Rays of Hope

Obviously, the midterms were bitterly disappointing. I moderated a panel on the election yesterday at David Horowitz’s Restoration Weekend. I began by saying that in view of the midterm results, we had changed the title of the panel from “What Happened?” as shown in the agenda, to “What the Hell Happened?” Nevertheless, the Sun continues to rise and conservatives will continue to fight, so we may as well look for rays of hope. Here are a few.

Gridlock in Washington. Assuming Republicans narrowly take the House–which looks like a good bet on paper, although it will require some exceptions to the rule that Democrats always win when it takes a week to count the ballots–it will be a marked improvement. The Democrats’ likely increased edge in the Senate means little, while a Republican House, assuming its members stick together–another big assumption–can block most of the Democrats’ craziness for the next two years. A Republican House (assuming we get one), while falling short of what we expected, is a major step forward.

Republicans drew many more votes than Democrats. When the counting stops, there will be somewhere around 4 million to 5 million more votes cast for Republican candidates than for Democratic candidates. That fact is of course immaterial to the composition of the House and the Senate, but it is highly relevant to assessing the strength of the conservative movement and the salience of conservative issues.

Republicans won every age group over 30. Of course, we got clobbered among young people. But at least we know where we need to concentrate our efforts. In 2020, Democrats focused on enabling mail-in voting on account of covid. That worked well for them. But mostly overlooked was the fact that more or less shutting down the colleges and universities hampered the Democrats’ efforts in those venues. This year, they were back to their old tricks. They carried out massive voter registration drives among students and organized buses, often with pizza and sometimes with beer, to take them to the polls to vote Democrat.

Republicans made substantial gains with minorities. This year the GOP won around 40% of the Hispanic vote (with a lot of variation among geographies and specific demographic groups) and 13-14% of the black vote. Asians, another diverse group, are also moving toward the GOP, with around 40% voting Republican this year. Those numbers represent significant gains, but we still have a lot of upside.

The Democrats can’t get men to vote for them. The gender gap continues to favor Republicans, as the GOP won male voters by 14 points, while the Dems carried women by only 6 points. Now we need to get more men to vote.

The Democrats can’t rely on abortion forever. Can they? I think it is fair to say that Dobbs, while correct, cost Republicans the election. States where abortion initiatives were on the ballot went especially badly for the GOP; if there was an exception, I don’t know what it was. But the reality is that Democrats, not Republicans, hold extreme views on abortion. The official Democratic position stops barely short of infanticide, if it stops short at all. A simple rule like the one that generally prevails in Western Europe, or the Mississippi statute at issue in Dobbs, i.e. abortion on demand up to a specific point like 15 weeks, but difficult thereafter, would command broad support in all but the bluest or reddest states. Hopefully the issue will sort itself out, state by state, over the next couple of cycles and become secondary as it was pre-Dobbs.

Goodbye, Trump. Donald Trump is being widely blamed for blowing the midterms, not without reason. He backed weak candidates in Pennsylvania and Georgia. Dr. Oz never would have won the primary without Trump’s support, and I assume Herschel Walker, who ran far behind Governor Brian Kemp, whom Trump detests, will lose the Georgia runoff. Further, Trump’s inserting himself into the news during the last stage of the campaign played into the Democrats’ hands by enabling their absurd claim that the election was, somehow, all about Trump. If Power Line’s poll is any indication, and I think it is, only a small minority of activist Republicans want Trump to be the party’s nominee in 2024. I think his appeal will continue to fade as time goes by. Trump did his country, and to a lesser extent his party, a lot of good. But at this point he is a serious liability, and I am hopeful that the midterms decisively broke his grip on the GOP.

In my view, the strangest thing about the midterm election is how rigidly it preserved the status quo. At a time when something like 70% of voters say we are on the wrong track, and explosive issues like crime, the cost of living and illegal immigration are roiling the electorate, voters nevertheless turned out for incumbents. I believe only one incumbent, the Governor of Nevada, was defeated in a state-wide race.

Are voters really that attached to the status quo? Maybe, but I think the better explanation is that we continue to be a bitterly divided, 50/50 country. It is like trench warfare in World War I: party loyalty is so strong, and power so evenly divided, that even the worst inflation in decades, millions of illegal immigrants and spiraling crime can move the line only a yard or two.

So we conservatives should get over our disappointment and rededicate ourselves to the long struggle that is yet to come.

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