Shortly after 9 p.m. on Election Night, CNN commentator Van Jones called the evening — not as a win for Democrats or Republicans, but for the ugly rhetoric that has defined this campaign, notably from President Donald Trump and his acolytes. “It’s heartbreaking,” he said. “The hope has been that the antibodies would kick in. That this infestation of hatred and division would draw a response from the American people in both parties to say ‘no. No more.’”
Well, certainly not this time. Trump’s unique brand of racism, xenophobia, and transphobia — his fear-mongering — mobilized many of his supporters to support GOP candidates who stood close by his side. The most prominent Republicans who closely mimed the president’s playbook, and won: Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Iowa Rep. Steve King, who were reelected; Rep. Ron DeSantis, the Florida governor-elect; and Brian Kemp, holding on to a slim lead over Democrat Stacey Abrams in the Georgia governor’s race.
It sure paid off for them to play nasty like the president.
Although three-quarters of Americans say that the incivility in our political discourse is a crisis, according to a 2017 study, Carolyn Lukensmeyer, executive director of the National Institute on Civil Discourse, told me that “voters seemed to reward those candidates who were using language to degrade and even demonize their opponents.”
Make no mistake, Trump cast the election as a referendum on himself. Former President Barack Obama concurred, pointedly telling Virginia voters days before the election, “How we conduct ourselves in public life is on the ballot.” By that he meant his successor’s behavior was on the ballot.
We’re now left with these questions: Did the nice guys finish last? Or, did it pay off to be a bully and a jerk? Herewith, the 2018 Civility Awards.
Winners who showed us their better angels
►The House of Representatives:.The House flip from Republican to Democratic control is the most powerful rebuke of this president’s campaign of fear and division, and the one with the greatest consequences for the remainder of his term. An Associated Press survey found 38 percent said the reason for their House vote was because they disapproved of the president. Only 26 percent said they approved.
►Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker. One of a few prominent Republicans who distanced himself from the president (after all this is left-leaning Massachusetts), Baker won reelection in a landslide. He had exhorted voters to “keep it respectful,” and stuck to a message he said his state wanted to hear — one of “opportunity, possibility, and hope. Not noise. Not name-calling. And not finger-pointing.”
►Vermont Gov. Phil Scott. Scott, another Republican, is practically the poster child for civility. He issued a powerful statement in August called “Respectful Debate,” and declared often what he said back then: “I want to be very clear about this: I will not tolerate — and flat out reject — hateful, discriminatory and disrespectful speech of any type.” Like Baker, he won reelection by a huge margin.
►Democratic Rep.-elect Jason Crow of Colorado. GOP Rep. Mike Coffman unleashed a series of personal attack ads challenging military veteran Crow’s character. (“Crooks and con men, that’s who Jason Crow represents.”) Crow took the high road, promising to focus on “justice, fairness, and the rule of law under assault” in this country, keeping his message laser-focused on “what we have in common, not what divides us.” He easily ousted Coffman.
Losers who took their cues from Trump
►From the outset Stewart, a trade attorney, said he’d “be very aggressive and brutal and vicious” in his campaign against Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine. Using Twitter much like Trump, he posted incendiary memes — with phony images — allegedly depicting Kaine with Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin, working in Honduras “to promote his radical socialist ideology,” “even playing golf with Karl Marx.” Kaine won handily.
►Republican Scott Wagner, Pennsylvania governor. Wagner may best be remembered for his threat to Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf, “you better put a catcher’s mask in your face because I’m going to stomp all over your face with golf spikes.” Wagner lost as badly as Stewart.
►Republican Rep. Martha McSally, Arizona Senate. She regularly hurled insults at Democratic Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, claiming that while she served in the military, Sinema was “protesting in a pink tutu and denigrating our service” (which Politifact rated “mostly false.”) McSally also alleged her opponent claimed that “it’s OK to commit treason.” If McSally prevails in the neck-and-neck race, she’ll have won by losing the high road.
The president ruminated this week that he wished he’d had “a much softer tone.” But any hope that a kinder and gentler Trump might emerge in the wake of the midterms was dashed immediately by his day-after press conference, at which he trashedjournalists and fellow Republicans who had lost.
Thanks to us, nasty beats civility again.