainstream evangelical messaging, the president has seemed to proactively alienate the suburban college-educated voters that were critical to his 2016 victory. While most Americans gave him good marks on the economy, Tuesday's election made it clear that running on the economy alone could be rather myopic for this incumbent president and his fellow party members.

In the closing days of the Kentucky governor's race, voters there were not thinking about how high or low the Dow closed or the economic gains that have happened during Trump's time in the White House. Many of these voters were pondering if it was a good idea for the state to impose work requirements and premiums of the ultra-popular Medicaid expansion program. They also thought back to last year when Kentucky educators walked-out the classroom all over the state, demanding more significant investments in their classrooms and wraparound services for their students.

In Virginia, just like Kentucky, voters were not consumed with the booming economy in their state. These voters were more concerned with the proliferation of assault weapons and the increased incidents of gun violence throughout the country, which have twice scarred the state — at the campus of Virginia Tech in 2007 and at the Virginia Beach Municipal Building this past May. A substantial majority of these voters have been demanding reasonable gun safety measures from their state and national leaders. Sadly, those demands have been met with the large brick wall of inaction and gridlock.

Now, Mississippi is a solidly red state. Yet, even there, the Republican Party saw some slippage in their suburb turnout numbers. With the governor's race becoming a referendum on Medicaid expansion for the state's 100,000 residents living in the coverage gap, both Democrats and independents flocked to the polls in record numbers. This impressive turnout led to a lower than expected winning margin for the Republican Tate Reeves, who only clinched victory by less than 6 points.

Pollsters and campaigners will be analyzing Tuesday's results for weeks, but there are some very obvious takeaways.


For Republicans, Tuesday made it clear that "The Trump Effect" — the strategy of having the president show up at a last-minute rally and drop a couple of ads — has real limits. Without the reliable suburban base of college-educated voters, there is no fail-safe strategy to protect the party in statewide elections. President Trump has tainted the party's brand so severely that Republicans can no longer just run on good economic numbers. In 2020, the GOP needs to find a real message and articulate some policy solutions that appeal to more than just non-college educated white voters and evangelicals. Suburban middle class-voters, no matter their color or creed, mostly live in safe, respectful, and thriving communities. They want it to remain that way.

As these voters grapple with skyrocketing healthcare costs, increases to college tuition, and the uncertainty of retirement security, they are looking for real solutions from leaders on the local, state, and national levels. If the GOP plans on gaining back these voters, they should probably find a real agenda that includes the issues keeping suburban families up at night.

The GOP's willingness to engage in and promote uncivil behavior, apparent obstruction to the rule of law, and outright bullying have also sown malcontent among a majority of American voters. While it is almost impossible to measure its impact in this past election, it is clear that America might be over the billionaire marketing mogul turned president.

For Democrats, Tuesday, while a victory, should also serve as confirmation that there is nothing wrong with some good old moderation. In Mississippi and Kentucky, voters flocked to the polls to expand or keep the benefits that resulted from the Affordable Care Act. If the Democrats want to claim victory in 2020, it might make sense to listen to the voters and build solutions that work for them. Instead of throwing out the ACA, Democratic candidates should be praising the transformative healthcare law and talking about ways to improve its benefits for middle and working-class families alike.

The same goes for the issue of gun safety. Instead of Democrats’ fight for far-fetched policy planks like gun confiscation, why not focus on universal background checks, ending the sale of assault rifles, and offering states and localities more resources to tackle the spread of illegal guns on their streets and in their communities?

No matter which party you belong to, it is clear that something is happening in America: Voter registration is at an all-time high; voter turnout numbers are at historic levels; and the American people are engaged in a new and bold way.

The American electorate wants more than just lip service and lies from the White House and state houses. They want solution-driven leadership. That is why, just like in 2017 and 2018, this election saw more African Americans, Latinx, female and LGBTQ candidates, and now elected leaders. It seems the American electorate, instead of waiting on the cavalry, has decided to become the cavalry.

Richard A. Fowler is a Fox News Contributor and host of radio’s Fowler Show. On Fox, Fowler brings a progressive voice to conservative broadcast on America’s most-watched cable television network. He is also a Senior Fellow at the New Leaders Council. Follow him on Twitter @RichardAFowler.