It Could Have Been Worse

Just kidding. Out of the range of possible outcomes, what we saw last night was about as bad as it could be. The GOP’s failure to make progress stunned everyone, not least the Democrats.

What happened?

* Fantasy vs. Reality. It turns out that there are a great many voters who don’t care much about what traditionally have been considered decisive issues: inflation, crime, illegal immigration, lousy schools, etc. Many millions of Democrats, confronted with these facts, didn’t conclude that they should consider voting for someone else. Rather, they seem to have thought, My team is in trouble! All the more reason why I need to support my team. This was an election in which, to an extraordinary degree, issues were subordinated to party loyalty.

* Abortion. While Dobbs was plainly right as a matter of constitutional law, Justice Alito and his colleagues probably cost Republicans control of Congress. I thought the Democrats were wasting their money when they spent countless millions over the summer, pounding Republicans on abortion. The conventional wisdom, which I shared, was that the issue would likely help to drive turnout, but wouldn’t win over any undecided or middle of the road voters. But driving turnout was decisive: liberals trooped to the polls, while in many areas Republican turnout was not what it should have been.

* Donald Trump. I thought the Democrats’ endless yammering about “our democracy” and “fascism” was incredibly stupid, born of desperation, and would be ignored by voters. I was partly right: those themes were stupid, and they were born of desperation. But it turned out that they were not ineffective. To cite just one example, a young woman I know posted a photo of herself at the polls on Instagram, with the text, “I’m voting against fascism.”

Contrary to what you might assume, she isn’t an idiot. “Our democracy” and “fascism” were code for Donald Trump. At this point, Trump is a giant anvil around the neck of the Republican Party. In many areas, likely most, he is absolute poison. To be associated with Trump is to lose. Pretty much everything he has done in the last two years has been not just ill-advised but massively destructive to the Republican Party and to the United States. He has teased a “big announcement” in the next few days. I hope he announces that he is moving to Bulgaria.

An off-year election is normally a referendum on the president, which is why the out-party nearly always gains. When the Democrats tried to make this year’s election a referendum on Donald Trump, I thought they were crazy. Trump is not an office-holder, nor was he on the ballot. How could that possibly work? Well, it did work, and Trump, with his inimitable bad judgment, collaborated fully with the Democrats in putting himself front and center, with disastrous results.

The major exception to last night’s gloom was Florida, where Ron DeSantis and Marco Rubio both won crushing victories. Why was that? At least part of the explanation is that Florida was one state where the Democrats couldn’t pretend Trump was on the ballot. Ron DeSantis was on the ballot.

* Polls. We Republicans have gotten used to the idea that polls generally underpredict Republican performance. When liberal pollsters started reporting more favorable numbers for Republicans in the days leading up the election, it looked like the usual script was being followed. But this year, if anything the polls may have understated Democratic support, not Republican. What–to cite just one instance–happened to the 26-point swing among suburban women toward the GOP, which led Steve to dub this the “Desperate Housewives Election?” They were desperate, all right–desperate to vote in favor of abortion and against Donald Trump. But how could so many polls be so wrong?

I have no idea why this happened, but I know that it wasn’t just the major public polls that were off-target. I was privy to private poll data here in Minnesota, and it showed far greater support for Republican legislative candidates than actually turned out at the polls. Why? I don’t know. I speculate that a number of Trump voters who are not consistent voters and are lightly attached to the Republican Party didn’t show up. On the other hand, liberals who thought they were voting in favor of abortion and against Donald Trump turned out massively.

Trafalgar was one pollster that had a relatively good record in recent cycles, and Robert Cahaly, who runs Trafalgar, was convinced that his poll, which tried to sample hard-to-reach conservatives, understated Republican support. That turned out to be wrong. On Saturday, I am moderating a panel on the election at David Horowitz’s Restoration Weekend in Phoenix. Cahaly is a member of my panel, and I will ask him what he thinks happened. The answer should be interesting.

There is much more that could be said, but I will leave it there for now.

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