thread by John Hayward
It’s one of the strangest elections on the books, as witness the shock among so many on the Democrat side that they did so well. They somehow managed to defy political gravity, despite the worst “wrong track” numbers in memory. Probably no single explanation, but a few factors
To get the most obvious out of the way, a lot of people are yelling “fraud.” Some hinky stuff happened, and apparently we’ll have to put up with that forever, because the electorate does not insist on clean, efficient elections even after states like Florida prove it’s possible. Fraud doesn’t explain nationwide results, though.
Better to consider that Dems took advantage of the pandemic to loosen voter rules to an absolutely insane degree, and they are absolute masters at harvesting what we might politely refer to as the “indifferent” voter. What’s the point of talking about “momentum,” late-breaking events, or even how candidates perform at debates when a huge chunk of the vote is banked by mail before the debates even happen? Robotic party-line voters and harvesting matter more than campaign skill.
Second, candidate quality matters – and it matters a LOT more for the party that doesn’t have a massive ballot-harvesting machine humming away to scoop up indifferent voters early. This was painfully illustrated in Pennsylvania, the true bellwether race of this election. Many GOP candidates did well in tough areas, but they just couldn’t close the deal. That has a lot to do with candidate quality – think of the old maxim that you only get one chance to make a first impression. That’s even more important in an era of absurdly loose early voting.
If scads of mail-in votes are harvested before there are even debates, then the “campaign” doesn’t matter as much. You can run a tight campaign, make all the right moves while your opponent implodes, and still come up short because you got off on the wrong foot. That’s an environment that obviously favors incumbents, who already got elected and have huge bankrolls of money and power, over challengers who have to introduce themselves – and it really cuts against “outsider” challengers without political resumes or establishment support.
The only real red tsunami of the midterm election, in Florida, featured incumbent Republicans with very solid resumes and excellent political machines. DeSantis shook the pillars of heaven in a state he originally won by a squeaker against a drug-addled train wreck Dem.
Third, and related: money matters, a lot.
You didn’t hear any media bellyaching about money in politics this time around because Democrats had oceans of it. We laugh at proven-loser Dems like Abrams and Beto who wasted millions, but believe me, Dems had plenty to waste. Money always matters in politics – it might not overwhelm everything else, we love stories of the underfunded David taking out establishment Goliath, but it’s a huge factor. It lets you blast your message to voters – and Dems get BILLIONS of in-kind donations from their media.
Dems also have VERY powerful political machines in the cities they control, which churn out votes like a factory punching out widgets. Some of those machines are a century old and more. It takes money, time, and skill to build operations that can fight back.
Fourth, movement and polarization are a real factor – an opportunity in some ways for the GOP, a problem in others. It’s striking how closely Zeldin’s heartbreaking loss in NY tracks with the number of people who fled the Dem train wreck in NY. Votes have been cast with feet. People are moving around, between states and to the suburbs. It’s not really a new phenomenon – think back to the “white flight” debate of decades past.
Badly governed jurisdictions tend to get worse as reasonable people flee. Failure doubles down, again and again. The GOP’s best bet is to reach people in death-spiral blue areas with the message that they CAN do better, things CAN change, but it’s not easy. It’s only possible if you’re running candidates who convince those voters they can govern well, with a nationwide election narrative.
Didn’t really see much of a national election narrative from the GOP this time around. The Dems definitely had one, with abortion panic and Biden’s Mussolini speeches. They made a desperately play to shore up their base, and it worked extremely well. Now for a couple of things that may not be easy to hear.
One: the pandemic changed this country for the long term, and not at all in a good way. A certain despair has settled in, a sense that things can’t be any better, and we really don’t DESERVE better. It’s sunk in deep. That’s one reason Dems defied those wrong-track, mad-as-hell numbers that had so many Dem analysts nervous yesterday morning. Sure, 70% or 85% or whatever say wrong track – but what does that mean, if so many buy lefty spin that it can’t get better, that we DESERVE decline?
The pandemic brought a deep and enduring shift toward the desire for government-provided “security” at all costs, in numerous issues. It dovetails with mail-in voting, which is perfect for reaching the “laptop class” that arose during lockdowns, valuing handouts over opportunity. This happened at a time when the Left’s control of institutional power became near-absolute.
With the capture of large corporations, they gained control of every large institution that influences the attitudes of young and suburban voters. The pandemic magnified that influence. Look at how successful the Dems’ despicable strategy of boosting the very GOP candidates they screamed were a threat to Democracy Itself was. They won every single race they used that tactic in, didn’t they? That stuff only works if you have overwhelming institutional control.
Likewise with abortion, which was fascinatingly under-polled going into the election. Poll after poll said voters were far more concerned about inflation, crime, etc. And yet on election night, we got all these exit polls saying it effectively erased the economy as an issue.
That’s raw institutional power at work, wielded over the course of generations. Mail-in ballots cast at the height of post-Dodd pushback were a big reason polls from the fall that showed abortion receding as an issue were wrong. The pro-abortion reflex ran deep in some quarters.
It’s true that the electorate writ large doesn’t like either extreme on abortion, but eliminating abortion was more clearly on the ballot this time around, so the vote against it mobilized. I said at the time pro-lifers should give voters more time to adjust to the new reality.
Vast fortresses of institutional power are defeated with patient strategy and persistence – siege warfare, not all-or-nothing cavalry charges. GOP needs to get better at changing the electorate – yes, social engineering! Dems do it all day, every day, without mercy or hesitation.
Last bit: look, I know saying a word about Trump or Trump vs. DeSantis is going to unleash a flood of strong responses. Nobody’s position on that hot-button issue will change because of a Tweet. I thought last night’s results wrote a message in the sky with letters of fire. YMMV.
The sum of everything we saw last night argues for smart strategy, a proven record of accomplishments, wisely choosing battles that matter and making careful investments of political capital. Wavering voters and nervous folks like visionaries who also demonstrate competence.
You just can’t get around the fact that Dems put Trump on the ballot with all their caterwauling about Jan 6 and DEMOCRACY IN PERIL, and ran very well against him. He’s got major negatives that aren’t going away. You may think that’s unfair, but it’s true.
Trump has baggage from the pandemic that turns off people who might otherwise vote red. He sat on a pile of money that could have helped in the midterms. He splits up the GOP while Dems grow ever more horrifyingly united under totalitarian ideology.
Trump certainly does have strengths, which his ardent detractors underestimate, and his admin did better on many key issues pre-pandemic than even he can articulate. But the pandemic DID happen. 2020 happened. Last night showed Dems will win if we never leave 2020 behind.
Want to know how Dems won PA with a guy who has serious brain damage? Same way they put a senile disaster in the White House and then weathered the midterms. Party power, institutional control, ideological unity, a machine that spits out votes even if the candidate is a turnip.
You can’t beat that without a strong and unified opposition party. You don’t want to get that unity the way Dems do it, of course, but you need a team that can play all the way into overtime. Pick fights that matter and send in players who can win, led by a good coach. /end