Thoughts on Life, Love, Politics, Hypocrisy and Coming Out in Mid-Life
Saturday, November 12, 2022
A Sad Prediction: An Even More MAGA GOP
Heading into Tuesday, the conditions that traditionally shape midterm elections strongly favored Republicans. The party of the incumbent president usually does poorly, especially in the incumbent president’s first term. Republicans picked up 54 seats in the House of Representatives midway through Bill Clinton’s first term, and 63 seats two years into Barack Obama’s.
This year Republicans had the added advantage of President Biden’s 42 percent approval rating. Voters also expressed profound unhappiness with the direction of the country.
Yet Democrats did far better than many political experts predicted and than most Democrats expected. As of this writing, control of the Senate is undetermined but leaning Democratic. Republicans are likely to take control of the House by a razor-thin margin, the result of picking up a dozen or so seats. And Democrats appear to have made gains among governorships and in state legislatures.
Part of the reason was the Dobbs decision, which elevated abortion as an issue and energized abortion-rights voters. The New York Times’ Ezra Klein speculated that “negative polarization” helped Democrats; the fear of Republicans prevented the governing party’s normal turnout decline from happening. Preliminary data indicate that he’s correct. The Democratic base showed up, and its coalition held together quite well. Democrats did better among independents than did Republicans.
But the main reason Democrats did well is Donald Trump.
Many of Trump’s handpicked choices—in New Hampshire, in Georgia, in Arizona, in Pennsylvania, in Maryland—were unimaginably bad candidates. Trump kept enough attention on himself to prevent the election from being a clear-cut referendum on the unpopular incumbent. (As unpopular as Biden is, Trump is even more unpopular.) And Trump’s main imprint on the GOP—crazed conspiracy theories, dehumanizing policies, lawlessness and chaos—freaked out a lot of Americans who would otherwise have voted Republican.
The conventional wisdom is that Republicans will finally break with Trump, perhaps rallying around an alternative like Florida Governor Ron DeSantis . . . . But bear in mind that since the summer of 2015, Republicans have had countless opportunities to move on from Trump, most conspicuously after the violent attack on the Capitol on January 6, 2021, part of Trump’s unprecedented effort to overthrow a presidential election. Republicans have always passed. In fact, the party is more MAGA friendly after his defeat in 2020 than it was during his presidency. A bad midterm election is unlikely to break Trump’s grip on the party.
Why? Because it’s hard to overstate how radicalized and anarchic the base of the Republican Party remains. Donald Trump may have endorsed candidates such as Herschel Walker, Doug Mastriano, Kari Lake, and Mehmet Oz, but it was primary voters who chose them. The lesson primary voters usually learn after several disappointing elections, which is to make changes so their party wins more races, isn’t likely to gain much purchase within MAGA world.
Those who inhabit MAGA world are deeply alienated from institutions, including political ones, and therefore a good deal less loyal to the Republican Party than they are to Donald Trump. They view themselves as “anti-establishment” and “anti-elitist”; they have contempt for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. I’m not sure right-wing pundits declaring that the Republican Party needs to move on from Trump will sway those voters, any more than it did in 2015 and 2016, when virtually the entire GOP establishment opposed Trump.
Trump is hardly invincible, nor does he have a lock on the 2024 nomination. Polls indicate that younger Republicans and those with college degrees are becoming disenchanted with him. Trump’s descent into an ever darker, ever more deranged world is creating unease even among some who voted for him. Events can intervene, including health and indictments. And DeSantis has, at this early stage, shown the ability to excite MAGA world.
Nevertheless, Trump is still the dominant figure in the Republican Party. His imprint is all over it. And DeSantis is untested in a presidential campaign. My hunch is that many people who are excited by the idea of his candidacy haven’t actually seen all that much of him. If DeSantis runs, we’ll see just how talented (or not) he is. Running for governor and running for president are two very different things.
This also needs to be said: If the Republican Party does break with Trump now, it will be for only one reason, which is that he’s costing it power. Everything else he did—the relentless assault on truth, the unlimited corruption, the cruelty and incitements to violence, the lawlessness, his sheer depravity—was tolerable and even celebrated, so long as he was in power and viewed by Republicans as the path to more power.
The Republican Party remains diseased. There are a few exceptions, such as Senator Mitt Romney, but Americans should consider the GOP a threat to liberal democracy until we see evidence of dramatic changes. The most encouraging news from the midterms was that just enough Americans understood this; an election that should have been a Republican tsunami produced barely a trickle. As Lisa Lerer of The New York Times put it, voters “showed a limited appetite for the burn-down-the-house approach that Mr. Trump has spread throughout the Republican Party.”
The past half-dozen years have not been easy ones for American democracy. The stress test is hardly over, and the struggle will intensify. But Tuesday was a good day. Voters seemed to understand the nature of the threat; they stepped up rather than succumb to apathy or despair. Americans still have a republic, and most of them still want to keep it.
Friday, November 11, 2022
Trump: the Main Obstacle to a Republican Revival
Our choices are shaped, and even bound, by the histories and institutions we inhabit. And yet they’re still our choices. We are moral agents, responsible for our decisions, even if we can’t fully escape the matrix in which we make them.
And yet so much of the conversation about the modern Republican Party assumes the opposite: that Republican politicians are impossibly bound to the needs and desires of their coalition and unable to resist its demands. Many — too many — political observers speak as if Republican leaders and officials had no choice but to accept Donald Trump into the fold, no choice but to apologize for his every transgression, no choice but to humor his attempt to overturn the result of the 2020 presidential election and now no choice but to embrace election-denying candidates around the country.
But that’s nonsense. For all the pressures of the base, for all the fear of Trump and his gift for ridicule, for all the demands of the donor class, it is also true that at every turn, Republicans in Washington and elsewhere have made an active and affirmative choice to embrace the worst elements of their party — and jettison the norms and values that make democracy work — for the sake of their narrow political and ideological objectives.
Choices come with consequences and the GOP's failure to achieve their fantasy "red wave" is their own fault and that of the malignant individual to whom theywere willing in most case to sell their souls. A piece in The Economist - which has been in business since 1843 - looks at Trump's record as a loser:
After this week’s vote the suspicion that Mr Trump is, in fact, just a loser will be much harder for him to overcome. And that is what his record points to. In 2020 he was the first incumbent since Jimmy Carter to follow a president from the other party and then lose. In 2018 the Republicans lost 41 seats in the House under the Trump banner (Democrats may have lost only a handful this week). Even at his moment of greatest triumph, in 2016, he lost the popular vote and only narrowly beat a candidate who was trying to follow a two-term president from her own party, something which rarely happens. Now 2022 can be added to this less-than-stellar streak.
His handpicked candidates turned winnable Senate races into nail-biters in Arizona, Georgia, Nevada and Pennsylvania. Meanwhile in Florida, Governor Ron DeSantis, a probable rival, won by roughly 20 points. Two Republican candidates for governor closely associated with Trumpism—Doug Mastriano in Pennsylvania and Tim Michels in Wisconsin—both repeated the lost-cause story about 2020 and vowed to use their influence over election administration to make sure no Republican presidential candidate would lose again in their state. It was they who lost. In Michigan and Nevada Republican candidates who swore the 2020 election was stolen ran for secretary of state so that they might oversee the next one. They lost, too. In Colorado Lauren Boebert, who has flirted with the QAnon conspiracy, may lose the safest of seats.
How does the GOP begin to regain some sense of sanity? The first step is to jettison Trump - not an easy task. After that, the Christofascist and white supremacists (who are increasingly toxic in the eyes of a majority of Americans) need to be shown the door. As long as Trump remains a force in the GOP these ugly elements of the base will continue to be pandered to. A column in Washington Post looks at the GOP's Trump problem. Here are highlights:
The final votes have yet to be counted, but so far the 2022 midterm campaign bears a striking resemblance to the midterm elections of 1998. A quarter century ago, Republicans were convinced that historical precedent and the manifest flaws of the incumbent Democratic president would bring them a landslide victory.
Instead, the party found itself losing ground in the House of Representatives and gaining nothing in the Senate. Conservatives felt demoralized and diminished. Within a week, Speaker Newt Gingrich announced his resignation from Congress.
The setback led to renewal. The Republicans turned to one of the big winners of the 1998 election, Gov. George W. Bush of Texas, to redefine the party and restore it to power. Its strategy worked two years later (with help from the Supreme Court).
The party may be in a similar position today. A disappointing election has rattled conservatives. The nation’s most influential Republican, Donald Trump, is implicated in the unsatisfying result. But a dazzling performance in one state has presented the party with an opportunity to think again about renewal — and to embrace a popular alternative to Mr. Trump’s abrasive style and divisive leadership.
Of course, even if a new standard-bearer has more widespread appeal, the party must still move beyond Mr. Trump. Mr. Trump will have a say in that, too: He may not allow the Republican Party to disenthrall itself from him without a costly fight.
For conservatives, this is a fight worth having. Since his takeover of the party in 2016, Mr. Trump’s G.O.P. has lost the House, the White House and the Senate. If Republicans do end up taking both houses of Congress this year, it won’t be because of Mr. Trump, but despite him.
There may be a silent majority of “normie” Americans open to Republican leadership — but those voters run in the other direction at the first sight of Mr. Trump and his most devoted supporters. Mr. Gingrich saw that the party’s interests were best served under different leadership. Mr. Trump sees no interest but his own. He is the chief obstacle to a Republican revival.
Decades later, America and the Republicans have changed, but the party’s problems — among them, the perception that it is beholden to extremists — have not.
Republicans have taken the popular vote in a presidential election just once in 34 years. The last time they won independent voters at the national level was 2016, and it was a plurality (48 percent). They went from losing moderate voters by nine points in 2016 to 15 points in 2022. . . . .To win a national majority, Republicans must rack up big margins among independents and suburbanites and narrow their differences with moderates.
After Tuesday, it is obvious to all but his most blinkered fans that Mr. Trump has made the task more difficult.
If Mr. DeSantis enters the presidential stakes, then, he will have to win over conservative media and wrest control of the G.O.P. from Mr. Trump. It might even come at the risk of driving Mr. Trump to start an independent candidacy. But only then will the party have a chance to purge some of the poison that is in the system.
Thursday, November 10, 2022
Trump Lost the Midterms, DeSantis Won
The next big question in American politics: Is Florida’s reelected governor, Ron DeSantis, a leader or a follower, a man or a mouse?
DeSantis had a big night yesterday. Now he’s preparing to seek the Republican nomination for president. Ex-President Donald Trump stands in his way, testing the slogans and insults he’ll use against DeSantis—hoping that the angry sounds will intimidate DeSantis into abandoning the impending contest before it starts.
Other Republicans had a bad night yesterday. Their disappointment was very much Trump’s fault. Trump stuck them with bad candidates and bad issues: his own grievances about the election of 2020. That record should weaken Trump’s standing. But the weakening only matters if somebody uses it.
For seven years, Donald Trump’s superpower has been the abjectness of his fellow Republicans. He would abuse and insult them; they might fight back for a round or two—but then crumple.
Trump led his party from loss to loss.
He lost the popular vote in 2016. He lost the House in 2018. He lost the popular vote and the Electoral College in 2020. He lost the Senate in 2021.
Since 2000, there have been six presidential elections, and thus 12 presidential nominations by the two major parties. In his share of votes cast, Trump finished tenth and 11th out of the 12: behind Mitt Romney, behind John Kerry, behind Al Gore.
And yet, despite all this loserdom, his party whimpered and submitted. Elected officials and big donors would tell reporters off the record how much they despised Trump and wished him gone. But when it came time to act, they cowered and cringed.
Trump had another night of defeats last night, perhaps his most spectacular yet. He pushed his party to nominate weirdos and crackpots. He trapped a supposedly pro-life party into rallying to a candidate credibly alleged to have pressured two different women into unwanted abortions. Trump raised money for candidates and hoarded the money in his own PAC accounts. Anytime Republicans got a chance to talk about the future, he dragged them into battles over his past misconduct, everything from his part in January 6 to alleged real-estate fraud to walking off with presidential documents and storing them illegally at Mar a Lago. He insisted that the 2022 election be a referendum on his personal grievances and delusions.
Last night, voters got their chance to render a verdict. And whatever else they meant to say, they clearly communicated that they were sick of Trump and his antics.
Republicans paid a heavy price for extremism, for obnoxious personal behavior, for election denial, for democracy subversion. They will continue to pay it unless one of them acts. That means recovering some strength of character. It means taking the fight to Trump, and beating him on his own ground.
Trump converted Republican politics into a theater of domination. Ideology, policy, character—none of that mattered anymore. . . . . Hollowed out by years of truckling to Republican donors, they had only a big void where their backbone was supposed to be.
If DeSantis is in the game now, he has to play now.
That doesn’t have to mean fighting Trump the way Liz Cheney or Evan McMullin have fought him. Many might wish that rank-and-file Republicans felt more shame and regret for January 6 than they do. But they don’t. They do want to win—and they can be convinced that Trump is out of date, out of touch, and out of shape. Somebody who seeks to replace Trump atop the Republican Party cannot pretend Trump is not there. Trump is a huge personality who makes every contest a battle of personalities. Refusing to engage is not an option, because he will engage whether his target likes it or not. There’s no choice except to engage in turn.
So: man or mouse? DeSantis’s answer will shape the future not only of the Republican Party but of America.
Wednesday, November 09, 2022
The GOP Offered Rage and Trump: The Country Said No!
Republicans misread the mood of the country, and many political analysts went along. Young voters backed the Democrats, and enough voted this year to make a big difference. Americans are quite capable of being angry about the state of the economy without letting their unhappiness push them into the arms of extremists.
And for the Republican Party, Donald Trump is a stone cold loser.
The red wave so many anticipated in this year’s midterms proved to be a chimera. The reliable polls did say it would be close. Many prognosticators preferred precooked conclusions.
The United States remains a deeply divided country, but a substantial majority (58 percent in the national exit poll) dislikes the former president. This majority saved one Democrat after another from defeat. President Biden had one of the most successful midterm elections of any chief executive in history, not because he enjoyed high approval ratings (he doesn’t) but because nearly half of the voters said he was not a factor in their choice. They backed Democrats by a 3-to-2 ratio to oppose the far right, Trump and the election deniers — and to support abortion rights and gun control.
Republicans failed to put forward anything that could be considered a governing agenda. The consensus seemed to be that the GOP had run a very disciplined campaign focused on inflation and crime, with attacks on Biden and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) layered in to fertilize discontent.
It didn’t work, partly because Republicans offered nothing in the way of solutions to the problems they were bemoaning. They also fudged what was supposed to be an issue of high principle, fleeing in horror from the abortion question once they realized how much anger a right-wing Supreme Court had inspired by overturning Roe v. Wade.
Their evasion didn’t help them. . . . . And the GOP’s inability to specify what the party might do with power undercut Republicans on the issues that were supposed to be their salvation.
The weakness of the Republican showing was brought home by some of their pickups, particularly in Florida and New York, where the results came as much from the redrawing of district lines as any change in voter sentiment.
Another column also in the Washington Post looks at how numerous GOP narratives went down in flames as they crashed into the wall of reality outside of the Fox News bubble. Here are excerpts:
Shattering the expectations of, well, just about everybody in U.S. politics, as of Wednesday afternoon a Democratic hold of the House cannot be ruled out, and Democrats are somewhat favored to keep the Senate.
We might not know either outcome for days, but we already know this: The vaunted “red wave” never materialized.
In the Senate races, John Fetterman triumphed in Pennsylvania, Sen. Mark Kelly is favored to prevail in Arizona with more than half the votes counted, and Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto trails in Nevada, but the makeup of outstanding ballots gives her a plausible shot.
If Kelly and Cortez Masto prevail, Democrats will hold the Senate. . . . Meanwhile, in the House, Republicans have yet to secure the 218 wins they need, though they’re still narrowly favored to do so.
Beyond the demise of the “red wave” storyline, five other big media narratives just went down in flames. Here’s what we have learned instead:
Democracy was on the ballot, and (for now) it’s winning
We have long been told that inflation and crime are “real” issues that truly matter, while Democratic warnings about the fate of democracy wouldn’t motivate voters. I also feared this.
But we can already say Donald Trump-fueled election denialism suffered a rebuke at the polls, and that voters meaningfully reduced the threat it poses.
With Democrats sweeping gubernatorial races in Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin — where GOP governors could have certified sham presidential electors for a losing GOP candidate — a big pathway to a stolen or crisis-ridden 2024 election has been choked off.
Kevin McCarthy’s dance with Trump has been a disaster
Just after Jan. 6, 2021, the House minority leader privately concluded Trump should resign. Then he made a public pilgrimage to Mar-a-Lago to cement their alliance, and helped cover up Trump’s coup attempt for the next 20 months.
We’ll never know what would have happened if McCarthy had taken the other path — using Jan. 6 to marginalize Trump — but we do know now that harnessing Trumpist energy failed to produce the decisive rout he predicted.
In a poetic twist, the Trumpier House Republicans now see McCarthy as a wounded animal, Punchbowl News reports. Even if Republicans win the House majority, its sheer narrowness is likely to make it easier for members of the MAGA caucus to knife McCarthy in the back, legislatively or with a leadership challenge — a fitting end given the corrupt bargain he struck.
Democratic “meddling” in primaries worked
When Democrats elevated MAGA Republicans in primaries, believing they would be weaker general-election opponents, the roar of pundit criticism was deafening. . . . But it was a bet that seemingly paid off. As HuffPost’s Kevin Robillard demonstrates, six of the most prominent election-denying candidates who were boosted by Democrats in House, Senate and gubernatorial races went down.
“Invasion” language did little for Republicans
House Republicans poured enormous sums into ads depicting the migrant “invasion” in the vilest of terms. Republicans have long enjoyed a presumption of a major advantage on this issue, but aside from Trump’s 2016 victory, it keeps failing to deliver.
GOP confidence that President Biden’s “disastrous open border” would spark major electoral repudiation, giving Republicans space to hyper-radicalize their base around the issue, has proved wrong.
And if Blake Masters loses in the Arizona Senate race — after openly embracing “great replacement theory” and running ads featuring the most lurid and militarized “invasion” imagery imaginable — that will only add more evidence against the political effectiveness of this GOP strategy.
A radicalized MAGA House might not have free rein, after all
It has long been suggested (including by me) that a GOP-controlled House would be able to run amok with Benghazi-style investigations and impeachments of everyone down to the White House chef.
But if the majority remains narrow, it’s unclear whether the votes will be there to impeach Biden. And while zealous investigations are expected to roar forward, Republican leaders are almost certainly going to struggle to prevent the unruly MAGA caucus from truly driving things off the rails.
[T]he big emerging story of these midterm elections is that MAGAfied authoritarian forces enthusiastically embraced by the GOP suffered unexpected and potentially grave setbacks. Whether Republicans will accept this interpretation and act on it is another matter entirely.
Seemingly the Vaunted GOP Red Wave Failed
Control of the Senate hung Wednesday on Nevada and Arizona, where victories for Democrats could secure their party a majority in Congress’s upper chamber even if the tight Senate contest in Georgia moves to a December runoff.
Democrats defied all predictions of a midterm electoral drubbing on Tuesday, winning dozens of key House, Senate and governors’ races across the country and handing a stunning rebuke to Republicans who had promised that a “red wave” would end one of the most consequential midterm campaigns in recent memory.
Locally, Elaine Luria lost to utter whack job Jen Kiggans which demonstrated again that Virginia Beach remains a far right enclave where going forward I will spend as little time and money as humanly possible. The big hope remains that Democrats will win in the still undecided U.S. Senate races which would hobble Republicans if they control the House of Representatives. Why the GOP failure to experience a wave election? The pundits will dream up all kinds of rationales. Personally, I suspect that the result was a public recognition of the extremism of today's GOP, a backlash against the Supreme Court in Dobbs, and a lack of any GOP plan to deal with the economy and inflation in particular. A column in the Washington Post looks at the results so far:
In the closing days of the 2022 campaign, Republicans were in a bullish mood. They believed that after a difficult summer, the momentum of the midterm elections had swung decisively in their direction.
Election night proved to be more problematic. The vaunted red wave never hit the shore.
Republicans remained confident that when all the results were tallied, they would control the House, though likely by a margin that would fall short of their projections. The Senate, meanwhile, was turning out as predicted, with control in the balance and a handful of seats not called and not likely to be for days.
The pattern for the night was set relatively early, as seats Republicans thought they would flip were agonizingly close and some went against their expectations. One was in Virginia, where Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D) was reelected; another was in Rhode Island, where Seth Magaziner (D) prevailed. Other races Republicans had expressed confidence in winning were turning out to be more competitive than thought.
Candidate quality also appeared to be a problem for Republicans. In the Georgia Senate race, Democratic incumbent Raphael G. Warnock and Republican Herschel Walker were in a virtual tie all evening. Walker, whose troubled past had dogged him throughout the election, was running several points behind Gov. Brian Kemp (R), who easily won his reelection over Democrat Stacey Abrams. And in Pennsylvania, Lt. Gov. John Fetterman (D) was projected to win a hard-fought race for an open Senate seat.
Midterm elections are always a referendum on the president. Try as Biden did to make it a choice between his leadership and that of former president Donald Trump and what he labeled the “MAGA Republicans,” it was in fact more of a referendum on the incumbent administration than anything else. But this has been an unusual election year, one in which some of the normal rules have not applied. If it was a referendum on Biden, it was also a referendum on the Republicans and America itself.
It was the first balloting since rioters attacked the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, in an attempt to aid Trump in his quest to overturn the 2020 election results and remain in power. It also was the first election since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, ending the constitutional right to an abortion that had stood for half a century. And it was the first campaign in which the label “election deniers” was applied to hundreds of candidates around the country — all of them running as Republicans.
As the first waves of votes were coming in from states around the country, nothing appeared likely to change the prevailing pattern of constant change — in this case putting Republicans on a path to claim a majority in the House, which the odds have favored that outcome all year. The real suspense as the night went on was whether those gains would be big or not so big — and here, Republicans were forced to wait for more results before knowing what the future House would look like.
By early Wednesday, the balance of power in the Senate depended on the outcome of competitive contests in a handful of states. With late poll closings out West and expected slow counting of mail-in ballots in some places, a definitive answer to the question of who would be in the majority may not be forthcoming for days or perhaps longer.
By 2 a.m. Wednesday, the only Senate seat to switch party control was in Pennsylvania, where Fetterman was projected to defeat Republican Mehmet Oz to succeed the retiring Sen. Pat Toomey (R). Meanwhile, Democrats retained Sen. Maggie Hassan’s seat in New Hampshire, one that Republicans saw as a potential pickup that would signal a banner night for the party.
For Republicans, with power comes the obligation to govern — and to avoid the voters’ wrath two years hence. The last time they were in control of the presidency, the House and the Senate, which was after Trump was elected president in 2016, they stumbled badly on a pledge to eliminate the Affordable Care Act, squabbled among themselves and were saddled with unhappiness over Trump’s conduct in office. In 2018 they lost the House, and in 2020 the Senate.
Republicans tried to take advantage of prevailing public sentiment about inflation and crime and Biden’s low approval ratings. Republican candidates said they can bring down the cost of living, deal with crime and secure the southern border, but they have provided only scant policy details. Voters have shown time and again that they have limited patience awaiting results.
In June, the Supreme Court overturned Roe, throwing open a long-brewing debate. The decision caused an immediate shift in election calculations, as many women and some men responded with anger and determination to use the ballot box to express their dismay.
Exit polls showed that about 3 in 10 voters cited abortion as the most important issue in their vote. That was smaller than the number who named inflation, but not by a huge margin. About 6 in 10 said they were angry or dissatisfied with the court’s decision.
Trump and democracy were similarly elevated as issues during the same stretch of summer months, thanks principally to public hearings from the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack. Biden especially picked up the theme, delivering two speeches on the topic, including one in the closing days of the campaign. “Democracy is on the ballot” became a rallying cry for some Democrats.
A question heading into Election Day was whether the two issues buoying Democrats would be enough to truly blunt the winds at the backs of Republican candidates.
As the returns continued to come in Wednesday morning, that question remained unanswered, though it was not the night Republican leaders had anticipated.
Tuesday, November 08, 2022
A Political Nightmare 2 Years in the Making
I have been wary of political predictions ever since I co-authored a book 50 years ago that explained how John Lindsay would be elected president in 1972.
But it took no predictive gifts two years ago to warn that while the 2020 presidential election ended by affirming the legitimate winner, it raised unsettling questions about what might happen the next time. Would American democracy be on firmer ground by 2024 — or in an even more perilous state? After the midterm votes are counted, it’s almost certain to be the latter. The warnings of the growing threat to our very system of government are likely to be validated, with potentially disastrous consequences.
In late November 2020, after the states had certified their electoral votes, but well before the Jan. 6 Capitol riot, I wrote in this space:
“It takes no great leap into speculation to show that Trump has taught his would-be successors very powerful lessons in just how to steal an election. Indeed, he’s shown that there’s already political and judicial structure in place that will make it far easier to pull off in elections to come, at least for Republicans, who hold most of the reins in state legislatures. Like the German military who saw the Spanish Civil War as a testing ground for the Luftwaffe, the GOP may come to see 2020 as the election that illuminated the path to seizing power over the will of American voters.”
That path involved several theoretical steps that have steadily become more real, with anti-democratic forces now poised to gain ground across the country.
First: Convince your voters that the election has been stolen from them.
That’s been the GOP’s approach almost from the moment Donald Trump declared, falsely in 2020, that: “Frankly, we did win.” A significant majority of self-identified Republicans believe Joe Biden is an illegitimate president. Even more significant, large numbers of Republican officials and candidates have amplified this delusion or lie.
Second: Make sure local and state officials are loyal.
This has been a uniquely successful effort on the part of the Trumpists. As soon as key Republican officials in Michigan, Pennsylvania, Georgia and Arizona rejected efforts to overturn the verdict of the voters in 2020, the strategy for the next campaign was born. The capacity to gum up the machinery of counting and validating votes, maybe even nudge it the other direction, would increase dramatically. If nothing else, Republicans — who control a majority of statehouses in the U.S. — now know precisely where to exert political muscle to ensure that loyalists hold those jobs.
Primary campaigns have already taken out key players who protected the 2020 vote, like half a dozen House Republicans and the Arizona House speaker who was seeking a state Senate seat. In state after state, Republicans have labeled the Jan. 6 insurrection as a “peaceful exercise of First Amendment rights.” More important, some GOP-controlled legislatures have ensured that voting will be more difficult, and that the process of counting of the votes — prohibiting early and mail-in votes from being tallied until late in the process — will only fuel further claims of “another stolen election!”
Third: Open the door to state legislatures deciding the vote.
It caused some heads to turn when Wisconsin GOP gubernatorial candidate Tim Michels told supporters that if he is elected, his party “will never lose another election” in the state. While he claimed later to mean only his policies would be hugely popular, the implication was unmistakable. Ever since taking control of the Legislature in 2010, Wisconsin Republicans have worked to give the Legislature significant power over the counting of votes. . . . . The ability of courts to thwart the power of legislatures, which has proven effective in Pennsylvania and North Carolina, may in turn be severely weakened if the U.S. Supreme Court adopts the radical “Independent State Legislature” theory.
Fourth: Bend the last guardrail — the U.S. Congress.
Should the GOP win control of either the House or Senate, the chances for a voting right bill to curtail the power of state legislatures are non-existent (though Democrats couldn’t even pass one while they had majorities, thanks to Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema’s opposition to gutting the Senate filibuster). And if both houses come under Republican control, the GOP’s ability to contest and reject the certified votes of states in 2024 will be vastly strengthened.
And as for the consequences of allowing election denialism to sink deep into the roots of our politics? I sketched them out nearly two years ago: “Republicans learned in the 2020 election that the ancient machinery of conducting elections is rusted, frail and highly vulnerable. They have seen exactly where the stress points of the system are. … There is every reason to believe they will seek to collapse that system the next chance they get.”
The midterm results look likely to ensure we’ll test that theory out in 2024. I’ll be a lot happier if I’m dead wrong.
A MAGA America Would Be Ugly
If you aren’t feeling a sense of dread on the eve of the midterm elections, you haven’t been paying attention.
We can talk about the conventional stakes of these elections — their implications for economic policy, major social programs, environmental policy, civil liberties and reproductive rights. And it’s not wrong to have these discussions: Life will go on whatever happens on the political scene, and government policies will continue to have a big impact on people’s lives.
But I, at least, always feel at least a bit guilty when writing about inflation or the fate of Medicare. Yes, these are my specialties. Focusing on them, however, feels a bit like denial, or at least evasion, when the fundamental stakes right now are so existential.
Ten or 20 years ago, those of us who warned that the Republican Party was becoming increasingly extremist and anti-democracy were often dismissed as alarmists. But the alarmists have been vindicated every step of the way, from the selling of the Iraq war on false pretenses to the Jan. 6 insurrection.
[I]t’s almost conventional wisdom that the G.O.P. will, if it can, turn America into something like Viktor Orban’s Hungary: a democracy on paper, but an ethnonationalist, authoritarian one-party state in practice. After all, U.S. conservatives have made no secret about viewing Hungary as a role model; they have feted Orban and featured him at their conferences.
At this point, however, I believe that even this conventional wisdom is wrong. If America descends into one-party rule, it will be much worse, much uglier, than what we see in today’s Hungary.
If Democrats lose one or both houses of Congress, there will be a loud chorus of recriminations, much of it asserting that they should have focused on kitchen table issues and not talked at all about threats to democracy.
I don’t claim any expertise here, but I would note that an incumbent president’s party almost always loses seats in the midterms. The only exception to that rule this century was in 2002, when George W. Bush was able to deflect attention from a jobless recovery by posing as America’s defender against terrorism. That record suggests, if anything, that Democrats should have talked even more about issues beyond economics.
[E]ven voters who are more worried about paychecks and living costs than about democracy should nonetheless be very concerned about the G.O.P.’s rejection of democratic norms.
For one thing, Republicans have been open about their plan to use the threat of economic chaos to extract concessions they couldn’t win through the normal legislative process.
[T]hey should understand that this time, voting Republican doesn’t just mean giving someone else a chance at the wheel; it may be a big step toward handing the G.O.P. permanent control, with no chance for voters to revisit that decision if they don’t like the results.
Which brings me to the question of what a one-party America would look like.
As I said, it’s now almost conventional wisdom that Republicans are trying to turn us into Hungary. Indeed, Hungary provides a case study in how democracies can die in the 21st century.
But what strikes me, reading about Orban’s rule, is that while his regime is deeply repressive, the repression is relatively subtle. It is, as one perceptive article put it, “soft fascism,” which makes dissidents powerless via its control of the economy and the news media without beating them up or putting them in jail.
Do you think a MAGA regime, with or without Donald Trump, would be equally subtle? Listen to the speeches at any Trump rally. They’re full of vindictiveness, of promises to imprison and punish anyone — including technocrats like Anthony Fauci — the movement dislikes.
In short, if MAGA wins, we’ll probably find ourselves wishing its rule was as tolerant, relatively benign and relatively nonviolent as Orban’s.
Now, this catastrophe doesn’t have to happen. Even if Republicans win big in the midterms, it won’t be the end for democracy, although it will be a big blow. And nothing in politics, not even a full descent into authoritarianism, is permanent.
On the other hand, even if we get a reprieve this week, the fact remains that democracy is in deep danger from the authoritarian right. America as we know it is not yet lost, but it’s on the edge.
Monday, November 07, 2022
A GOP Congress Could Roll Back Nationwide Freedoms
If Republicans win control of one or both congressional chambers this week, they will likely begin a project that could reshape the nation’s political and legal landscape: imposing on blue states the rollback of civil rights and liberties that has rapidly advanced through red states since 2021.
Over the past two years, the 23 states where Republicans hold unified control of the governorship and state legislature have approved the most aggressive wave of socially conservative legislation in modern times. In highly polarizing battles across the country, GOP-controlled states have passed laws imposing new restrictions on voting, banning or limiting access to abortion, retrenching LGBTQ rights, removing licensing and training requirements for concealed carry of firearms, and censoring how public-school teachers (and in some cases university professors and even private employers) can talk about race, gender, and sexual orientation.
Republicans in the U.S. House and Senate have introduced legislation to write each of these red-state initiatives into federal law. The practical effect of these proposals would be to require blue states to live under the restrictive social policies that have burned through red states since President Joe Biden’s victory in 2020.
None of the proposals to nationalize the red-state social agenda could become law any time soon. Even if Republicans were to win both congressional chambers, they would not have the votes to overcome the inevitable Biden vetoes. Nor would Republicans, even if they controlled both chambers, have any incentive to consider repealing the Senate filibuster to pass this agenda until they know they have a president who would sign the resulting bills into law—something they can’t achieve before the 2024 election.
But if Republicans triumph this week, the next two years could nonetheless become a crucial period in formulating a strategy to nationalize the red-state social-policy revolution. . . . And the 2024 Republican presidential candidates are also likely to test GOP primary voters’ appetite for writing conservative social priorities into national law. Embracing such initiatives “may prove irresistible for a lot of folks trying to capture” the party’s socially conservative wing, Patrick Brown, a fellow at the conservative Ethics and Public Policy Center, told me.
It starts with abortion. Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina in September introduced a bill that would ban the procedure nationwide after 15 weeks of pregnancy. In the House, 167 Republicans have co-sponsored the “Life Begins at Conception Act,” which many legal analysts say would effectively ban all abortions nationwide.
In elections, Senator Rick Scott of Florida has proposed legislation that would impose for federal elections nationwide many of the voting restrictions that have rapidly diffused across red states . . .
In education, Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas has proposed to federalize restrictions on how teachers can talk about race by barring any K–12 school that receives federal money from using “critical race theory” in instruction. Several Republicans (including Senator Josh Hawley of Missouri) have introduced a “Parents’ Bill of Rights,” which would mandate parental access to school curriculum and library materials nationwide—a step toward building pressure for the kind of book bans spreading through conservative states and school districts.
Representative Mike Johnson of Louisiana, along with several dozen co-sponsors, recently introduced a federal version of the “Don’t Say Gay” legislation that Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida pushed into law. Johnson’s bill is especially sweeping in its scope. It bars discussion of “sexually-oriented material,” including sexual orientation, with children 10 and younger, not only in educational settings, but in any program funded by the federal government, including through public libraries, hospitals, and national parks. . . . . Johnson’s bill is only one of several Republican proposals to nationalize red-state actions on LGBTQ issues.
Meanwhile, Senator Steve Daines and Representative Richard Hudson of North Carolina have introduced legislation requiring every state to accept a concealed-carry gun permit issued in any state—a mechanism for overriding blue-state limits on these permits. . . . Ambler told me he expects that the NRA and congressional Republicans will eventually seek not only to preempt blue states and city limits on who can carry guns, but also to invalidate their restrictions on where they can do so, such as the New York State law, now facing legal challenge, barring guns from the subway.
[W]e’ve seen again and again in the states is that when they can, they have moved in these directions. Even when you take a look at more moderate states, when they have the power to do these things, they move these things forward.” That precedent eventually may apply not just to LGBTQ issues, but to all the red-state initiatives some Republicans want to inscribe into national law.
[T]he red states have moved to reverse that long trajectory toward a stronger national floor of rights by setting their own rules on abortion, voting, LGBTQ issues, classroom censorship, and book bans, among other issues. In that cause, they have been crucially abetted by the Republican-appointed Supreme Court majority, which has struck down or weakened previously nationally guaranteed rights (including abortion and voting access).
But the proliferation of these congressional-Republican proposals to write the red-state rules into federal law suggests that this reassertion of states’ rights was just a way station toward restoring common national standards of civil rights and liberties—only in a much more restrictive and conservative direction.
Like many students of the red-state social-policy eruption, Tillery believes that Republicans and social conservatives feel enormous urgency to write their cultural priorities into law before liberal-leaning Millennials and Generation Z become the electorate’s dominant force later this decade. “The future ain’t bright for them looking at young people, so they are acting in a much more muscular and authoritarian way now,” he said.
Be very afraid.
Dancing Near the Edge of a Lost Democracy
One of the most sobering statements from President Biden’s speech last week on protecting democracy was one that might well have gone unnoticed by many who heard it or read about it.
In the speech, Biden pointed out, “The remarkable thing about American democracy is this: Just enough of us, on just enough occasions, have chosen not to dismantle democracy but to preserve democracy.”
The sentence is damning. The dismantling of our democracy is just one apathetic electorate, one slate of voter suppression laws or one barrage of misinformation away.
Modern presidential elections don’t often end in landslides. In fact, no president has won by a margin of the popular vote greater than 10 percentage points since Ronald Reagan in 1984. Biden’s margin of victory over Donald Trump was only four percentage points.
These slim margins are obscured by the flaws and peculiarities of our electoral process, how small states are overrepresented and most states award electors on a winner-take-all basis.
[T]hat same [Electoral College] fluke means that the country’s last two Republican presidents were able to win the Electoral College while losing the popular vote — George Bush in 2000 and Trump in 2016.
This is all to say that we are always a cat’s whisker away from calamity.
And that doesn’t go only for presidential elections. The same dilemma has plagued this year’s midterms as control of Congress hangs in the balance, with the antidemocracy barbarians at the door.
It is widely believed that Republicans will retake control of the House of Representatives, the only question being by what margin. But the control of the Senate is very much in play, with some of the most hotly contested races playing out in states that often swing presidential elections, like Georgia, Pennsylvania, Arizona and Wisconsin.
In each of these states, the Republican candidates for the Senate have at one time either openly denied the results of the 2020 election or pushed false claims of fraud about that election.
Those candidates have a chance to win, but even if they don’t, the damage their election denialism has done will linger. We are witnessing a generational curse being cast.
Republicans have turned doubt about the 2020 election — and about the legitimacy of any elections they lose — into a test of faith. It is the crucible through which one must pass to be a modern Republican in good standing. You are true only if you swallow the lie.
Many elected officials and operatives are simply being opportunists, using the lie to excite voters or to benefit from the zealotry the lie has spawned. But for many Trump followers, the lie is gospel. It is being welded not only to the psyche but also to the soul.
This mass delusion will not be easy to dislodge.
But this is a problem for our democracy. The people fighting to save democracy are doing so with fact, but the people willing and working to destroy it are operating on a feeling. The former is relying on data and the latter on dogma.
The antidemocracy faithful cannot and will not be dissuaded by facts. Faith, which doesn’t require evidence, can be fed and affirmed by things that aren’t true. And that is precisely what is happening.
That faith doesn’t even allow for the notion that destroying democracy would be bad, or markedly worse than present conditions. So people may even believe that they will benefit from democracy’s demise.
This is Trump’s twisted legacy, something that will endure, no matter what happens during these midterms and whether he runs once more for president. The damage he has done and continues to do will, in the end, be far bigger than he ever was.
[T]he country is perilously close to installing officials who want to undo it and remake it, who want a partial democracy or none at all. America is one bad election away from being a memory.