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While Democrats Have a Night of Firsts, the G.O.P. Is as White as Ever

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From left, EUGENE GARCIA/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock (Ocasio-Cortez), Scott Eisen/Getty Images (Pressley), AAron Ontiveroz/The Denver Post/Getty Images (Polis).

For Democrats, Tuesday’s midterm elections were a night of firsts. Riding a wave of anger against Donald Trump, Democrats picked up the House, as predicted, winning at least 26 seats. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, who is 29, became the youngest woman ever elected to Congress; Ayanna Pressley is the first black woman elected to Congress from Massachusetts; Michigan’s Rashida Tlaib and Minnesota’s Ilhan Omar are the first Muslim congresswomen; Kansas’s Sharice Davids and New Mexico’s Deb Haaland are the first Native American women in Congress; Sylvia Garcia and Veronica Escobar became the first two Latinas elected to Congress from Texas; Jared Polis of Colorado became the first openly gay man to win a governor’s race; Guam elected Lou Leon Guerrero as its first female governor; New Hampshire’s Chris Pappas is the first openly gay member of Congress; and Michelle Lujan Grisham became the first Democratic Latina elected as a governor.

The message in their victories, for many, is clear: the future of the Democratic Party is nonwhite and female. But new data points also raise as many questions as they answer. The continued soul-searching at the D.N.C. over whether Democrats should adopt the Joe Biden strategy of preaching blue-collar class solidarity to disaffected whites and working-class men, or advance a more cosmopolitan platform that prioritizes racial, sexual, and gender equality, will have to be re-assessed again in light of these results. Some will say the party can have it both ways, or that this is a false distinction. Others will say that victory in 2020 will require a more cynical realpolitik, or another once-in-a-lifetime, charismatic, four-quadrant candidate, like Barack Obama, to unite a country coming apart at the seams.

The Republican Party, after all, strengthened its position in the Senate by embracing a Trumpian message of racial grievance tailored to the deep red, rural areas that dominate the upper chamber. The G.O.P.’s Senate gains were largely among white men, like Mike Braun in Indiana, Josh Hawley in Missouri, and Kevin Cramer in North Dakota, all of whom had Trump’s support. While Democrats reclaimed a number of suburban areas, Republicans were able to maintain a grip on exurban and rural areas and throughout the South. The differences between the two parties—the G.O.P. mostly white and male, the Democrats empowered by women and people of color—highlights the extent to which the bipartisan gulf has widened. Democrats may not have seen the “blue wave” they’d been hoping for, but as my colleague T.A. Frank pointed out, their night of firsts suggests an ongoing political re-alignment—much of which is shaping itself along racial and gender lines. In Georgia, where Stacey Abrams ran against the state’s elections chief Brian Kemp, who has been accused of using every voter-suppression tactic in the book, 76 percent of white women voted for Kemp.

There’s plenty for Democrats to celebrate from Tuesday night. Turnout soared. Though Republican Ron DeSantis defeated progressive Andrew Gillum, the state still voted to restore voting rights to more than a million Floridian felons. Nebraska, Idaho, and Utah all expanded Medicaid, giving 300,000 people access to health care. But the increased national polarization of America’s foremost parties is a distressing portent for politics in which President Trump has made racial grievance and nativism the focal point. His messaging still clearly resonates with some parts of the country: while the nation’s most virulent white-nationalist candidates lost on Tuesday, others, like Iowa’s Rep. Steve King and House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, who once reportedly described himself as “David Duke without the baggage,” held on.

The culture wars, in other words, go on, and may get worse before they get better. Trump, in his savant-like manner, has gleaned that he doesn’t need urban and suburban voters, where Democrats had their biggest gains on Tuesday, to consolidate political power. The electoral structure of Congress, which gives greater weight to rural states, will continue to bedevil Democrats hoping to prove that their vision of progressive legislation—with all its attendant cultural baggage—can actually make life better for Trump voters motivated by fear. For now, however, the midterms suggest that blue America is getting bluer, and red America is getting redder, with both camps taking on the characteristics of racial and cultural blocs, rather than more traditional governing coalitions. If demography is destiny, Republicans look determined to resist to the last.

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Credit:Vanity Fair

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