The biggest surprise of election night was not Donald Trump losing, but the failure of House and Senate Democrats to make any gains, the “blue wave” that wasn’t. And no one was a bigger loser than House Speaker Nancy Pelosi who returns to Washington with a reduced Democratic majority in the House of Representatives, a result absolutely no one saw coming.
When all the results are in Pelosi’s Democrats will see their House majority significantly cut, by perhaps as many as ten seats; and chances for Republicans to win back the House in 2022 greatly increased. How did this happen, especially since no one thought it possible? Answer: there was an “October surprise,” but it was too late to save Trump. Instead it savaged Pelosi.
The surprise was Joe Biden’s declaration that he would “phase out” the American oil industry in the last debate on October 22. Biden immediately realized he had made a big mistake, and tried to walk back his comments. The remark did not hurt Biden – Trump had already lost too many suburban voters for him to win re-election.
But it did hurt other Democrats, and nowhere was this more apparent than in the energy producing states where Democrats suffered unexpected congressional losses. Let’s start with Texas. Democrats and their allies spent upwards of $250 million to increase turnout and seize as many as half a dozen congressional districts in the Lone Star State. But in the end Democrats lost everything; they won not a targeted congressional district, lost the US Senate race, and Trump carried Texas by a much wider margin than predicted.
To see exactly what happened go to Zapata County, deep in the Rio Grande Valley. It is a tiny county, right on the Mexican border, and is 85 percent Latino in population. Not surprisingly, it had voted Democratic for president since 1924, until this year when Trump carried the overwhelmingly Latino county. How could this be, well, a lot of the Latinos in this part of Texas work in the oil industry.
Loose talk about “phasing out” oil might be just fine among the chardonnay and brie set in California, but in Zapata, Texas, you’re talking about my job. In the neighboring congressional district, 70 percent Latino, a Republican won in an unexpected upset. This pattern was replicated in other parts of the energy patch. In Oklahoma, Democrats lost their only congressional district; a strong Democratic candidate for Senate was swamped in Montana.
House Democrats were big losers in another way: Democrats spent some $50 million trying to turn GOP-led legislative bodies; a vital concern given that redistricting comes up next year. They lost in every case; they did not win back a single legislative body. With new House seats likely to shift to Texas and the Sunbelt states, the outlook for Democrats in 2022 is anything but positive. Texas could gain as many as three new congressional districts. With Republicans in charge of the governorship and both houses of the legislature, Democrats should not count on a favorable congressional map.
Pelosi will return as House Speaker in January but with significantly reduced numbers – we do not know the final House totals yet because of outstanding uncalled races, but it will be less than the number of Democrats there today. Democratic members also will be looking at unfavorable redistricting in many states. And the Senate will have at least 50, and probably more, Republicans. Already House Democrats are squabbling among themselves over how come the 2020 results turned out so bad.
Biden’s loose lipped “October surprise” could have cost him the presidency had Trump not already poisoned his own chances with his irrational conduct, especially in their first nationally televised debate. Amazingly, a lot of Americans voted for Trumpism without Trump, and that was very bad news for Nancy Pelosi.