Monday, November 02, 2020


Megan McArdle is a libertarian who doesn't like Donald Trump. She voted for Joe Biden this year, but also for downballot Republicans.

She writes:
Like many people, I didn’t really vote for Biden; I voted against President Trump. But I have no hope that doing so will somehow teach the Republican Party not to mess with crypto-racist buffoons who have authoritarian instincts and an itchy Twitter finger.

That sort of lesson is the kind of thing that party elites can and do learn, as they maneuver toward a winning electoral coalition. The famous, failed Republican “autopsy” of its 2012 loss was a more explicit written version of something political leadership does after every rout, sifting through policies and rhetoric, deciding which new voters to woo, and how to keep the familiar ones content while they’re out a-courtin’.

But are those kinds of lessons going to be absorbed by ordinary Republican voters, who never engage that deeply with the minutiae of politics or policy? I doubt it. Nor have I seen any evidence that they’re interested in being schooled by me, or anyone else living in the rarefied air of a coastal megalopolis. And even if they were, I’m not sure what lessons they’d absorb from such “discipline.”

The “teach them a lesson” model of voting seems to repeat and enlarge the mistake that we #NeverTrumpers made for decades before: thinking of politics entirely in terms of elite opinions and our own insular debates.
So the first part of McArdle's argument is that an electoral drubbing isn't necessary to send a message to Republican elites because party elites assess every electoral loss and make changes so the next election will turn out better for them. But her example is an "autopsy" conducted by the GOP after the 2012 election that even she refers to as "failed," and that turned out to be irrelevant -- Republicans did very well in the 2014 midterms and won the 2016 presidential election despite ignoring everything in it. They "sift[ed] through policies and rhetoric" and concluded that "the perception, revealed in polling, that the GOP does not care about people is doing great harm to the Party," and that they "need to campaign among Hispanic, black, Asian, and gay Americans and demonstrate we care about them, too." They did nothing of the sort and won anyway.

McArdle wants us to believe that Republicans learn lessons from electoral losses when they learned nothing in 2012 and then didn't even pretend to ponder the reasons for the drubbing they took in 2018 -- they're still yoked to Trump, and it may cost them dearly this year. If McArdle were arguing that it's pointless to try to "teach Republican elites a lesson" because they never learn, I'd agree with her, but she's saying they'll learn no matter how great their losses, when the evidence suggests that they'll do no such thing.

McArdle writes that Republican non-elites have no interest "in being schooled by me, or anyone else living in the rarefied air of a coastal megalopolis." But this is pure narcissism. The point isn't McArdle's vote in isolation -- it's her vote in conjunction with the votes of millions of Black Georgians and Whites from the Pennsylvania suburbs and Hispanic college students in Texas and elderly Arizonans afraid of the coronavirus. I agree that it won't be received well by Trump's voters, who will conclude that a Biden victory came about by fraud even if Biden wins 350 electoral votes and a double-digit popular-vote win. But it's still worthwhile, even though not because anyone will learn from it.

This election isn't about teaching anyone a lesson. It's about survival. It's about getting judges onto the federal bench who will stop America's descent into anti-democratic illiberalism. It's about addressing COVID and the climate. Its about trying to preserve healthcare affordability, and trying to confront gun violence and police brutality. It's about trying to save reproductive choice. McArdle doesn't share all these goals -- but I know from previous columns that she's concerned about the pandemic, and even she ought to care about whether America remains a democratic country.

If we lose this election, whether it's by being outvoted or by being robbed, Republican elected officials and Republican judges will just keep making it harder and harder for Democrats to win in the future -- impossible is the goal, a goal that's been attained in many state legislatures. Republicans won't learn from this election. They don't learn. They don't need to. The point of this election is to prevent them from doing more damage, and to repair some of that damage. We can't reason with them. We can only stop them.

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