So What About Those Midterms, Huh?

I’m still digesting the midterm post-mortems. Item one: The polls. I understand the better quality polls were mostly accurate, or respectably close. Yet before the midterms we kept hearing that Democrats were just about facing extinction. Dana Milbank addressed this:

The headlines coming into Tuesday’s elections almost uniformly predicted a Democratic wipeout. … I was baffled. What were they seeing that I and, more important, the Democratic operatives I spoke to weren’t seeing? Back in mid-August, I wrote a column titled “Why that red wave might end up a ripple.” I noted that Democrats had pulled even on the “generic ballot” — which party voters prefer for Congress — at a time in the cycle when the incumbent president’s party is almost always losing ground. Democrats’ standing receded slightly since then, but the contests remained extremely tight. The races were stable, both in public polling and in the private polling I had seen.

So, one, the headline writers and a whole lot of pundits were snookered by the junk GOP polls in the closing weeks of the campaign. And of course they were looking to history and the fact that the President’s party nearly always loses big in the midterms. “They were also swayed by some reputable polling organizations that, burned by past failures to capture MAGA voters, overweighted their polls to account for that in ways that simply didn’t make sense. And reporters fell for Republican feints and misdirection, as Republican operatives successfully created an artificial sense of momentum by talking about how they were spending money in reliably blue areas,” Milbank wrote.

They might also have been thrown off by the betting markets, which were spectacularly wrong. Basically, groupthink and conventional wisdom were just certain that the Republicans would have a roaring success last Tuesday, and few people were thinking out of that box. Instead, we had Catherine Rampell of WaPo, who was far from the worst offender, scolding the Democrats for drowning in denial. I’m still looking forward to her next column.

Item Two: Regarding Donald Trump, today there are oceans of headlines calling Trump the “biggest loser” and blaming him for GOP losses. Jonathan Chait declared that the Republican elite are ready to move against Trump. And I don’t doubt that the Republican elite would really like Trump and his whole misbegotten family and hangers-on to disappear. At this point he’s only going to be in the way. But I agree with Josh Marshall on this one:

Moving away from Trump, though, will be a lot harder than it looks.

To state the obvious, Trump will not go quietly. In recently days he’s become increasingly bold and threatening toward DeSantis. This isn’t a matter of strength. He clearly feels threatened by DeSantis. And he should. He has announced what will likely be a campaign announcement for November 15th. He wants to make it explicitly clear before any more time goes by that any moves DeSantis makes toward the nomination are moves against Trump. Republicans have to choose sides.

I don’t discount the possibility that DeSantis could beat Trump for the 2024 nomination. I don’t think it’s likely. But I do think it’s very possible. But if DeSantis can beat Trump, Trump can also inflict a huge amount of damage on DeSantis and the whole Republican party. Do we really expect Trump to go quietly? To have his last chapter be one of ignominious defeat? I doubt it.

So many times the Republican leadership has made noises about moving on from Trump and then gone running back to him. Having him around is bad for their party, but pushing him away might be even worse. He’ll burn down the whole circus if he doesn’t get to be the headline act. I suspect a lot of them secretly are counting on Trump being wiped out by criminal and civil indictments and suits over the next few months, which would get him out of the way before the 2024 primary campaigns get off the ground. They can talk into microphones that it’s just terrible what those Democrats are doing to Donald Trump, and then walk away.

Item Three: It turns out that crime, inflation, and border security weren’t the sure-fire winning issues Republicans thought they were. Inflation was a primary concern for a lot of voters and inspired them to vote for Republicans, especially in House races. But abortion was still on a lot of voters’ minds.

To the obvious surprise of the on-air talent, abortion came in a close second to inflation: 31% said inflation was their top issue but 27% said abortion was. Despite late pre-election polls showing abortion sinking to third or fourth place or disappearing, there are several reasons why the issue never really went away.

The “several reasons” mostly boil down to women voting in larger numbers than men, and a majority of women voted for Democrats. Abortion criminalizers did badly in a lot of states, although there are exceptions. The GOP elites might want to reconsider staying in bed with the anti-choice crew.

Now there’s somewhere I need to be, so I’ll post what I’ve written so far. There’s a lot to discuss.