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Bipartisan IOP Panel Assesses Impact of Midterms on American Politics

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The Harvard Kennedy School, pictured in December 2017.
Conservative and liberal pundits took to the stage at the Institute of Politics’ John F. Kennedy Jr. Forum Thursday night to participate in a lively panel discussion of last week’s national midterm elections.

The “Post Midterms: Looking Ahead” panel featured high-profile political figures, including Michael Glassner, executive director for President Donald J. Trump’s re-election campaign; Beth Myers, former presidential campaign manager to Mitt Romney; and Stephanie Schriock, president of feminist political action committee EMILY’s List.

IOP Residential Fellow Amy K. Dacey, former CEO of the Democratic National Committee, also contributed to the panel. Maria Teresa Kumar, founding president of Voto Latino, joined in a Skype call. The event was moderated by ABC News Political Director Rick Klein.

The panelists advanced dueling analyses of the recent election cycle, in which Republicans extended their majority in the Senate and Democrats won the House of Representatives, along with key gubernatorial seats.

On the Republican side, Glassner downplayed Democratic gains in the House, placing the midterms within a broader political and historical context.

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“The number of seats lost by a party that controls the executive branch was more or less in line with what has happened historically,” he said.

In contrast, Dacey argued that Democrats did not expect to win the Senate, but that the House victory marked a significant change in the political landscape surrounding the Trump administration. She also emphasized the impact Democratic political success will have on the state level, fundamentally altering the electoral map for the 2020 presidential election.

“One of the untold stories too is all of the significant chambers we were able to flip in the state legislatures,” Dacey said. “That will have a significant impact on building a national campaign.”

“I don’t underestimate how difficult it will be to run against Donald Trump, but I think these victories and winning in some of these places will have an impact on the map in 2020. It’s a different map,” she added.

Fellow Democrat Teresa Kumar cited high voter turnout as predictive of future Democratic success, especially among young voters. She expects to see similarly high turnout in 2020.

“One in six voters...were first time voters,” she said. “This was the highest midterm participation in over a hundred years.”

Republicans, on the other hand, rejected the idea that Democrats’ gains in the midterms were a barometer for the 2020 election, pointing to notable differences between midterm and presidential elections.

“The Trump phenomenon in 2016, I think, was due to Trump himself being on the ticket, which wasn’t the case this time,” Glassner said.

“Midterm elections are much more about tactics,” Myers said. “Presidential elections are all about storytelling… [Trump] knows how to deliver a message. He knows how to tell a story, and he will, by the way, use the Democrat House as his foil.”

Though Myers is Republican, she said her party has a problem when it comes to women.

“We have to figure out a way to tell every woman — white, brown, black, young, old — that they have a place in the Republican party,” she said. “I think that is a place that perhaps the Trump administration has not done as well as they could have done.”

Democrats on the panel said they were heartened by their party’s embrace of female candidates. Schriock, who arrived late, said she believes the first female president will be elected within her lifetime. “I don’t know if it’s going to happen in 2020 or '24 or '28, but it is coming in our lifetimes, we’re going to see it,” she said.

Gabrielle Y. Schultz ’21 said she was impressed by the quality of the discussion.

“I really appreciated how civil they were when they were addressing each other,” she said. “I think it’s because they’re mature adults.”

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