Our Best Stuff From the Midterms

(Photo by Paul Bersebach/MediaNews Group/Orange County Register/Getty Images.)

Hello and happy Saturday. We woke up to snow in the Ohio bureau this morning, which isn’t ideal (I’m more a fan of sweatshirt-and-warm-cider-with-bourbon weather in the first half of November), but it was nothing like the wakeup call the Republican Party got this week. The midterms were not a total loss, of course: The party is on track to take the House but the Senate is presently as deadlocked as it can be: 49-49, with Georgia going to a runoff and Nevada still too close to call.

But the “red wave,” much less a ‘’red tsunami,” never materialized, and there was a clear throughline in the results. Candidates who espoused “Stop the Steal” rhetoric, candidates who were endorsed by former President Donald Trump or ran campaigns designed to garner such endorsements, had a pretty bad night. 

The reaction was swift. The New York Post and Wall Street Journal ran scathing op-eds criticizing Trump and Fox News hosts openly questioned Trump’s stinginess with spending on candidates. Are we having a moment? Nothing in the past six years has been effective in diminishing Trump supporters’ devotion to him—scandals, impeachment, January 6, the second impeachment—but would more losing finally do it? 

I’ve been thinking a lot this week about early 2016. I worked at Slate then, and primary and debate season was approaching. We were having a Slack conversation about how to divvy up the late night coverage that such nights necessitate. I can’t remember my exact words, but I jokingly dashed off something to the effect of, “Sorry guys, I’m not volunteering until the clown show is over.” LOLs ensued.

I was hardly alone in thinking that Donald Trump’s bid for the Republican nomination was a bit of a joke and that eventually Marco Rubio or Scott Walker or Ted Cruz would gain momentum, win a few primaries and then be feted at the convention. I was, quite obviously, wrong.

I remember the convention that year, mostly for its lowlights. Marco Rubio’s video endorsement that was compared to a hostage video, Ted Cruz giving a speech in which he specifically did not endorse Trump and getting booed, Donald Trump taking the stage ambling through a smoke screen like a prizefighter making his way to the ring.  

Trump continued to surprise—in a bad way—from his election victory, to his absolute disregard for norms and conventions and the rule of law. It got to the point where it was impossible for him to surprise anyone. You can say that January 6 was unprecedented and horrific and a genuine threat to our democracy, but you can’t honestly say it was surprising.

It’s been awhile since I’ve had much cause for optimism regarding politics. We are polarized and siloed into echo chambers. Neither party is in great shape and neither has seemed willing to address that. Even local elections for school boards have become focused on national issues. 

While I’m eager to be hopeful again, It’s definitely waaaaaaaaaaaay too early to say that the Trump era is over. He has a loyal—and very loud—base. He’s expected to announce his 2024 candidacy on Tuesday. But Trumpism suffered a blow this week. And maybe the key to getting him to exit stage left has been there all along. When he made that slow walk through smoke at the Republican convention in 2016, Queen’s “We Are the Champions” blared over the speakers. There’s a telling line in that song: “No time for losers.”

Thanks for reading.

Donald Trump Built This

Much of the polling before Tuesday predicted a “red wave” that would sweep the GOP into control of the House and Senate. It didn’t materialize. Jonah writes that it didn’t have to be this way. Good Senate candidates like Chris Sununu in New Hampshire, Larry Hogan in Maryland, and Doug Ducey in Arizona declined to run rather than deal with all the Trump sycophancy that came with it, and instead we got candidates like Mehmet Oz and Herschel Walker. “What is amazing is that Trump has been trying to turn the GOP into a personal entourage for years now,” he writes. “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.”

The Freedom Caucus’ Reform Opportunity

The next presidential election always starts the day after the midterms, they say. But before we get to that, there are going to be some other pretty interesting competitions: for GOP congressional leadership positions. In Uphill, Haley details the forthcoming battle for speaker of the House, assuming the Republicans earn a majority. As House minority leader, Kevin McCarthy is the obvious frontrunner. But the narrow majority the GOP can expect means that small factions can have outsized power, and it puts the House Freedom Caucus in a powerful position. And there are some demands. The caucus issued some proposed reforms to the legislative process last summer, including a rule that would “allow amendments for all legislation brought before the whole chamber for a vote” and one to allow members of a committee to vote on the committee leadership. The biggest change, though, is that the caucus also wants to restore “the motion to vacate, a tool that allows members to force a vote on ousting the speaker.”  Haley writes: “Some other caucus members are holding back endorsements and would like to pressure McCarthy to accept their demands by standing up an alternative candidate. A founding member of the Freedom Caucus who isn’t in Congress anymore but asked to speak anonymously described the post-midterms dynamic as a ‘golden opportunity’ to give individual members more say in legislation. But the caucus must stay unified and focus on its goals.”

The Shifting Politics of a Trump Indictment

Given the way Donald Trump has upended our politics, it’s perhaps unsurprising that the FBI raid on Mar-a-Lago in August coincides with “Trump reach[ing] the apex of his support in Morning Consult’s periodic surveys of whom Republicans prefer as nominee in 2024.” As Nick notes in Boiling Frogs, “it was so obviously helpful to Trump’s ambitions that his advisers couldn’t hide their delight when asked about it by reporters.” And so it’s easy to see an indictment of Trump, which Nick deems likely—either by the Justice Department or the district attorney in Fulton County, Georgia—being an asset for Trump  in our upside down reality. But … the GOP’s poor showing on Tuesday might change that. “There’s now a popular populist alternative to Trump in the figure of DeSantis, with an electability pitch so stellar that it might even penetrate the thick heads of ‘Stop the Steal’ true believers,” he writes. “And if there’s any priority that MAGA cultists hold higher than loyalty to Trump, it’s the urgent need to crush the libs by winning power.” 

When Notoriety Won’t Win Elections

Tuesday wasn’t a great night for the GOP, but the Democrats had their disappointments, too. High-profile gubernatorial candidates Stacey Abrams (in Georgia) and Beto O’Rourke (Texas). It wasn’t the first big electoral loss for either of them—Abrams famously refused to concede after losing the same race to Brian Kemp four years ago, and Beto is best known for his failed Senate bid against Ted Cruz. But they are both well-known and able to raise immense amounts of money. Audrey looks into why Democrats keep throwing money at such comments, and she posits that it has to do with fundraising. “The left has owned the small-dollar fundraising game since the creation of digital pay-processing firm ActBlue in 2004. … For more than a decade Democrats have used fundraising gimmicks like fundraising thermometers and countdown clocks that ramp up donor enthusiasm. But such tactics also encourage donors to fixate on unwinnable races” rather than invest in down-ballot contests that could lead to long-term grassroots success.” Speaking of Democrats … Audrey also looked at what Tuesday night’s results mean for Joe Biden. Will it boost the chance that he runs again in 2024?  “Vice President Kamala Harris is even more unpopular than her boss, and rising Democratic stars like California Gov. Gavin Newsom or Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg don’t stand out as obvious replacements.”

And now for the best of the rest.

  • All eyes were on the GOP’s poor showings by Trumpy candidates on Tuesday night, but Kevin writes about a lower-grade but still simmering problem for the party: Why can’t Republicans win in big cities?
  • Andrew reports that Tuesday was a bad night for the pro-life movement. A ballot measure in Kentucky that would have made it easier to pass abortion bans was defeated, while initiatives in three blue states to protect abortion access all passed.
  • In Stirewaltisms, Chris says that the split decision shows that voters are fed up with hogwash and emotional blabber, and that the results present an opportunity for the parties to be “serious about service, government, and accountability.” 
  • In other news … one of the world’s largest cryptocurrency exchanges went bankrupt this week, wiping out the entire net worth of founder Sam Bankman-Fried. Who is “SBF” and what happened to FTX? Price spells it all out.
  • There was a major development in Ukraine this week: Russian forces are withdrawing from Kherson. Kherson was the only regional capital that Russia seized, and it’s been less than two months since Putin declared it would be part of Russia “forever.” At first there were concerns that Russia’s announced withdrawal was a feint, but these uplifting videos of Kherson residents welcoming Ukrainian soldiers show it’s the real deal. Read more in The Morning Dispatch.
  • The pods! The pods! You’ll be shocked—shocked, I tell you—to learn that David, Sarah, and Jonah did a midterm postmortem on The Dispatch Podcast. You’ll have to tune in to hear who said, “Both parties suck and that’s my position.” On Advisory Opinions, David and Sarah discuss the midterms and also New York state’s gun laws. And, for some reason, David’s top two favorite songs. How should Christians think about the midterms? David and Curtis discuss on Good Faith. And if you’ve had your fill of the midterms, check out The Remnant for Jonah’s conversation with AEI senior fellow Ken Pollack on Iran.
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