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Donald Trump Built This
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Donald Trump Built This

He was the prime mover of the GOP’s faceplant.

Mehmet Oz stands with his family on Election Night. (Photo by Ed Jones/AFP/Getty Images.)

Hey,

I got a late start on this and I’m sleep-deprived and a little hungover. So I’m just gonna vent for a bit.

It’s funny—a lot of people are asking me if I feel vindicated because of last night’s results. I’d be lying if I didn’t say, “Yeah, a little.”

As Tony Montana said to Alberto the Shadow after he shot him in the face, “You stupid f—, look at you now.”

Or maybe that was Isaac Newton’s rejoinder to Gottfried Leibniz, I can’t remember. Either way, that’s sort of how I feel. At least with regard to Republicans.

I’m not going to get deep into the psephological weeds here. I spent the days leading up to the election believing that Republicans would have a fairly conventional midterm according to historical trends. Unlike a lot of my conservative friends, wishful thinking wasn’t the driver of my mistake because I’ve lost the ability to cheer for the GOP as it is today. No, I took the view that the GOP would gain somewhere between 18 and 24 seats in the House and a few in the Senate because that would be normal, and because a lot of smart people I rely on thought that was a reasonable expectation. Biden is unpopular, inflation is high, etc. You’ve heard it all before.

Other than believing it, I was also motivated by a desire to push back on the inevitable over-reading of electoral victory. This is the story of the last couple decades. After every victory, big and small, the victors claim sweeping mandates and massive popular vindication. When Democrats eke out a win, it’s proof “America” wants a new New Deal. When Republicans have a good night, the “silent majority” has reclaimed the nation. It’s all garbage. You know that if the GOP merely had a normal victory last night, Kevin McCarthy would be talking as if it were a historic repudiation of the left, the Democrats, woke-ism, the designated hitter, gluten-free muffins, whatever.

But with nearly all the fundamentals on their side, the GOP blew it. Now, it’s surely true that Kevin McCarthy made some mistakes in candidate recruitment. And it now seems clear that the Dobbs decision was a bigger driver of voter enthusiasm among Democrats than the polls sometimes suggested—partly because young people are very hard to poll. But the simple fact is that the decisive factor in the scale of this cock-up was Donald Trump and the faction of the GOP he created, with the help of all the usual suspects.

I’d missed this anecdote until I saw it in The Morning Dispatch:

I don’t think there’s a more perfect distillation of the cultivated asininity and studied stupidity that has swept through the American right like a bad clam in its digestive system. Lake may still pull it out, but that’s beside the point. Does anyone think she gained votes by saying that? Does anyone think that her already enthusiastic rally goers wouldn’t vote for her even if she didn’t spit in the eye of “McCain supporters” who liked her enough to go to her rally?

Maybe there are people who believe that. You know what political scientists call such people? Morons.

Okay, maybe they’re not morons. Maybe at their day jobs as accountants, financial planners, or truck drivers they’re smart, normal people. But if you think such antics are smart politics, you have a moronic grasp of politics. Almost by definition, if you’re willing to attend a politician’s rally you’re either going to vote for them or you’re looking to be convinced to vote for them. Imagine a salesman at a Nike store yelling at potential customers, “Have any of you ever bought Adidas sneakers? Well, if you have, get the hell out!”

I mean, even Donald Trump welcomed supporters wherever he found them. The only rule was—and remains—indulging his self-worship and, later, the Trumpian myth of the stolen election. Trump’s first post Tuesday night on his ramshackle social media platform was to celebrate that the Republican Senate candidate in Colorado, Joe O’Dea, had lost. Why? Because Trump would rather the GOP lose a Senate seat than elect someone who didn’t suck up to him and his stolen election garbage.

Of course, it was this attitude that may have cost the GOP control of the Senate and certainly cost them several seats. Doug Ducey would have crushed Kelly in Arizona, Chris Sununu would have steamrolled Maggie Hassan in New Hampshire, and Pat Toomey would have been reelected in Pennsylvania in a cakewalk. But none of those guys ran, at least in part because the price to their dignity or the risk to their reputations in a Trumpified party was too high. That’s because the trolls who dominate the primaries think their entertainment is more important than actually winning. Heck, even the best candidates who did run in the primaries were often rejected in favor of Trump’s playthings. The first-rate candidates refused to run because of Trump, but even the second-rate candidates weren’t bad enough for him.

There’s a lot of Monday morning quarterbacking about Herschel Walker. My friend Jim Geraghty rightly says that Walker was going to get the nomination no matter what, given his popularity in Georgia. That’s true. Mitch McConnell supported his candidacy, too, some say. That’s true too. But McConnell didn’t lobby Walker to run or publicly encourage him to. That was Trump.

What is amazing is that Trump has been trying to turn the GOP into a personal entourage for years now. It’s all been done in plain sight. He’d rather be the undisputed leader of a tiny GOP than even the most important politician in a larger GOP that tolerated non-ass-kissers in its ranks.

For reasons that are hard to understand without resorting to pop psychology or Ouija boards, a huge number of Republicans can’t see that Trump is unpopular. Biden’s a crummy and unpopular president. But he’s more popular than Trump. It’s as if Trump’s supporters think that because his popularity with a minority of voters is so intense it outweighs his unpopularity with everybody else. And I don’t just mean the man, I mean his style of politics is unpopular.

It’s also bad politics. I don’t just mean making candidates support unpopular things in their states or districts. I mean the nuts and bolts stuff too. Republicans used to be better at mail-in voting. But now, because of a dumb conspiracy theory, Republicans are expected to vote on election day. Banking gettable votes is smart politics. If Fetterman hadn’t done such a good job of it before his debate, Mehmet Oz would probably be a senator now. It’s just so stupid. 

By the way, I’m not a huge fan of Ron DeSantis, but I’m delighted by his victory. I think it’s great that he won large numbers of Hispanics. I think that’s good for the GOP, the Democrats, and the country for reasons we can discuss another time. But I’m particularly gleeful about DeSantis’ victory because it makes Trump look ridiculous—particularly in the eyes of countless Republicans who were until now blind to his manifest ridiculousness. Trump cost the Republicans a red wave everywhere but Florida (and Guam). DeSantis delivered one where he could.

Anyway, I’m going to enjoy the recriminations on the right. I’m not a politician, but even as a scribbler, I take the opposite position of Kari Lake. If you wasted the last seven years indulging Trump and Trumpism and only now can see what some of us were talking about, I say better late than never.

But I must confess, I was really looking forward to the recriminations among Democrats, because that party sucks, too. Yeah, yeah, its failures are different. And I understand the limits and flaws of both-sides-ism. But it is impossible to understand why the Republicans went nuts without understanding how the Democrats drove them crazy—or crazy enough to think Trump and Trumpism made sense. Liberals love to roll their eyes, for example, when Republicans say, “But what about the BLM riots?” or, “What about Antifa?” I sometimes roll my eyes too, but for different reasons. I roll my eyes because one riot does not justify another. Liberals roll their eyes because they don’t realize that the left’s apologetics for political violence in the name of racial justice invite apologetics for political violence on the right. Large swaths of both parties point to the worst aspects of the other party and conclude they’re justified to act in kind. It’s a pas de deux of asininity.

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Jonah Goldberg

Jonah Goldberg is editor-in-chief and co-founder of The Dispatch, based in Washington, D.C. Prior to that, enormous lizards roamed the Earth. More immediately prior to that, Jonah spent two decades at National Review, where he was a senior editor, among other things. He is also a bestselling author, longtime columnist for the Los Angeles Times, commentator for CNN, and a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. When he is not writing the G-File or hosting The Remnant podcast, he finds real joy in family time, attending to his dogs and cat, and blaming Steve Hayes for various things.