The good news for Republicans is that they have been rallying in their performance against Democrats in surveys about which party voters would prefer to control Congress after this falls’ midterms.
The bad news is that the rally has brought them back to an advantage of just six-tenths of a point in our average.
As amazing as it seems in this year of punishment and pain for the blue team—a year when the Democratic president is hitting new lows for job approval and economic worries dominate—the generic ballot has never gotten too far out of hand. Democrats actually were nominally ahead for the previous three weeks.
Consider that at this point four years ago, then-President Donald Trump was roughly 11 points underwater, far less than President Biden’s current waterlogged -23.8-point deficit. But Democrats were up about 8 points in the generic ballot then. Or how about 2010, when Biden’s old boss was in similarly dire shape? The Republican advantage on the generic ballot was 5 points high and rising.
So here’s Biden, faring worse with voters, but Republicans are falling short of the performance of the minority parties that Trump and Barack Obama faced. Why?
First, let’s remember that when you see a generic ballot that is basically tied, especially in a midterm year, the advantage belongs to the GOP. Because of the structural benefits Republicans enjoy in Congress as the party of rural America, a tie really adds up to a slight Republican advantage. Put another way, if Biden is even more unpopular than Obama was at this point, why aren’t Republicans dominating in generic-ballot polls like they did in 2010?
Second, let’s be clear that given the Democrats’ narrow majority, the chances of them holding the House are almost nil. The average loss of seats for the party in the White House in a president’s first midterm since Ronald Reagan is 28. Republicans need just six to take control of the House. The Senate has a far weaker correlation to the party of the president, but even so, you’d have to figure that the unpopular commander in chief and the high cost of living would be a drag in marginal races in places like Nevada and Colorado where Democrats will have to defend seats in blue states. Again, though, why aren’t we seeing the corresponding results in the generic ballot?
Part of the answer is obvious: The issue set has been hot garbage for the GOP in recent weeks.
As is illustrated in recent Republican contortions on same-sex marriage and birth control, the same social issues that once proved adventageous as wedges for the GOP are taking on different qualities in the wake of the massive conservative victory on abortion at the Supreme Court. Like Republicans in 2004 and many times before that, social issues can provide a lifeline to a majority party in a tough race.
But the bigger drag on the GOP has to be Trump. The double botch by Republicans, first in the Senate and then in the House, to tackle the January 6 investigation head on is now obvious to everyone. The red team was looking for a way to avoid any electoral consequences from the creepshow of November 2020 to January 2021, and instead ended up getting the worst possible version of events.
Again, this is not to say that somehow Democrats are going to avoid the consequences of their own failures and of the midterm curse. It is only to say that Republicans, partly by their successes and partly by their failures, have mitigated what would have been under the conditions of the two previous similar cycles in 2018 and 2010.
Ultimately, though, the squelchy performance of the GOP thus far belongs to the former president. The whole point of the midterm curse is voters moving past the previous election cycle, previously at the expense of the incumbent. By sticking around, Trump has so far blunted the effect on his successor who would otherwise already be in line for an old-fashioned shellacking.
Holy croakano! We welcome your feedback, so please email us with your tips, corrections, reactions, amplifications, etc. at STIREWALTISMS@THEDISPATCH.COM. If you’d like to be considered for publication, please include your real name and hometown. If you don’t want your comments to be made public, please specify.
Biden job performance
Average approval: 35.4 percent
Average disapproval: 59.2 percent
Net score: -23.8 points
Change from one week ago: ↓ 1.6 points
Change from one month ago: ↓ 6.8 points
[Average includes: American Research Group: 36% approve-58% disapprove; Ipsos/Reuters: 36% approve-59% disapprove; Quinnipiac University: 31% approve-60% disapprove; NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist: 36% approve-57% disapprove; SSRS/CNN: 38% approve-62% disapprove]
Generic congressional ballot
Democrats: 43.0 percent
Republicans: 43.6 percent
Net advantage: Republican Party +0.6 points
Change from one week ago: Republican Party ↑ 2.8 points
Change from one month ago: Republican Party ↑ 1.2 points
[Average includes: Quinnipiac University: 45% Democrat, 44% Republican; Fox News: 41% Democrat, 44% Republican; SSRS/CNN: 46% Democrat, 46% Republican; NBC News/Wall Street Journal: 42% Democrat, 44% Republican; Siena College/The New York Times: 41% Democrat, 40% Republican]
TIME OUT: IT’S TURTLE TIME
Hakai Magazine: “For the past few decades, scientists have been using satellite-tagged animals to collect ocean data. … Southern elephant seals have gathered most of the basic data we have on the water’s temperature and salinity. The southwest Indian Ocean, though, [doesn’t] have any seals [Olivier Bousquet, the research director of France’s Ministry of Sustainable Development] could enlist [to forecast storms’ strengths and paths]. At first, Bousquet tried seabirds … but they were too lightweight for the sensors. So he turned to … sea turtles. Now here is a hardy character that can wear a 250-gram tag, travels thousands of kilometers each year, and reliably comes back to its natal beach. This homing instinct makes it easier for scientists to recover the sensor’s full suite of data, instead of just the summaries that the equipment can send to satellites. … A dense network of turtle data, if collected over the long term, could help scientists see how the structure of the ocean is changing over time.”
DEMS’ STRATEGY FOR BOOSTING GOP EXTREMISTS LOOKS RISKY
Politico: “As the political environment has worsened for Democrats across the country, the gubernatorial race in Pennsylvania has begun to look more competitive than either party expected. Polls show [Doug Mastriano] behind [Josh Shapiro] by only three to four percentage points. … Though many still have doubts about Mastriano’s ability to run a successful campaign, that has made Pennsylvania Republicans more optimistic—and served as a wake-up call for Democrats, particularly in the wake of Roe v. Wade being overturned. … Some Pennsylvania GOP power players, suddenly feeling more positive, have privately and publicly encouraged the Republican Governors Association to take another look at Mastriano and consider helping him financially. … ‘Pennsylvania is a pivotal state. It’s going to play an enhanced role in the 2024 elections,’ said Charlie Gerow, a Republican strategist who ran against Mastriano in this year’s gubernatorial primary. ‘For [the RGA] to not be involved here would be a dereliction of duty.’”
Mega MAGA Cox wins GOP nod in Maryland: Baltimore Sun: “Del. Dan Cox defeated former state Commerce Secretary Kelly Schulz to win the Republican nomination for governor in a competitive race that pitted two sides of the GOP against each other. … In the Democratic primary, early voting returns and initial batches of in-person votes from Tuesday’s primary day showed former nonprofit leader Wes Moore ahead of the crowded nine-person field, followed by former U.S. Labor Secretary Tom Perez and state Comptroller Peter Franchot. … About 169,000 mail-in ballots from Democrats had not yet been counted as the returns showed Moore with 125,700 votes, Perez with 93,000 and Franchot with 68,800 by the end of Tuesday. Together they spent millions getting their messages out to voters—focusing on rising crime, the economy and education for more than a year while abortion, guns and the environment became focal points in the final weeks after new U.S. Supreme Court rulings.”
Home-state loss casts shadows on Hogan’s future: Washington Post: “As he travels the country to test his chances as a presidential contender … voters in his home state repudiated the pragmatic conservatism [Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan] is trying to sell. Instead of electing his handpicked protege … they handed victory to Del. Dan Cox, a far-right candidate backed by former president Donald Trump whom Hogan labeled ‘a QAnon whack job.’ … The Cook Political Report, which assesses political races, reclassified the gubernatorial contest from ‘leans Democrat’ to ‘solid Democrat’ after Cox’s win, skipping over the intermediate assessment of ‘likely Democrat.’ And that’s without a definitive Democratic nominee. … Hogan said he’s not deterred from his effort to persuade Republicans to emulate the party of [Ronald Reagan]. He still has stops in Iowa on his calendar for next month, though he has said he will not make a decision about running for president until after he leaves office in January.”
Dems outraise Republicans in key Senate races: Bloomberg: “Democratic candidates started July with a huge financial advantage in four of five US Senate battlegrounds that could determine which party controls the chamber next January. … Republicans need to pick up one seat to take control of the chamber. … But in three states that represent the most likely pick-ups and one where they must hold an open seat, Republicans will have to overcome a mountain of Democratic cash. All five races feature GOP candidates endorsed by former President Donald Trump. In three states rated toss-ups by the Cook Political Report, Democratic incumbents ended June with at least three times as much cash on hand as Republicans in the race. … While Nevada, Georgia and Arizona offer Republicans the best opportunities to pick up a seat, they also have to hold an open seat in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, where incumbent Ron Johnson has $3.6 million cash on hand and eight Democrats are competing in the state’s Aug. 9 primary.”
Poll: Tight abortion vote expected in Kansas: FiveThirtyEight: “On Aug. 2, Kansans will vote on a state constitutional amendment that would clarify that the state’s bill of rights does not protect Kansans’ right to an abortion. … According to the first publicly released poll of the campaign… 47 percent of likely primary voters say they plan to vote for the amendment, while 43 percent say they plan to vote against it. … The poll finds that Democrats are more energized than Republicans by the issue: 94 percent of Democrats say the amendment has ‘increased the importance of voting in this upcoming election,’ compared with 78 percent of Republicans. … Regardless of the outcome, the vote in Kansas will tell us something important about how the public is reacting to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Americans’ constitutional right to abortion.”
Ohio redistricting fight rages on: Columbus Dispatch: “In a 4-3 decision, the Supreme Court rejected Ohio’s 15-district congressional map and ordered Ohio lawmakers to redraw a new one for the 2024 elections within 30 days. … The map struck down by the Ohio Supreme Court will be used in the November elections because candidates were already selected in the May primary using these districts. That map guarantees Democrats two victories – Columbus’ 3rd Congressional District represented by Rep. Joyce Beatty and Cleveland’s 11th Congressional District represented by Rep. Shontel Brown. But Republicans are either assured wins or have a shot in the remaining 13. … Ohio’s unconstitutional congressional map creates a toss-up district in the Toledo area for Democratic Rep. Marcy Kaptur, Congress’ longest-serving female lawmaker. … In the Cincinnati area, the map also threatens Rep. Steve Chabot, R-Westwood, whose 1st Congressional District now leans Democratic.”
Many Americans crave authoritarian rule: Science: “Violence can seem to be everywhere in the United States. … Now, a large study confirms one in five Americans believes violence motivated by political reasons is—at least sometimes—justified. Nearly half expect a civil war, and many say they would trade democracy for a strong leader, a preprint posted today on medRxiv found. … ‘The findings are scary, but not surprising,’ [American University Professor Kurt Braddock] wrote in an email to Science. In recent years, he says, the United States has seen an increase in individual willingness to engage in violence. … To reduce the threat of political violence, Braddock says, the first step is to call out the disinformation online and in right-wing media, some of which is taken directly from extremist propaganda. … Experiments show courageous leaders can deter their communities from engaging in violence. ‘Now’s the time to take this seriously and not put our heads in the sand,’ [political violence expert Rachel Kleinfeld] says.”
Pence to stump in Sun Belt, escalating his primary proxy war with Trump—AP
House passes bipartisan same-sex marriage bill, teeing up politically painful vote for Senate GOP—CNBC
Republicans propose bill requiring fathers to pay child support—CBS News
House GOP leadership eyes Iowa Rep. Ashley Hinson for leadership spot as Stefanik climbs ladder —Politico
WITHIN EARSHOT: FLOAT ON
“Since we don’t control the air, our good air decided to float over to China’s bad air, so when China gets our good air, their bad air got to move. So it moves over to our good air space. Then, now, we got to clean that back up.” —Republican Senate candidate Herschel Walker discussing the Green New Deal at an event in Hall County, Georgia.
[Editor’s note: The time has come for a pause that refreshes, gentle readers. The note will be on hiatus next week as the manchildren and I go to find salamanders, lose golf balls, and enjoy the perfect West Virginia hot dog. I hope you are all enjoying your summer very much. I will head to the hills knowing just how lucky I am to have readers as lovely and encouraging as you.]
“I am at a loss as to why you, Jonah, and so many of the other center-right pundits, politicians and journalists seem to shrug off the impacts of CO2 emissions even as you as seeing them right before your eyes: the heat in D.C., the fires out West, the extraordinary shrinking of ice in the Arctic and the list goes on. I am not a fanatic about environmental causes nor do I see only doom and gloom regarding our ability to get to zero CO2 in the next 20 to 30 years. But, that goal will be a lot harder to reach if only the Democrats have it. … You correctly pointed out that the Christian Right’s obsession with Trump made Christianity look pretty bad for many people (my sons, included). I suspect that the far left’s histrionics about climate change and the environment have made these issues look pretty bad to conservatives. So, what do you think is needed to make zero CO2 emissions a bi-partisan goal? … I support maintaining the current nuclear plants in IL and would like to see smaller, less expensive nuclear reactors replace fossil fueled power plants. I am all for anything and everything that gets us to zero emissions, regardless of who makes money getting us there. No one thought airplanes, telephones or the internet were the domain of a political party. No one positioned the transition from horses to cars as a liberal conspiracy to doom horse and buggy businesses. Why shouldn’t the transition from fossil fuels to renewables be any different?” —Eileen Klees, Chicago, Illinois
I’m not exactly sure what I said that qualifies as shrugging off, and I don’t think of Jonah as a shrugger on this issue. But I assume you’re referring to my brief line about the rise of secular religion in last week’s note: “On the left, we see a sort of anamistic environmentalism around the climate.” That certainly doesn’t sound like you, Ms. Klees! I was talking about earth worshipers who have developed a kind of druidical code around environmental concerns over the interests of humanity and a zealotry that would impress the Sicarii. You don’t seem like that! You sound like a normal person who has sincere concerns about the climate. But, I do not generally give the issue the amount of attention you probably think appropriate. Part of that is very intentional. I generally avoid policy, and try to stick mostly to politics. There are lots and lots and lots of people — including many of my cherished colleagues here and at the American Enterprise Institute — doing great policy work. My calling relates to history, demography, public opinion, and, always, politics. I try to not tell people what to do, but rather observe what is happening and offer some imperfect insights on what may happen next. I think your point about the polarization on environmental issues is exactly right, and it certainly does mirror what has happened on other concerns, like immigration and firearms. These matters leave the ordinary policy realms where we debate tradeoffs and imperfect progress on economics, public safety, quality of life, etc. and become social issues enmeshed with partisans’ personal identities. As for how to appeal to conservatives on the issue of climate, I think there are signs of change already. The embrace of nuclear power in deep-red, coal-rich states like Wyoming and West Virginia is one sign, and surveys consistently show majorities of Republicans acknowledge the human role in climate change. If I were interested in shifting opinion further, I would eschew language about cutting, banning, and taxing and instead focus on conservation, thrift, and good stewardship. Most of all, I would emphasize innovation and opportunity. But those arguments may quickly run afoul of the shamans of anamistic environmentalism, which points us back to the original problem: on social issues, partisans often prefer purity to progress. One place I would caution you, though, is not to underestimate the wrenching, sometimes violent disruption with which the technologies you mentioned were met. Indeed, we are still very much on the front nine of the fight over the Internet. The widespread adoption of automobiles was one of the most unsettling developments in not just American history, but human history. It changed how and where we lived, courted (mated), worked, consumed media, and on and on. There was serious pushback about radio, television, electrification, and telephones, too. Making the modern world was painful and came with lots of social costs, so don’t be too hard on yourself or your countrymen for struggling so much to remake it.
“I don’t mean to put words in your mouth, but I have this sense that many center-right thinkers assume that our citizens need a belief in God for our government and communities to function well. I am admittedly new to atheism, having believed in a Christian religion for 50-plus years, but why exactly is belief in deity so essential? For some of us who have rejected a prior religious dogma, there simply is no going back and I certainly don’t feel that my values are any different as an atheist. If anything, it is the Christian right’s ‘God-inspired’ new values that are more likely to harm our nation than mine. Am I wrong about that? I suppose one can argue belief is necessary, because our American values are based upon certain religious tenets, but is that really true? Why can’t our values be based upon a now-defunct belief in deity? We can conclude, as I have, that our religion-originating values work well in our country, can’t we, and make community and country decisions on that basis? I mean, what should we really be concerned about here: the secular people whose values originate from a dead religious belief or the religious people who are creating frightening new values with a religious imprimatur?” —Laura Walhood, West Linn, Oregon
First off, Ms. Walhood, I don’t think there is any requirement to be a believer to be a good, patriotic American. And I don’t have any concern about your secular values. My point about the disruptions caused by declining theism was not that atheists are second-class citizens or that what’s happening is the fault of non-believers. We are in the midst of a period of massive demographic reordering: The average age for a first marriage, the marriage rate, the age at which people first have children, the number of children born to unmarried parents, the number of marriages between people of different races or ethnicities, the number and kinds of jobs people hold over their lifetimes, the changes in college-going rates for men and women, and on and on and on. America is always making itself new, and we are in the sometimes painful process of reinvention. None of this is about blame, but rather trying to understand what the heck is going on. The decline in theism underlies many of the changes we are going through because it reflects the decline in common values and belief systems. I have no idea what percentage of Americans were actually believing, practicing members of a faith in the 1950s and 1960s when atheists accounted for only 2 percent of the population compared to 19 percent today. Many of those folks who claimed to be believers, including many who declared themselves to be part of a specific sect were not believers at all. We know that from the beginning of the country, leaders like Thomas Jefferson and Ben Franklin thought religion was probably a net positive for society, but not for them personally. That’s how America developed the low-impact civic deism that is reflected in our national motto and the many references to “our Creator” in the Declaration and elsewhere. America’s leaders wanted a light touch that emphasized common belief without aggravating sectarian hostilities. Now, Americans talk A LOT about their specific beliefs (or lack thereof) and questions of faith do far more to divide than unite. My parents’ generation knew better than to talk about religion or politics in polite company, but it sometimes now seems that people will talk of little else. I am proud to be a Christian and try, very imperfectly, to have my faith inform my work and my public life, but do not believe that the purpose of my government or of politics is to advance my faith. That was the case for much of Western history and I have no desire to return to our past on state-sponsored religion. Part of why a shared belief system was essential to the creation and sustaining of the American system, though, was that our forebears understood the concept of natural law and natural rights—truths that were “self-evident.” I believe that those rights and that law are self-evident whether one believes that they were endowed by a creator or not, but it was certainly easier to understand that government was the guarantor, not grantor of those rights when nearly everyone alive believed that there was an authority beyond princes and potentates. The rise of the new secular political religions is about the worship of power, which is very much at odds with the idea of natural rights and, therefore, natural limits on government authority. As David Foster Wallace put it: “Worship power, you will end up feeling weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to numb you to your own fear. Worship your intellect, being seen as smart, you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out. But the insidious thing about these forms of worship is not that they’re evil or sinful, it’s that they’re unconscious. They are default settings. They’re the kind of worship you just gradually slip into, day after day, getting more and more selective about what you see and how you measure value without ever being fully aware that that’s what you’re doing.”
“I’ve been an avid and thoroughly entertained reader of your newsletter since the start, and, if memory serves me correctly, your latest edition marks the second time someone has asked for clarification on how to properly pronounce ‘Holy Croakano.’ On both occasions, I’ve felt less certain after your explanation than I was before I read it. Perhaps this reflects a neutron-star-rivaling density on my part. Or perhaps your gift for clearly and simply communicating matters of politics does not extend to phonetics. Regardless, there’s surely a straightforward way to settle this matter once and for all. Does not the might and technological prowess of The Dispatch team allow you to link to or embed a short audio clip of you saying it in the newsletter? Barring that, can’t you buffalo Jonah into granting you a 15 second guest spot on his next Remnant podcast to address this roiling controversy? Or pay an intern to transcribe the full and correct pronunciation, stress marks and all, using the International Phonetic Alphabet? Absent the clarity on this subject I so desperately need, I will have no choice but to continue hearing it in my head as if it’s the title of a Sharknado spin-off about a volcanic eruption that spews frogs. Don’t miss the SyFy original film Croakano, coming this Oc-toad-ber.” —Josh Harmon, Los Angeles, California
Okay, now, that’s funny, Mr. Harmon. It’s ˈkroʊkəno, like the Pocono Mountains .
“In the era of Trump I have often heard the term ‘constitutional crisis’ thrown about when discussing what Trump tried to do in stealing the election. It is most often used by pundits and I’ve always taken it to mean that we hit some generic tipping point of no return. Kind of like when someone refers to climate change as an ‘existential threat.’ The point it happens is up to the individual person and what it results in is also vague – but understood to be very bad. The vagueness keeps it just out of reach of the average person like me reacting as intended. While listening to the Jan 6 hearings with the [Department of Justice] leaders I again heard [former Acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen] I believe talk about how if Trump assigned [former Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Division Jeffrey Clark] to replace him all of the leadership at DOJ would have immediately resigned. He then got extra serious, my interpretation, and said that action by the president could send us into a ‘constitution crisis.’ My ears perked up because he is clearly a serious person not acting as a pundit on some cable news show. He used his words very carefully during the entire hearing and words have meaning to him. So is there an accepted definition of a ‘constitutional crisis,’ is there a defined line that must be crossed and is there a remedy or is it just unchartered waters at that point?” —Bob Wilbers, Austin, Texas
Before I get to the question, Mr. Wilbers, I just have to say that Jeff Rosen is a badass. I am so pleased to be able to call him a friend and my colleague here at AEI. Thank God for people of conviction and courage like him. As for constitutional crises, I tend to think the term is overused. What people usually are referring to are just the normal conflict between branches etc. My idea of a constitutional crisis is when someone refuses to abide by the rules of our charter — that a leader is going outside of the boundaries and there is no obvious way to stop them. That’s when it falls to people like Jeff and his colleagues at Justice to stand up for the Constitution as citizens, even when the other branches can’t.
You should email us! Write to STIREWALTISMS@THEDISPATCH.COM with your tips, kudos, criticisms, insights, rediscovered words, wonderful names, recipes and always good jokes. Please include your real name—at least first and last—and hometown. Make sure to let me know in the email if you want to keep your submission anonymous. My colleague, the courageous Abbey Black, and I will look for your emails and then share the most interesting ones and my responses here. Clickety clack!
CUTLINE CONTEST: ZING!
The winner of this week’s cutline contest appealed to my dad joke weakness:
“The House of the Rising Sum” —Bill Ward, St. Augustine Beach, Florida
“Driving back to D.C. after summer recess, the Capitol dome picks up a wicked case of trucker’s tan.” —Brandon Cooper, Lombard, Illinois
“‘When you see the Capitol Dome turn orange that means it misses ME, Donald Trump!’” —Mary Stine, Prairie Village, Kansas
“Hours before sunrise, Chris Stirewalt’s summer heat-induced glow illuminates the U.S. Capitol.” —Mark Grapentine, Middleton, Wisconsin
Send your proposed cutline for the picture that appears at the top of this newsletter to STIREWALTISMS@THEDISPATCH.COM. We will pick the top entrants and an appropriate reward for the best of this month—even beyond the glory and adulation that will surely follow. Be hilarious, don’t be too dirty, and never be cruel. Include your full name and hometown. Have fun!
NPR: “Green crabs are the invasive pests that have plagued North America’s marine ecosystems for more than 200 years. A New Hampshire distillery is taking on the problem by using them to make green crab-flavored whiskey. … ‘People are going to hear crab whiskey, and I’d venture to say three-quarters of them are going to go, “No, absolutely not,” [Will Robinson of Tamworth Distilling] said. “But if you can get them to taste it, they totally change their tune for the most part.’ … First, they make a crab stock. Then, they distill it using a vacuum still — a glass machine that allows for precise temperature control. … The stock is mixed with spices – like mustard seed, coriander, and cinnamon – then combined with a bourbon base. Robinson calls it a ‘thinking, sipping’ drink. ‘It’s meant for you to explore your own perception through your olfactory senses.’”
Chris Stirewalt is a contributing editor at The Dispatch, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and the author of Broken News, a new book on media and politics. Abbey Black and Nate Moore contributed to this report.