Let’s begin with a biographical sketch, a very 21st-century American dream.
When David Hallquist was a child attending Catholic schools in Syracuse, New York, he always felt female. He knew he was “different,” but he couldn’t find a word for it. He hid his impulses and played men’s sports at school. He pursued a career in energy technology, got married, raised a family, and finally, in 2004, he began the long process of coming out. Six years later, he confided his secret side to his family. And in 2015, his son made a movie, entitled “Denial,” that publicly tracked his transition to who she is today, Christine Hallquist.
Then, at a women’s march in Montpelier, Vt. this past January, Hallquist had an epiphany. She later said, “One of the things the Me Too movement has been pushing is that we need to get involved in politics.” So she did. She filed as a candidate for governor of Vermont, and in the state’s Democratic primary, she became the first transgender woman in America to win a major party nomination.
Christine epitomizes the 2018 Democratic zeitgeist. On the cusp of the autumn general elections, grassroots Democrats have sharpened their message that diversity will make America great again. Despite the Trumpist Republicans’ relentless attempts to turn back the clock, the inexorable future awaits confirmation in November.
With virtually all the primaries completed, Democratic voters have made it abundantly clear that they want more women in elective office. At this point, 200 women — 155 of them Democrats — have won their House primaries in 2018. That’s a record, trumping all previous records. Viewed from another angle, 41 percent of all Democratic nominees — and 48 percent of all non-incumbents — are women. That too is a milestone. (Women are only 13 percent of the GOP’s nominees.)
This surge of women candidates, with heavy support from Democratic women voters, may be historic, but it’s not a huge surprise — given how fervently most women (with the probable exception of blue-collar white women) have come to detest Trump. If his goal this year was to talk and behave in ways designed to guarantee a female backlash against the party he purports to lead, he can probably chalk that up as one of his few tangible achievements.
Let’s scan the updated national map. Connecticut Democrats chose, as one of their House candidates, a black woman — the first to carry the party banner in a Connecticut congressional race. Minnesota Democrats chose, as one of their House candidates, a Somali-American woman — who’s likely to join a Muslim woman from Michigan in the next Congress.
In addition, a lesbian recently won the Democratic gubernatorial nomination in Texas, a bisexual woman — the sitting governor of Oregon — recently won her Democratic primary, and a black woman recently won the Democratic gubernatorial nomination in Georgia.
Gender news aside, Democratic Party leaders are pinning their hopes on one particular midwestern male. In Speaker Paul Ryan’s Wisconsin district, ironworker and union activist Randy “Ironstache” Bryce defeated a female for the right to contest the Ryan-endorsed Republican, businessman Bryan Steil. Bryce has been buoyed by a sizable war chest, an endorsement from Bernie Sanders and a grassroots Democratic hunger to occupy the seat held by one of Trump’s most spineless enablers. It’s not an impossible quest, considering Barack Obama won the district’s presidential balloting by one point in 2008.
If Bryce can pull off a win in November, despite some personal baggage (arrests for driving under the influence, late payments for child support), it would truly signal that a blue wave was cresting.
And a working-stiff white guy nicknamed “Ironstache,” joining the swelling ranks of women, would be another victory for Democratic diversity.
Jennifer Rubin, the center-right columnist, took it even further, declaring that a “demographically diverse repudiation of Trump up and down the ballot will have obvious consequences for the remainder of his term. It may also be the final opportunity for Republicans to get off the sinking ship, push Trump aside and try to regain their sanity.”
I wince at her confident certitude, but those are indeed the stakes in November.
Dick Polman is the national political columnist at WHYY in Philadelphia and a “Writer in Residence” at the University of Pennsylvania. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.