The Knives Are Already Out
Hot takes from the Bulwark team.
The mood the morning after the Red Drizzle? Let’s check in with the Drudge Report:
Today will be a bonfire of extremely hot takes. And you’ve come to the right place.
Some quick takeaways from an unexpected election:
Both the polls and the Pundit Hive Mind may have overcorrected for their misses in 2016, 2018, and 2020. As my colleague Mona Charen says below, “Yes, some horrible candidates won, and a few more may yet succeed. But the red wave is looking more like a small toxic spill.”
Of course Trump will claim all sorts of victory, but he had a craptacular night. His candidates underperformed across the country and the GOP was reminded that he is an electoral boat anchor.
The brightest GOP star of the night was Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who turned Florida ruby red. So, agita at Mar-a-Lago, where the knives were out even before the votes were counted. Via the Wapo:
The former president spent the final days of the campaign lashing out and even threatening Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, whose apparent interest in running against Trump has puzzled him, according to advisers who spoke on the condition of anonymity to reflect private conversations. The Florida governor didn’t return fire, other than to hold his own campaign event on Saturday, competing with a Trump rally in Miami and further irking the former president.
Come election night, however, it was DeSantis holding the ebullient victory party, having won reelection in a 20-point landslide, almost 15 points better than Trump’s 2020 margin in their shared home state. At the party, DeSantis’s supporters chanted “Two more years!” — encouraging the governor to seek the presidency before finishing his second term.
But, as JVL notes, all of the wishful punditry about the end-of-Trump are . . . just that: wishful. Because “Heads Trump Wins, Tails Republicans Lose.”
Lauren Boebert might lose. (She still could pull it out, but it was sweet typing that sentence.)
The Trump Effect cost the GOP the Governor’s races in Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Maryland . . . and that’s just for starters. Arizona’s gubernatorial race is still too close to call.
We still don’t know. . . As Nate Cohn notes:
It could be days until a party is projected to win the House of Representatives.
It could be a month until we know the same for the Senate.
But we do know this: Yesterday was definitely not the election that MAGA expected. And, as you may have noticed, TrumpWorld does not deal with disappointment well. So expect a lot of Mid-Term Stop The Steal Denialism — especially in Arizona if the Empress of Trollistan falls short.
Speaking of denialism: lots of election deniers won yesterday. BUT . . . voters seemed to draw the line at electing them to key secretary of state positions, where they would have overseen elections.
Democracy may not be dead, after all.
The Dobbs decision mattered after all. A lot. And in Kentucky (!) voters rejected a pro-life constitutional amendment by a wide margin.
Liz Cheney had a pretty good night. She had endorsed both Elissa Slotkin in Michigan and Abigail Spanberger in Virginia — and both Democrats won close races.
You people were warned:
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The Bulwark’s Other Hot Takes:
A year ago, I commented that November 2020 had turned out to be Dunkirk, not D-Day. As with Dunkirk 80 years before, the pro-democracy forces had escaped a devastating defeat by denying Trump a second term.
But 2020 was, alas, by no means an overwhelming repudiation of Trumpism. Indeed, as the last two years have shown, election denialism and extremism and conspiratorialism have grown more not less dominant in the Republican Party.
The good news is that yesterday was a setback for those forces. If the election of 2020 was analogous to Dunkirk in 1940, that of 2022 was perhaps like the North African campaign of 1942, marked by the victory at El Alamein and the launching of Operation Torch exactly 80 years before election day 2022. North Africa was an important if not decisive victory, a boost to allied morale and a harbinger of successes to come.
Indeed, one might say that in certain respects the North African campaign laid the groundwork for D-Day two years further on. Which raises the question: If 2020 was Dunkirk, and 2022 is North Africa — will 2024 be D-Day? And what do we have to do over the next two years to make our domestic battle against authoritarianism a success?
The nightmare we dreaded was a red wave, crested with Trump-anointed lickspittles and morons. If that had materialized, the takeaway this morning would have been Trump’s unshakable dominance of the GOP, and the country would have marched, as if to the scaffold, to the Trump 2024 announcement.
That did not happen and the relief is overpowering.
Yes, some horrible candidates won, and a few more may yet succeed. But the red wave is looking more like a small toxic spill. The voters of Pennsylvania, Virginia, New Hampshire, and Michigan, among other places, apparently weighed more than inflation in their calculations, and that gives a fighting chance to those who hope to right this listing ship.
What happened last night was both ordinary and utterly amazing.
I’m not talking about the fact Democrats had surprising wins. It’s that Republicans appeared to have easily accepted their losses.
After two full years of enabling, indulging, and pandering to 2020 election conspiracy theorists, it appears that without Donald Trump on the ballot, Republicans will, by and large, concede their races when the votes don’t tally up in their favor. Although several key races remain too close to call, and nutty candidates like Kari Lake and Lauren Boebert, who are still waiting for results, could challenge their losses, that position is not the norm.
Take Michigan, for example. Michigan Republicans elected a hard-core trio of conspiracists to run for the top offices of the governor, secretary of state, and attorney general. Not only did incumbent Democrats Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, and Dana Nessel win, but Michigan Democrats also flipped the House and Senate from red to blue. And so far, so good! No insurrection in sight. (Fingers crossed.)
In Pennsylvania, radical 2020 election denialist Doug Mastriano lost. He hasn’t exactly conceded; he’s supposedly waiting for every vote to be counted. But, he had the sense enough not to stage a Trump-style speech in the middle of the night declaring false victory. That’s something.
I’m not trying to spin it too hard. Republicans aren’t out there giving tearful speeches and promising to reach out and help the other side work toward a better, brighter future. But the point is that without Trump revving up the big conspiracy machine, it doesn’t go brrrrrr.
On the Democratic side, Stacey Abrams conceded her election for Georgia governor to Republican Brian Kemp, which is a departure from the last time she lost to him.
Democratic Senate candidate Tim Ryan, who, while outperforming expectations and running one of the best Democratic campaigns in the country against MAGA candidate J.D. Vance, said it best in his concession speech. “I have the privilege to concede this race to J.D. Vance, because the way this country operates is that when you lose an election you concede and you respect the will of the people.”
Joe Biden’s approval rating is underwater. So is his favorable rating. In Tuesday’s network exit poll, only 30 percent of voters said they wanted him to run for re-election; two-thirds said they didn’t. Nearly half the electorate said Biden’s policies were hurting the country; only one in three voters said his policies were helping.
So why didn’t Democrats get wiped out? The answer, it seems, is that a lot of voters decided to focus on their local candidates and set aside their feelings about the president.
In the exit poll, 32 percent of respondents said they had cast their vote for the U.S. House to oppose Biden; only 19 percent said they had cast their vote to support him. Together, these two blocs made up about half the electorate, and among this half, Republican candidates came out ahead. But the rest of the electorate, 47 percent, said Biden wasn’t a factor in their vote for the House. And these voters went for Democratic candidates, 60 percent to 37 percent.
Biden’s job approval in the network exit poll was bad. Fifty-five percent of voters disapproved of his performance; only 44 percent approved. But a crucial chunk of the disapprovers — 10 percent of the overall electorate — disapproved of his performance only “somewhat,” not “strongly.” And these “somewhat” disapprovers voted narrowly for Democrats, 49 percent to 45 percent.
AP’s VoteCast, which measured the electorate in a different way from the exit poll, found similar results. Fifty-seven percent of voters disapproved of Biden’s job performance; only 43 percent approved. But while only 8 percent of the Biden approvers voted for Republicans, 15 percent of the Biden disapprovers voted for Democrats. In relative terms, when choosing House candidates, Biden disapprovers were twice as flexible as Biden approvers.
In the exit poll, 56 percent of voters viewed Biden unfavorably; only 41 percent viewed him favorably. But again, the anti-Biden voters were more flexible. While only 5 percent of respondents who viewed Biden favorably voted for Republicans, 14 percent of respondents who viewed him unfavorably voted for Democrats. If those numbers are correct, Democrats gained about 8 percent of the total electorate from Biden disapprovers, while Republicans gained only about 2 percent of the electorate from Biden approvers.
The bottom line is that while most voters were unhappy with Biden, a lot of the unhappy voters decided that their feelings about him were irrelevant or insufficient to overcome other considerations in their congressional races, and those considerations led them to vote for Democrats. Republicans hoped the midterms would be a straight-up referendum on the president. It didn’t turn out that way.
No matter how the final results of the midterm elections shake out, one thing we know for sure is that the “red wave” predicted by some to be a “red wedding” for Democrats hasn’t materialized. (Maybe, as per Ben Shapiro, it’s even a “red wedding” for Republicans, at least if you measure expectations vs. reality.)
Some election-night discussions among right-wing pundits have the same vibe as discussions of Russian losses in Ukraine on Kremlin propaganda TV.
From my perspective as a right-leaning, anti-MAGA centrist independent, this was, overall, a pretty good night. A lot of notable peddlers of the “stolen 2020 election” lie have lost or are struggling. That includes (if Kari Lake loses in Arizona) all the Republican gubernatorial candidates who refused to say that they would have certified Biden’s 2020 victory in their states. It also includes all the far-right Republicans who won primary races with Democratic help (which consisted, it should be noted, of running ads that attacked them as too radical but were intended to rouse the MAGA base to vote for them, so blame the MAGA voters, not the Machiavellian Democrats). National Review’s Michael Brendan Dougherty suggests this is a good night for normies, both R and D. Good. I like normies.
The Best of the Rest:
In the first national test of the political environment since an assault on the Capitol that upended assumptions about the peaceful transfer of power, a pandemic that unsettled society and a Supreme Court decision that took away a long-established Constitutional right to abortion, voters produced a stalemate — an outcome that for Democrats was tantamount to a victory.
They rebuked Mr. Biden with a light touch. Yet they also showed a limited appetite for the burn-down-the-house approach that Mr. Trump has spread throughout the Republican Party.
Many of the (plausible) outcomes predicted by top GOP officials didn’t materialize. There was no massive shift of the Hispanic vote toward the GOP. There was no surge of hidden Trump voters. There was no widespread takeover of deep blue House territory. There was no expansion of the Senate map into New Hampshire, Colorado and Washington, where incumbent Democrats cruised to reelection. The governor of New York won easily.
There was no red wave. . . .
THE ANCHOR — The list of explanations for GOP underperformance is long, but at the top is DONALD TRUMP.
He helped saddle the GOP with poor candidates, and he assisted the White House in its goal of turning the midterms into a choice between unpopular Biden and deeply unpopular Trump. Democrats lost blue-collar voters and gained white-collar voters in the Trump years. In some places, that has been a bad trade. But on Tuesday, it may have benefited Democrats, as their new anti-Trump supporters outperformed their former voters now on Team MAGA.
Republicans had hoped for a red wave. What they got looked more like purple rain…
Democrats always expected to lose seats in the House. That much still looked like a solid bet, after a few seats were redistricted out of Democratic control. What no one seemed to expect, however, was that Democrats could possibly restrain a GOP majority to just a few seats—or even potentially retain the majority themselves.