The Midterms

The dust has mostly settled. In just about two weeks this election will come to it’s end, with the Georgia runoff. We already know enough to write it’s obituary.

Bill Clinton lost over 40 seats in his first midterm, Barack Obama lost over 60. Joe Biden will gain a Senate seat with a win in Georgia, and lose less than 10 House seats, all told. He will do this despite spending the better part of 15 months with an approval between 35% and the low-40’s. He will do so while having a historically good legislative term, and while making history with the selection of his running mate and first Supreme Court pick. Joe Biden’s two years in office have been a rousing political success, in spite of the economy, crime, a few moderate Senators, Covid, and the ghost of Donald Trump hovering over Washington.

It’s important to be clear though, the midterm was not a victory for Democrats. Republicans won the House popular vote (a better indicator than the Senate, because it is nationwide). Republicans also took the House, giving the Speaker’s gavel, committee chairmanships, and subpoena power to them. Given how utterly unstable they are normally, it’s easy to worry that they’ll spend all their time on Quixotic investigations and fail to do things like appropriate funds and raise the debt ceiling. Not everything went well. Even in the Senate, the Democrats really could have used another win or two, both to deal with the filibuster and to survive the 2024 cycle where there are few to no pick up opportunities. Worse yet, the midterm confirmed the fall of Florida, Ohio, and Iowa as swing states, and again showed Texas isn’t that close to being on the board.

Even so, Democrats should probably take all of the bad news I just packed into that last paragraph and smile- it wasn’t that bad. Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Minnesota all look damn close to unwinnable for the GOP. Democrats won basically all the competitive Arizona statewide races, while they swept the competitive Congressional races and the Senate race in Nevada, all in a bad cycle. I suppose right now you could believe a Republican (non-Trump) could flip back Georgia in 2024, but it’s not clear they can get there. The swing state map narrowed significantly for the GOP, and the successes they achieved in some of them (Wisconsin and North Carolina) are undercut by other results in the state. Setting aside Senate and Presidential politics for a moment, even their House majority is puny and pathetic. It may be smaller than the one the Democrats had going into this election, and more of their seats are in seats President Biden won easily. In other words, Kevin McCarthy better enjoy his two year rental.

To listen to a lot of folks on the interwebs, this was about young voters and the Dobbs decision. There’s some major problems with that narrative though. First, while young voters did vote solidly blue, they made up just 12% of the electorate, and was still only at 27% turnout. Those are improved numbers, but most of the people crowing about “Gen Z saving us” are people for whom that narrative is central to their political existence. These were good numbers, but not the game changers some would say.

What about the Dobbs decision and the role of women in saving Democrats? If you had asked me last Spring how this election would go, I would have told you it was a Democratic disaster. Then Dobbs happened, and well, here we are. The act of ripping rights away from women by unelected judges cost the GOP their landslide, full stop. Did it win the election for Democrats though? My answer is no. First off, Democrats didn’t win. Worse yet, they underperformed and lost seats in some of the most blue states in the country. If Dobbs were driving the bus alone in this midterm, it certainly would have in the most base Democratic states, like New York and California. It also would not have caused a small jump in the final results for Democrats that wasn’t visible in the (good) polls, six months after the decision. So what happened?

Notice that the few Republican moderates on the ballot didn’t really suffer. Extremists like Dr. Oz, Doug Mastriano, Tudor Dixon, Kari Lake, Lauren Boebert, and other Q Nuts/MAGA GOP candidates lost and underperformed. Did Dobbs hurt them? Yes. But it didn’t cost the Brian Kemp, Tom Kean, or Joe Lombardo type of Republicans- elected office holders who had a reputation as at least semi-normal people. Dobbs was a key ingredient in a narrative that killed GOP candidates perceived as extreme. Voters were done with crazy. Talk of abortion bans, criminalizing women, and banning contraception fit rather nicely with election denial, extreme gun positions, and ending Social Security and Medicare. Too nuts was in fact too nuts. Sarah Palin won’t be a member of the U.S. House next year, but her state will end up sending Lisa Murkowski back to the Senate. Very specific Republicans paid a price- the type that howl at the moon.

In short, the Trump GOP finally jumped the shark this year, and it cost them dearly. Some are hypothesizing that it’s Trump’s fault and he’s dead in the GOP. I think they’ll end up being wrong, in part because it wasn’t core Republicans that jumped ship on him. More importantly it’s worth noting some of these lunatics pre-date him. In short, he’s a symptom, not their disease. I’m betting they still won’t treat the disease.

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