Understanding the midterm elections: ‘A cultural divide masquerading as a political divide’

Alex Castellanos and Eugene Robinson speak at a WSB panel, with Jonathan Swan as moderator, to analyze election results just two days after polls closed.

Glen Justice

Glen Justice is a content strategist and contributor ...

Despite the fierce debate over blue waves and red walls, one of the most interesting takeaways from last week’s election is the growing cultural divide in America’s rural and less-affluent quarters.

So said Alex Castellanos, a Republican political strategist and analyst at ABC News, and Eugene Robinson, a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist at The Washington Post and commentator for MSNBC, who spoke at a panel to analyze election results just two days after polls closed. The event was moderated by Jonathan Swan, a national political reporter for Axios.

“I don’t think the difference is about politics or issues,” Castellanos says. “We have a cultural divide masquerading as a political divide.”

The divide, he says, is best seen in white male voters living in rural parts of the country, who have seen opportunities decrease in recent years as major leaps in technology and an expanding global economy left many behind.

Many of these voters feel threatened and, with neither party addressing their needs, have come to distrust Washington as a source of solutions. “White men are in despair,” Castellanos says.

“Donald Trump speaks to those people,” he says. “The Democratic Party lost that vote. Those used to be blue-collar Democrats, but they stopped speaking to those people.”

Robinson agrees, saying the Democratic Party paid little attention to rural voters in recent years. “It gave up speaking to rural voters or even trying to understand them,” he says. “When people started challenging that, they were written off. There was an arrogance, like ‘you’re wrong.’ What you get from that is a lot of Republican voters.”

‘Trump is Transforming the Democratic Party’

Castellanos and Robinson spoke under the banner of WSB last week, after an election that saw Democrats win control of the U.S. House and Republicans increase their majority in the U.S. Senate.

The result is the demise of single-party rule in Washington for the next two years, until voters head to the polls again in 2020 to decide whether President Trump will get a second term and determine whether control of Congress will remain divided.

Voters will do so in a political landscape very much in transition. “Both parties are in a considerable amount of trouble in this country,” Castellanos says. “Ask anybody under 35 if they want to be a Republican and you don’t get a good answer. They have a 20-point gender gap.”

The president’s bombastic style is having a strong impact on his opposition, motivating young voters and women, Castellanos says. The House that gets seated in January will contain more than 100 women for the first time ever, most of them Democrats. “Trump is transforming the Democratic Party,” Castellanos says.

Castellanos adds that Trump's brand of politics is accelerating what he called the "long arc" of women fighting for independence and power in America, and he warns against underestimating its impact on the political landscape. Gender conflict, he says, "is the biggest force on the planet. It has driven evolution for years." 

At the same time, both agree that Democrats will need to keep developing new ideas, new voices and — perhaps most important — compelling candidates in order to mount a challenge to Trump and the Republican Party in 2020. As Robinson puts it, “There are a lot of people buried in that graveyard who underestimated Donald Trump.”

“This will be fascinating,” Robinson says. “Fasten your seatbelts."

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