Voters Display a Preference for Sanity

For the 2022 midterm elections virtually everyone was convinced that the country was in for a red wave. The only question was how big it would be. In the event while the vote counting is still continuing on at its glacial pace some things have become clear and some potentially powerful story lines are being developed that are almost devoid of empirical evidence.   

First, what is clear is that the Republicans lost, and lost badly. They missed the opportunity to gain control of the Senate; in fact on balance, they actually lost one Senate seat. That assumes that Warnock (D, GA) is re-elected on December 6 when he faces challenger Herschel Walker in a run-off brought about because neither crossed the 50% threshold on November 8. If the Republicans  capture the House, it will only be by the barest of majorities. 

This in spite of the fact that inflation, the economy in general, crime, parental rights and chaos on the Southern border were themes that (according to polls) were uppermost in the minds of voters. These are natural Republican issues that Republican candidates emphasized relentlessly. And they still lost. 

It seems clear, assuming that the polling was even close to accurate, that the public thought that Republicans were the better party for dealing with inflation, crime, the economy and the Southern border. But they lost, and lost badly anyway. What explains why the public’s major concerns were the ones where the Republicans had a clear advantage, and still explains why the Republicans lost so badly? 

Candidate quality. 

In its primaries the Republican Party nominated lots of cranks who lost winnable races. Consider that conventional, i.e., non-Trumpian Republican incumbent Governors, won easily in Florida, New Hampshire, Georgia, Texas and Ohio.  But except for Ohio, Trump selected Senatorial candidates went down to defeat, and even in Ohio the Republican Governor (DeWine) outperformed Trump endorsed Senatorial candidate J.D. Vance by around 15 points. Not only that, in Michigan, Arizona and Nevada, Republican election deniers went down to defeat. And that leaves out Pennsylvania where Trumpkin Mastriano got crushed in the gubernatorial race and dragged the Senate race down with him. 

Second, the story line that is quickly becoming the conventional wisdom is that the Democrats performed so well because they relentlessly focused on abortion rights in the wake of the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision overturning Roe v. Wade. That argument has a certain surface plausibility, so it’s worth taking a look at the data we have so far to evaluate it. 

In electoral terms it is simply a fact that pro-life Republican Governors easily won their races when pitted against pro-choice Democratic rivals in Republican leaning states. Certainly this was the case in Georgia, Texas, Ohio and New Hampshire to name 4 states. But that result did not obtain with Trump backed Senatorial candidates.

In addition, the claim is made that young people, especially young women, turned out to vote in record numbers to support abortion rights in the wake of the Dobbs decision. The problem is that this theory doesn’t stand up to scrutiny very well. For one thing, it assumes that the electorate in 2022 was substantially different from the pre-Dobbs electorate of 2018. 

But if exit polls are to be believed, the electorate didn’t change very much between 2018 and 2022, especially with respect to women and young people.  According to CNN’s exit polls, women made up about half the electorate both in 2018 and 2022. However, in 2022 the Democrats’ advantage among women actually shrank from 19 points to 8 points. Similarly the Democratic advantage among 18 to 29 year olds shrank 10 points from a 38 point advantage to a 28 point advantage from 4 years ago. The Democratic advantage among 30 to 44 year olds shrank as well, going from 19 points to 4 points. 

Meanwhile Republicans won over white women by 8 points compared to breaking even 4 years ago. Democrats also lost ground with every other racial / ethnic demographic group. So what explains how the Republicans could pick up relative support among all these groups and still lose so badly?

First, the electorate in 2022 wasn’t all that different from the electorate in 2018. The pre-pandemic 2018 electorate cost the Republicans about 40 seats. That result clearly reflected dissatisfaction with Trump’s performance, and perhaps a large dollop of buyer’s regret.  The evidence indicates that the same people showed up in 2022 as in 2018 and voted against Trump inspired candidates. Again.

In 2020 while Trump lost the Presidency the Republicans actually picked up 14 House seats. That was a straightforward repudiation of Trump—but not necessarily Republican policy, such as it was. So the same electorate that displayed little use for Trump in 2018 and 2020 showed up again in 2022 and emphasized the original message.  And keep in mind that it was the Republican Trump acolytes who lost in 2022. Republican Governors who defied Trump won their races—and by large margins. 

Second, it is arguably the case that exit polls reflect voter attitudes toward generic categories, in this case Republicans vs. Democrats. Clearly the public showed exasperation with progressive policies with respect to crime, inflation, the economy and the Southern border. Moreover exit polls indicated that, par for the course, both Republicans and Democrats blame each other for any threats to Democracy. 

It is therefore reasonable to conclude that while the voting public thinks that generic Republicans are more likely to deal with their most important policy concerns, they simply do not trust plenty  of the actual Republicans who captured their party’s nominations in the primaries. It is well to remember here that there is a world of difference between primary and general election voters. 

It stands to reason therefore that there is a large gulf between Republican primary voters and the general voting public. At the heart of the gulf is, naturally, Donald J Trump. It is clear that the public has had enough of his narcissism. And it is also clear that he is simply incapable of winning another election. While his brand of politics—incoherent as it is—improbably squeaked through in 2016 against one of the most despised women in America, it rode to defeat in 2018, 2020, 2021 and now 2022. 

It now appears that Trump is on his way to being shown the door by Republican elites. (Yes, I know we have been here before). But this time there are credible challengers to Trump’s power, and most Republican Party leaders know it. It is up to them to do what they can to avoid a repetition of Trump’s march down the escalator leading to the hostile take-over of the Republican Party.  It won’t be easy but they should work hard to put the Party of Lincoln back on the road to sanity. 

JFB

The Red Wave that Wasn’t

Republicans have no one to blame but themselves. In what should have been an easy rout of the opposition, Republicans are barely hanging on. The reason why is clear: Republican candidates lost eminently winnable races because they insisted on nominating delusional candidates joined at the hip to the most delusional of all—Donald J. Trump. 

Make no mistake, this was not the Republican establishment, whatever that is these days.  This was the handiwork of the rank and file who voted in the primaries for a bunch of crackpots with little understanding of how government works or is supposed to work.

There is no lack of evidence the Republicans got creamed because the rank and file recklessly chose candidates who were clearly unfit for office. Which is not to imply that the Democratic candidates were all that fit; they had plenty of clunkers too. 

Take Pennsylvania, for instance. 

The Republicans in Pennsylvania nominated a crackpot for Governor who insisted that the 2020 Presidential election was stolen. For the Senate seat being vacated by Republican Pat Toomey, they nominated a Trumpy celebrity TV doctor, Mehmet Oz, whose speciality was hawking quack cures on his TV show. 

Despite a soaring crime rate in Philadelphia, the highest inflation rate in 40 years and chaos on the Southern border, both Republicans lost. And they lost because of poor candidate quality. Josh Shapiro, a relatively moderate Democrat, trounced Doug Mastriano, a full fledged Trump acolyte, by about 13 percentage points. 

In the process of losing the Pennsylvania gubernatorial race, the Republicans managed to lose the Senate contest to a far-left Bernie Sanders type candidate. The winner, Lt Governor John Fetterman, had recently suffered a stroke and was sufficiently damaged that he could barely string words into a sentence when not haltingly reading from a script. No matter, Dr. Oz, a political neophyte endorsed by Trump, went down to defeat by about 2 points, with an assist from Mastriano’s rout. 

Or take Arizona. Kari Lake a TV news anchor ran as a Republican and aggressively asserted that the 2020 election was stolen, and that Trump was the legitimate winner. With her experience as a TV news anchor she was polished in front of the cameras, and a favorite in late polls. 

But she lost. As did her less polished fellow Republican neophyte and ticket mate Blake Masters. He began slithering away from his anti-abortion position by attempting a surreptitious change on his website after the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision. He also denied that Trump lost the 2020 presidential race, apparently a prerequisite for new Republican nominees. In the event, he too went down to defeat. 

Compare the wipeout of the Trump backed high profile candidates with other conventional Republicans. In Georgia Brian Kemp, the incumbent Republican who stood up to Trump’s stolen election nonsense, easily beat Stacey Abrams who denied that she lost her 2018 race against Kemp. That said, his win (by about 7 points) may not be enough to drag Trump acolyte Herschel Walker over the finish line. 

Then consider Ohio. The Republican incumbent, governor Mike DeWine who avoided Trump like the plague, is mopping up the floor with his Democratic rival Nan Whaley. When it’s over, he will have won by over 30 percentage points. That was probably enough to drag the Trump backed author, J.D. Vance, over the finish line. 

Now let’s consider New Hampshire. The incumbent Democratic Senator Maggie Hassan was generally considered to be one of the weakest Democratic Senatorial candidates, and a top target of the Republicans. Until the primary that is. In the primary Trump backed retired General Don Bolduc secured the nomination and then proceeded to lose the Senate race in the general election by about 10 points. On the other hand the Republican incumbent Governor Chris Sununu, no friend of Trump’s, is handily winning his race by about 10 points.  

It should also be noted that the Trump candidates received virtually no financial support from the former president even though he raised a boatload of money for his MAGA PAC. Mitch McConnell had to pony up the dough from his Senate Leadership PAC to keep them in the game. 

In the end the midterm elections produced one very big loser and one big winner. The very big loser is none other than Donald J. Trump. His candidates were a drag on the party even though conditions for the opposition could not have been better. 

Americans are facing soaring inflation, a deteriorating economy, chaos on the border, increasing rates of violent crime, rising interest rates and trillion dollar deficits as far as the eye can see. And that’s not counting developing energy shortages, a presidential approval rate in the low 40s and a foreign policy devoid of articulated goals.

Still, the Republicans still managed to lose. It is reminiscent of the time in 1962 when Casey Stengel, the newly appointed manager of the NY Mets asked “Can’t anyone here play this game?”

The bright spot is that in addition to Trump’s being a big loser, there was a big winner named Ron DeSantis. He won his race for re-election as Florida’s Governor by a huge margin, somewhere in the neighborhood of 18 to 20 percentage points. That win is decisive enough to put him in a position to credibly challenge Trump for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination.  

So Republicans have a choice. They can continue to act like spoiled children having a collective temper tantrum in which case they will continue to lose. Or they can act like adults, recapture a sensible governing philosophy and stitch together a winning coalition that emphasizes the benefits of subsidiarity and free markets over central planning.  

The choice is theirs. Will they make the right one? We’ll have to wait and see.

JFB

The Hysterical Phase

We have entered the final, hysterical phase of the Midterms. During this phase the side that is about to get shellacked makes increasingly hysterical claims in a last desperate bid to stave off the inevitable. This year it’s the Democrats and the outlandish over-the-top claim is that if the Republicans were to win, Democracy would likely perish. 

In the hotly contested sweepstakes to utter the silliest thing possible we have two well known personalities that are neck-in-neck for the lead. They are historian Michael Beschloss and film maker Rob Reiner. Their comments are worth quoting in full because they are a  marvel of idiocy.

Here is Michael Beschloss, an academic historian, speaking to the faithful on the Chris Hayes show: 

“six nights from now, we could all be discussing violence all over this country,” and “we could be six days away from losing our rule of law, and losing a situation where we have elections that we all can rely on.  You know, those are the foundation stones of a democracy.” 

He continued with this gem: “if historians are allowed to write in this country … will say what was at stake tonight and this week was the fact — whether we will be a democracy in the future, whether our children will be arrested and conceivably killed. We are on the edge of a brutal authoritarian system, and it could be a week away.”

Film Director Rob Reiner went full crackpot in his comments on Joy Reid’s TV show “The ReidOut”. Here is what Reiner said:

“Because the other side reality does not mean anything. They are only interested in power. They are only interested, and they will do anything to get the power. And they are willing to kill, literally kill, to get the power. You can’t have a conversation with them. The only thing we can do is try to hold on to the House and a couple of Senate seats. It will be very hard. If we do not do that, this might be the last election we have in a democracy.”

Add to this the long list of Democratic leaders, among them Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, who risibly insist that Democracy-Is-On-The-Ballot. 

This sort of baloney is not just the idle musings of a few lunatics. It is part of a larger strategy. That strategy, as representative Madeleine Dean (D-PA) acknowledged in a conversation with political reporter John Heilemann is to “scare the crap out of [voters] and get them to come out.”

Let’s make sure to acknowledge that Democrats are not the only ones who do this. Republicans do it too. It’s just that this time it’s the Democrats who are going to get clobbered and consequently have resorted to an attempt to scare the party faithful into coming out to pull the lever for Democrats.

That said, it seems to be fairly obvious that the Democratic Party leadership is not so foolish that it actually believes its own rhetoric. After all, they have spent millions of dollars promoting a slew of MAGA friendly candidates in GOP primaries. If they really believed all this stuff about threats to Democracy then why would they have done this? Because they thought the MAGA candidates would be the easiest to beat in the general election. And now they are faced with the very real prospect of being hoisted on their own petard. 

And speaking of Democracy and lawlessness, why is it that returning the question of abortion regulation to the political branches (i.e., state legislatures) anti-democratic? And if Michael Beschloss is so concerned that “our children will be conceivably killed” then why is he such an abortion rights fanatic?

And if bodily autonomy is so highly valued, why is it that Democrats were all in on vaccine mandates, even when the evidence was crystal clear that vaccines do not affect COVID – 19 transmissibility?

We should also ask why it is that Democrats were so willing to void lockdown orders to accommodate BLM protests, but shut down religious services in church parking lots. And why Democratic Mayors and Governors insisted on keeping schools shut when the evidence was indisputable that threat of COVID-19 to children was virtually non-existent. Or why Joe Biden’s obviously unconstitutional student loan forgiveness plan should not be debated in a Congress where Democrats control both Houses. 

We should also ask how it is possible for Democrats to insist that women are discriminated against when they are incapable of recognizing what a woman is, without pace Ketanji Brown Jackson, being a biologist. Or how it is possible to be in favor of equality before the law, without fear or favor, and still be enthralled by affirmative action. 

The simple answer is that the progressive ideology that reigns supreme in the party does not recognize the primacy of, or give deference to individuals, voluntary action, the nuclear family or the Burkean little platoons of civil society. 

Instead, progressives are all about power and control. They recognize the supremacy of voting blocs, defer to subject matter experts who agree with them, and seek to rule through Command-and-Control using the iron fist of an unaccountable bureaucracy. 

Still, the fear mongers may be half right about one thing. There may be violence after election day. But that would be if Republicans win. It is possible—although anyone reasonable hopes not—that we will see rioting by “mostly peaceful protesters” in major cities. If so what we will hear from progressives is crickets.

JFB

The Midterms are Just About Here

Well here we are 4 days away from the Midterms and the insanity that typically comes with electioneering has, by now, reached its normal fever pitch, and hopefully its zenith. The pieties which are recited endlessly and with increasing fervor by the combatants tend to be the same baloney they serve up every election season. And while the contestants may have convinced themselves that they are uniquely on the side of truth and justice, they are serving up baloney nonetheless. 

Consider some typical offerings designed to rally voters. “This is the most important, consequential, (pick your adjective)  election in your lifetime.” Well, no it isn’t. On the Wednesday after election day despite the hysteria ginned up over the elections, the sun will still rise, the sky won’t fall and the day will look a lot like every other day. 

How about this one, a remark typically intoned by candidates who are resigned to their fate: “The only poll that matters is the one on election day.”  Of course that isn’t even close to being true. Leaving aside that election day has become election week,  it is undeniably true that politicians are polling addicts. Not only do they consult poll data when considering what position to take on a given issue; campaign strategy is also highly dependent on polling. 

What is particularly interesting about this election season is wide variability in polling results across different organizations. What remains to be seen is whether any polling organization has consistently produced more accurate forecasts when compared with actual outcomes. 

Georgia on My Mind

Which brings up the two major races in Georgia; the Governor’s race and the Senate race. Georgia’s contests are a mirror image of Pennsylvania’s. In Georgia’s Gubernatorial race the Republican seeking re-election is Brian Kemp. He is facing a rematch with Stacey Abrams whom he beat by 50,000 votes in 2018.  Governor Kemp earned the enmity of Donald J Trump for his refusal in 2020 to subvert Georgia’s election laws in favor of Trump.

Stacey Abrams, perhaps a precursor to Trump in 2020, refused to acknowledge her defeat in 2018. She accused Kemp of fraud, without evidence, as the NY Times likes to say. She acted pretty much like sore loser Trump acted when he refused to admit defeat in 2020. The best you can say about Abrams relative to Trump is that she didn’t set off any riots in Atlanta.  

That said, Abrams (like Trump) has taken to making wildly implausible claims. For instance, when she finally got around to acknowledging an inflation problem, she attributed it in part to too many women having children instead of aborting them. 

Abrams thus joins the Republican nominee for Governor of Pennsylvania in tin-foil hat territory. And like the Republican Pennsylvania nominee Doug Mastriano, she is solidly behind in the polls. (Those polls that supposedly don’t matter). She, like Mastriano is behind enough that she, like Mastriano may drag down the Party’s Senate nominee to defeat. 

Interestingly, the Republican Senate nominees, both in Pennsylvania and in Georgia, were pushed by Donald Trump. Both Republicans are deeply flawed candidates, and at least one (Hershel Walker) is obviously incompetent. The other (Dr. Oz) is a snake-oil salesman. 

The Georgia Republican candidates also share two other factors in common. The first is that they are both running against incompetent buffoons. The second is that the polling in both races indicates that the contests are very toss-ups. Since Georgia election laws require the victor to have 50% plus 1, and there are minor party candidates running,  it may require a run-off on December 6, 2022 to finally arrive at a result. 

Other Thoughts

There is a lot of talk about the possibility of a “wave” election with Republicans gaining a substantial majority in the House and maybe a 2 or 3 seat pickup in the Senate.  There are a couple of things to keep in mind though. The first is that the incumbent President’s party almost invariably loses House seats in the Midterms during his first term in office. Since the Democrats have only a tiny majority (220 vs 212 with 3 absent) normally it would be expected that they will lose the majority. It is the margin that matters. 

Second, in the 2020 presidential election the Republicans picked up 14 House seats. It is extremely unusual for a party to pick up House seats while losing a presidential election when the party is the incumbent in the White House. But that is what the Republicans did and it was clearly a personal repudiation of Donald Trump, not Republicans generally. 

But that leaves open the question of how to define a Republican “wave”. In two prior off-year wave elections (1994 and 2010) the Republicans picked up 54 and 63 seats respectively. The average off-year gain for the party out of power is around 28 – 30 seats. But since the Republicans picked up 14 seats in 2020, a gain of about 35 – 40 seats would probably constitute a wave and result in a gain in the Senate of as many as 4 or 5 seats.

There will be surprises. The Republicans are poised to pick up Gubernatorial seats, perhaps in unlikely places like Oregon, Minnesota and New York. Some Senate seats that looked to be safe suddenly look vulnerable, specifically Michale Bennet in Colorado and Patty Murray in Washington State. 

Regardless, a Republican wave, if it comes, should not be viewed as any kind of mandate. It should be seen as a rebuke to the Democrats, and most particularly, the progressives. It is not a vote for any kind of Republican governing philosophy because there isn’t one anywhere in sight. 

The public is sick and tired of woke politics. They are fed up with the disaster in the public schools, with rising violent crime in the cities, with too-high inflation, with chaos on the Southern border, with identity politics, with the obsession with transactivism and with cancel culture in general. Which ever party figures out how to deal with these issues will be well positioned for the 2024 Presidential race. 

Most importantly, family and friends are more important than your vote. In the grand scheme of things, politics is not all that important. That’s worth keeping in mind when the discussion gets heated. Or overheated. 

JFB