Red Wave? Pink Wave? No Wave? Blue Wave?
Yesterday, David Frum wrote that Trump being back on the ballot is a problem for Republicans. The deranged Republican base certainly loves him and mostly slavishly follows his endorsements in party primaries. That’s not a problem in a state like Wyoming, where Republicans don’t need Democrats, independents of even moderates to win general elections. But that’s Wyoming, with it’s R+25 PVI, the worst in the country. Keep in mind, though, that’s nothing like:
North Carolina- R+3
Or even Ohio- with it’s R+6 PVI. In these states, Trumpists can’t win general elections on their own. They need conservative Democrats, moderate Republicans and independent voters to close the deal. Trumpists can win primaries; they can’t win in November on their own.
Frum, like many other political observers this week, noted that there has been a “flow of good news for the Democrats as the 2022 midterms approach.” He pointed out that Democratic Senate candidates are ahead in some of these slightly red-leaning states— Arizona, Georgia, Ohio and Pennsylvania, not even mentioning the newest— and less likely— news about Florida and Wisconsin.
He also pointed out that “Democratic standing is rising in generic polling. Across the nation, indications are gathering that Republicans could pay an immediate political price for the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v Wade. Above all, the August economic news has turned good: gasoline prices declining, general inflation abating, job growth surging.”
So, although Trump’s “narrative of personal grievance still deeply moves Republican voters, it sure doesn’t resonate with normal voters. The newest poll of Wisconsin voters, for example, shows Trump’s favorability way underwater. They may love him in politically-primitive Wyoming but swing states have had enough.
GOP leaders have made a lot of noise about the Democratic obsession with pronouns. But the Trump Republicans have a pronoun problem of their own: Trump demands, and they agree, to talk about “me, me, me” when the electorate has other, real, bread-and-butter concerns.
Big-money Republicans hoped that 2022 would be the year the GOP quietly sidelined Trump. Those hopes have been fading all year, as extreme and unstable pro-Trump candidates have triumphed in primary after primary. Their last best hope was that the reelection of Ron DeSantis as governor of Florida would painlessly shoulder Trump out of contention for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination. Now that hope, too, is dying.
DeSantis ran in 2018 as a craven Trump sycophant. He had four years to become his own man. He battled culture wars— even turning against his former backers at Disney— all to prove himself the snarling alpha-male bully that Republican primary voters reward. But since the Mar-a-Lago search, DeSantis has dropped back into the beta-male role, sidekick and cheering section for Trump.
Trump has reasserted dominance. DeSantis has submitted. And if Republican presidential politics in the Trump era has one rule, it’s that there’s no recovery from submission. Roll over once, and you cannot get back on your feet again.
Trump specializes in creating dominance-and-submission rituals. His Republican base is both the audience for them and the instrument of them. But to those outside the subculture excited by these rituals, they look demeaning and ridiculous. Everybody else wants jobs, homes, cheaper prescription drugs, and bridges that do not collapse— not public performances in Trump’s theater of humiliation.
Midterm elections are usually referendums on the pressing issues of the day. Voters treat them, in effect, as their answer to the implied question: “Got any complaints?” And because voters usually do have complaints, the president’s party tends to take losses. But this time, the loudest complaints of the “out” party are becoming very far removed from most people’s lives.
Historically, conservatives spoke the language of stability; progressives, the language of change. This summer, however, the Trump Republicans are speaking the language of confrontation, of threat, of violence. Five days ago, Peter Wehner described here at The Atlantic the angry shouts on right-wing message boards and websites. That language of menace is now being used by the former president himself. Allow me impunity or else face more armed violence from my supporters is the implicit Trump warning.
That’s a hell of a message to carry into a midterm election. And it’s a message that is incidentally amending the 2022 ballot question from “Got any complaints?” to “How do you react to bullies making threats?”
Early this morning, Politico’s “Playbook” asserted that, with just 12 weeks to go, “Republicans’ hopes of retaking the Senate rest on a slate of Donald Trump's hand-picked nominees. And, across the board, they appear to be struggling. In Pennsylvania, Mehmet Oz is seen as “an out-of-touch carpetbagger.” Georgia/Texas’ Herschel Walker is little more than a big ole bundle of gaffes and abuse allegations with a Trump endorsement and Blake Masters’ may have captured Peter Thiel’s heart— and pocketbook— but he’s way too extreme for Arizona voters. “Democrats across the country are finding ways to run ahead— sometimes well ahead— of Joe Biden’s approval ratings. Candidates like [Mandela]Barnes, John Fetterman, Raphael Warnock, Mark Kelly and others are being buoyed by an improving political environment for Democrats. Since May, Democrats have held a consistent generic-ballot advantage in the Politico/Morning Consult poll, with our latest survey pegging a four-point lead.
By historical standards, that may not be enough of an advantage for Democrats to keep the House. But it could be enough of a tailwind to propel at least some Democratic Senate candidates to victory against flawed competition.
“Senate campaigns are candidate-versus-candidate battles,” said the DSCC’s David Bergstein. “And right now, the Republican roster of recruits, it's looking like a bunch of rotten crudités.”
The key unanswered question GOP strategists are pondering right now: Is this year more like 2012, when the party lost at least two winnable seats thanks to extremist candidatesTodd Akin and RICHARD MOURDOCK, or 2014, when it rode moderate nominees Cory Gardner and Joni Ernst to the majority?
No one has been more focused on that question than Mitch McConnell, who told our colleague Burgess Everett back in February that, "The only thing I care about is electability.” But with the field now almost set, Trump's heavy hand has undoubtedly complicated matters for McConnell and his deep-pocketed allies.
As Republican pollster Whit Ayres told WaPo’s Hannah Knowles, Josh Dawsey and David Weigel: “Having amateur candidates who’ve never run for office before carrying the banner for the Republican Party in critical Senate races is a risky maneuver. The list is quite lengthy of Senate seats lost by weak Republican candidates, even in good Republican years.”
Trump has largely had free rein during primary season. The NRSC, which has put its thumb on the scale for favored nominees in the past, did not do so this cycle, to the chagrin of many Republicans. Chair Rick Scott adopted a stay-out-of-it approach, with his defenders arguing that primary meddling wastes time and money and backfires as often as it works.
An NRSC aide told Politico last night the criticism is “mostly driven by people that just don't like Rick Scott” and expressed comfort with the candidates that voters (and Trump) have picked.
The Trump factor also contributed to Republicans’ recruitment woes, with three popular GOP governors telling McConnell and Scott thanks but no thanks. Arizona's Doug Ducey and Maryland’s Larry Hogan passed, as did New Hampshire’s Chris Sununu. Instead, according to a new Saint Anselm College poll, Granite State Republicans appear poised to nominate Don Bolduc— "the GOP candidate whom Republicans believe is the weakest of the bunch," according to the Examiner's David Drucker.
One wildcard: Maggie Hassan, the worst Democratic incumbent up for reelection. Had Chris Sununun run, there would be no contest. New Hampshire conservative Democrat might not be as bad as Manchin and Sinema... but almost. It's hard to imagine anyone remotely progressive mustering any real enthusiasm for Hassan, the only Senate Democrat up for reelection who sided with the Republicans and against working families when she voted against raising the minimum wage. She doesn't deserve reelection, and that's just one shitty vote among a steady stream of them.