Monday, September 05, 2022


I'm about to take a Megan McArdle column seriously. Many of you will wonder why anyone would ever do that. In this case, I'm doing it because she's expressing a belief shared by much of the commentariat and by many ordinary citizens who are politically engaged, including, I suspect, quite a few of you.

In the column, McArdle writes about Donald Trump:
For six years, Trump has been systematically — okay, unsystematically — wrecking the [Republican] party. At every juncture, Republicans made the same excuses for keeping quiet about it: The media was biased, so no need to actually deal with the outrageous substance of what was going on in the Oval Office. Besides, Trump’s voters would primary any Republican who stood up to him. Better to quietly work against him where possible, and otherwise bide their time until Trump passed from the scene.

Reality check, friends. Donald Trump isn’t going away unless you make him. And unless you make him, he will continue sullying the party with his scandals, sacrificing its standards and, increasingly, its electoral chances on the altar of his rapacious ego. However temporarily expedient cooperation might seem, in the long run, it’s the most dangerous course.
I don't think anyone reading my blog believes that by continuing to be a pro-Trump party, the GOP is "sacrificing its standards" (whatever those are). But the belief that Trump has harmed the GOP electorally is widespread. In a post at The Atlantic yesterday, David Frum wrote:
Trump lost the popular vote in 2016. He lost control of the House in 2018. He lost the presidency in 2020. He lost both Senate seats in Georgia in 2021. Republicans had good reason to dread the havoc he’d create if he joined the fight in 2022.
But you could have compiled a similar list after the presidency of Barack Obama: the presidency and both houses of Congress lost, many governors' mansions and state legislatures in Republican hands (and gerrymandered to stay in Republican hands forever). Does anyone believe that Democrats would dominate American politics if they cut all ties with Obama? Wouldn't Black voters regard this as a slap in the face, while white voters would just be told by GOP propagandists that the party's true evil resided in whites suck as Nancy Pelosi and the Biden family?

McArdle writes:
Trump is already turning GOP membership into a single-issue referendum on Trump: How far will you go to defend his erratic, self-centered and pointlessly belligerent behavior? How slavishly will you proclaim the lie that Trump actually won the 2020 election? This litmus test has alienated a lot of moderate voters, and produced a lot of weak, inexperienced candidates who don’t understand how elections work, and look likely to lose them come November.

This is one major reason that the “red wave” that seemed to be shaping up earlier this year is now looking more and more like a ripple — possibly even a mildly good year for Democrats, despite a troubled economy and record-low presidential approval ratings.
Some of those "weak, inexperienced candidates" are doing poorly -- FiveThirtyEight has Dr. Oz down by 8.1 in the Pennsylvania Senate race and Blake Masters down by 7.8 in the Arizona Senate race. But some have pretty good numbers. In Georgia's Senate race, Herschel Walker trails by only 1.7. In the Senate race in Ohio, Tim Ryan leads J.D. Vance by just 0.6 points. (Real Clear Politics says Vance is winning by 3.7.) And incumbent Democrats are in tight Senate races in Nevada and New Hampshire. Meanwhile, Democrats can't seem to get close in races against the nastiest governors in America, Ron DeSantis and Greg Abbott, while one of the worst gubernatorial aspirants, the uber-Trumpist Kari Lake in Arizona, trails her Democratic opponent -- the current secretary of state, who helped keep the 2020 election honest in Arizona -- by less than 2.

It's possible that we should believe the recent New York Times op-ed by Democratic strategist Tom Bonier, which is headlined "Women Are So Fired Up to Vote, I’ve Never Seen Anything Like It." Bonier says there's been a recent surge of voter registrations among women, which means that the polling we see now presumes a mix of voters much less Democratic than the one we're likely to have. That may be correct -- but if it is, then it will be the Supreme Court's Dobbs decision, not Trump's crimes and rants, that prevented a "red wave" election.

For much of the public, Trump is just background noise, and is primarily seen as a generic Republican. The non-GOP public doesn't like Trump, but many will vote for him in 2024 anyway, because he's not Joe Biden or Kamala Harris. (According to Real Clear Politics, Trump leads Biden by 0.8 and beats Harris in nearly every poll.)

McArdle says that the GOP is at risk of becoming "a rump party optimized for flattering [Trump's] vanity rather than winning elections." But the party continues to have a strategy for winning: endless appeals to tribalism and the careful maintenance of multiple narratives of demonization. (The IRS is hiring 87,000 armed agents waiting to kick down your door and point an AR-15 at you! Yesterday's undocumented border crossers are being registered to vote Democratic today! Transsexuals want to molest your daughter and then beat her in a swim meet!) Maybe they're finally pushing it too far this year, but we still don't know that, and if they are, the fault lies primarily with anti-abortion, anti-LGBT, and pro-assault-weapon movements, and only secondarily with Trump. The red wave might not happen, but we shouldn't assume we're beating them until the votes are counted.

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