Matt Bevin is the villain who gets caught at the beginning of the action movie. He’s the flunky, then henchman, the guy whose demise serves a plot device. He is the assistant bogeyman at best, the loudmouth whom ultimately proves disposable. We don’t know yet what will happen at the end.
That the outspoken and brusque Kentucky governor lost his seat in a narrow defeat to state attorney general Andy Beshear on Election Night is an unabashed good thing. This is the guy who, two years ago, more closely echoed Donald Trump’s remarks on Charlottesville than perhaps any public official and likened the moving of Confederate monuments to the actions of genocidal dictators like Hitler. The president who judged his race as a bellwether for his own popularity even called him a pain before the election. “If you lose, it sends a really bad message,” he told Republicans at a pro-Bevin rally on Monday night. “You can’t let that happen to me.”
Like the GOP and its television network, Fox News, Donald Trump tried to pretend as if Bevin’s loss bore good tidings for the party and for Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell, who faces a contentious re-election race against Democratic challenger Amy McGrath next year. But like most everything, Trump may also be wrong about the result being bad for him. It probably doesn’t mean much of anything for 2020. Nor do many of the other positive results nationwide for Democrats.
As long as the president still has his cult of personality and is still selling white supremacy, and as long as domestic disenfranchisement is pairing with foreign election interference to silence American voters whom Republicans don’t like, Trump stands a great chance of being re-elected.
Bevin, like many feckless henchmen, lost his job due to his own incompetence. He stubbornly refused to let Kentuckians in on the Medicaid expansion. He signed an unpopular teacher pension law. He meddled with Kentucky’s popular and highly successful health insurance exchange. And he made a host of knuckleheaded mistakes while campaigning. But by combining Trump’s endorsement with a parroted brand of the president’s bigotry in a red state, Bevin came close to winning anyway. Viewed through the lens of 2020, that’s terrifying.
If we look past Trump for one minute, we can see some truly substantive victories for the left on Tuesday night.
The pro-choice Beshear — who, in replacing Bevin, is succeeding his father Steve as Kentucky governor — has vowed to immediately restore the voting rights of 140,000 residents convicted of nonviolent felonies — one of every four black people in the state. Speaking of which, thanks to Florida’s Amendment 4, many citizens returning from incarceration voted in the state for the first time in years, or ever. There are now six state attorneys general who are African American. And seeing progressives sweep four key commonwealth attorney contests in Virginia — in large part because a racial gerrymander is now gone — may have flown under the radar when liberals celebrated a Democratic takeover of its legislature, but promises like Jim Hingeley’s to bring reforms “in the face of mass incarceration” shouldn’t go unnoticed when we’re looking for more progressives in prosecutor roles.
Those are progressive achievements worth recognizing and honoring, but they’re not reasons for the media to predict Trump’s demise. Even more perilously, they’re certainly not reason for the left to engage in self-congratulation or to get complacent about the task ahead. Trump’s presidency is an ongoing national emergency, and it should be treated as such until both the candidate and what he stands for are firmly defeated (and he is removed, physically and otherwise, from office).
Action films are more predictable than elections. It seems premature to consider Bevin’s political demise to have much bearing on what will happen at the end to the archvillain. Still, if there are warning signs for anyone, they are not so much for Trump, but for Democrats. There is the danger of self-congratulation at a moment like this, the temptation to think that they have cracked some kind of code. If anything, they should take heed from Bevin’s apparently quixotic struggle to overturn Beshear’s victory.
Kentucky’s Republican Senate president, Robert Stivers, now claims that the legislature should decide the race. And Bevin himself is now asking the state to check the voting machines and absentee ballots after telling his supporters about unspecified election “irregularities.” If Trump were to lose next November, that will likely be more predictive of what we’ll see from the president than any of the tea leaves that folks are reading about this election and what it means for 2020.