Tuesday’s election results are rather surprising. Everyone predicted a red wave. And the historical degree of disapproval for the Democrats in power, significant problems with crime and inflation, and many weeks of polling data suggested this was going to be a blow out. Even a Democratic friend predicted a blood bath.
But, in the end, a few close races went the Republicans’ way, no Democratic incumbent governors or senators were thrown out of office, and, outside of Florida, the results were pretty modest.
How can this be?
While there are many details to be learned in weeks ahead, and, thanks to fraud-friendly procedures, results are still unknown in Arizona, Georgia, and a few other places, I have a few thoughts.
Sorting and Separation
All of the factors that make observers speculate about a coming civil war or “national divorce” play out in more modest ways in ordinary elections. Thus, a brain-damaged stroke victim has been elected to the U.S. Senate in Pennsylvania, and Republicans have rallied around a man with a nonexistent intellect and a checkered past to the Senate in Georgia.
Partisan commitment has also led to a great shift of the population. COVID spawned an increase in “work from home,” which led culturally conservative people, who could live wherever they wanted, to move to places like Tennessee and Florida. In these states, Republican candidates blew out the opposition in statewide races. For all the worries about carpetbaggers, it turns out there is a lot of ideological self-selection when people “vote with their feet.”
As a result, the red states have become redder, and the blue states bluer, with predictable (and sometimes absurd) results.
Maybe Trump Was A Fluke
We sometimes forget the path the country was on before Trump. One of the biggest arguments against mass immigration by the conservative camp was that these voters, by and large, do not share our culture or our political tradition of limited government and would generally favor the Democrats. This becomes a bigger factor every year, as the foreign-born population grows and their progeny reach maturity. Perusing alternate, single-demographic election results shows how much this factor is changing things.
Similarly, more and more young people, indoctrinated from an early age to have a jaundiced view of America’s past and a triumphant view about the emerging non-white majority (a fact already prevailing in their age-cohort) are coming of age every year to vote. At the same time, the large, mostly white, Republican-leaning baby boomer contingent gets older, smaller, and less relevant every year.
In other words, the “emerging majority” promised at the beginning of the Obama years—apparently inevitable until Trump appeared on the scene—may have only been slightly delayed by Trump’s one-time ability to rally low-information, alienated, rural, and hitherto unexcited white-working-class voters. These voters were less motivated in 2020 and presumably even less so during the recent midterm, where Trump was not on the ballot.
People want to blame Trump for GOP losses—and he deserves some blame for anointing a strange candidate like Mehmet Oz for Pennsylvania’s Senate race—but it’s not so clear this critique holds under scrutiny. Trump acolytes like Marjorie Taylor Green and Matt Gaetz did fine. Trump superfan Kari Lake appears likely to win the governor’s race in Arizona after an uncertain Election Night. J. D. Vance won his Senate race in Ohio handily, and he has an explicitly populist appeal similar to Trump’s. All of these people did well because they reflect the demographics and concerns of the people living in their states and districts.
Many people forget that Trump’s appeal went beyond his policies on the border, trade, and immigration. It was also his style. The legacy style of the GOP was patrician, aloof, and sometimes hostile to voters. Republicans lost presidential races with John McCain and Mitt Romney, the latter being a prototypical pro-business Republican concerned about fiscal conservatism and a “tough” foreign policy. People liked Trump’s authenticity and contempt for the straight-jacket of political correctness, even when he acted like a bull-in-a-china-shop.
It is possible Trump’s looming presence in the background did more harm than good, and that he would lose in a fair-and-square national election. But it’s hard to read the results of the recent midterm as an indictment of Trump, as much as Republican strategists and inside-the-beltway types long to be rid of him.
COVID Policy and DeSantis
A lot of people want to compare the failures of Trump’s hand-picked candidates with the Republican blowout in Florida. While Oz lost in Pennsylvania and Herschel Walker is behind in Georgia, DeSantis easily and handily beat Charlie Crist in the Florida governor’s race, and Marco Rubio, who has an arms-length relationship with Trump, did nearly as well against Val Demings to represent Florida in the Senate.
While considered a Trump-style Republican, DeSantis’ brand is slightly different. He was focused on maintaining freedom for businesses, parents, and visitors during COVID. COVID policies and their aftermath have angered and radicalized many people.
On COVID, Trump blew an uncertain trumpet. Trump ordered the initial lockdowns, never fired the megalomaniac Anthony Fauci, signed off on PPP and stimulus policies (which clearly contributed to today’s inflation), and championed the mRNA vaccines, which appeared shortly after the 2020 election as a result of Operation Warp Speed. When promoting vaccines at his rallies, Trump faced some rare boos.
Over time, most of his supporters became vaccine skeptical and even angry, as they faced Hobson’s choices about employment and travel due to mandates. That said, Trump also supported reopening earlier than many people wanted, and he was generally on the pro-freedom side of the ledger.
When it comes to branding, no one faced more heat and showed more courage on this issue than Ron Desantis. And as a result, Florida and its demographics changed for the better under his leadership.
Maybe Our Democracy™ Is The Problem
There is a final issue to be discussed: democracy. Democrats said democracy was on the ballot. Our Democracy™, as they say, has apparently selected some absolute lunatics like John Fetterman in Pennsylvania, Gretchen Whitmer in Michigan, and Katie Hochul in New York. Democracy decided to allow infants to be murdered in Montana. Even missing ballots, broken voting equipment, and other Election Day shenanigans are apparently consistent with what the ruling class calls “democracy.”
Conservatives used to be skeptical of democracy, emphasizing that the country was designed to be a republic, that elites emerge and must be selected in every system, and that too much democracy would upset the balanced, mixed regime contemplated by the Constitution. Any system that selects someone like Fetterman or a tyrant like Whitmer is flawed and questionable.
The real measure of good government is not how leaders are picked, but rather who it elevates to leadership and how they govern. A system where oligarch-controlled media influences voters, where millions of new voters are let into the country to tip the scales, and where marginal people on welfare and with criminal records can vote and have the same impact as the productive and the law-abiding has a problem, which only becomes more apparent when reviewing the results.
Democrats for two years have said Republicans are a threat to Our Democracy™, meaning whatever constellation of procedures and voter demographics guarantee continued and disproportionate Democratic Party power. Maybe they’re right.
And, so what?
Their democracy is not really working out.