Who's to blame when parties really get out of hand?
Who's to blame when they get poorly planned?
Crashers get bombed, slobs make a mess
You know sometimes they'll even ruin your wife's dress
Crashers getttin' bombed
Who's to blame?
Can you pull it back in line?
Can you salvage it in time?
What can you do to save a party?
A spur-of-the-moment scavenger hunt
Or Queen of the Nile? (aah, who turned out the lights?)
Bombed, crashers gettin' bombed
Crashers gettin' bombed, bombed, bombed, bombed, now, who's to blame?
Who's to blame when situations degenerate?
Disgusting things you'd never anticipate?
This morning, on Morning Joe, Frank Luntz, top GOP pollster— and Kevin McCarthy crony and sometime roommate— put it very clearly:
The people I talked to over the last 24 hours have essentially said enough, Donald Trump. Enough of this chaos. Enough of the yelling and screaming. They look at the U.S. Senate and they’re mad at the former president. They think he supported the wrong candidates. His endorsement still matters within the GOP, but they’re frustrated because they think he is supporting candidates that are simply un-electable, and we have seen this across the country.
I don’t think that Arizona ends up coming for the Republicans. I think the Democrats have enough of a lead that another Trump-endorsed candidate has failed. If Ron DeSantis is the big winner among Republicans because of how he governed in Florida, that Donald Trump— at least the people that I’ve talked to— they’re all telling me enough is enough. Mr. President, it’s time to go away.
I their hearts, Republicans all know who to blame for the non-wave— but they either don’t want it to be so or they’re afraid to say it out loud. But it is certainly Trump who’s to blame for the party’s bust this cycle and, wrote Charles Cooke, “Trump’s time atop the party has been anything but a disaster for Republicans.” Remember, Cooke’s not working for The Nation. He’s a senior writer for the National Review.
If they have any intention of turning around their party’s increasingly moribund fortunes, Republican voters must respond to last night’s profoundly disappointing midterm-election result by telling the Republican establishment to pound sand.
That’s right: It is time for Donald Trump to go.
I’m not being cute: Trump is the Republican establishment now. He’s the default, the Man, the swamp. It is Trump who is widely considered the front-runner for the party’s nomination in 2024. It is Trump whose endorsements are treated as if they were official edicts. It is Trump to whom the press and the public tend to link all GOP nominees. And, judging by the squeals that emanated from his allies yesterday, Trump’s machine intends to do everything it can to keep it that way, and to thus ensure that he wins the next primary election and loses the next presidential election. With the country in its present state, Republicans simply cannot afford that sort of frivolous, low-energy, old-boys-club complacency. GOPe, you’re on notice.
A few days ago, Trump started criticizing Ron DeSantis. A day or two later, Trump started threatening DeSantis. “I think if he runs,” Trump said, “he could hurt himself very badly. I really believe he could hurt himself badly. I don’t think it would be good for the party.” Upping the ante, Trump then pretended that he knew “things” about DeSantis “that won’t be very flattering,” and promised to reveal them if DeSantis even considered challenging him in 2024.
This is classic establishment gate-keeping. It is also richly undeserved. Trump is a loser. He squeaked past the most unpopular woman in America in 2016, he presided over a blue wave in 2018, he lost to a barely breathing Joe Biden in 2020, and he hand-picked a bevy of losing Republican nominees in 2022. Ron DeSantis is a winner. He beat the Democratic wave in 2018, he got the biggest challenge of the last four years— the Covid-19 pandemic— almost exactly right, and he won reelection by the largest margin achieved by any Republican gubernatorial nominee in Florida’s 177-year-history. Perhaps, on the internet, “loser lambasts winner” is an interesting story. In the real world, it is not.
Trump rose to prominence by criticizing what he perceived to be the “managed decline” of the Republican Party. The GOP’s candidates, Trump and his acolytes insisted back in 2015, were guilty of “failure theater” and of “running to lose.” These charges now attach perfectly to Trump and his loyalists. Don Bolduc? Failure theater. Dr. Oz? Failure theater. Doug Mastriano? Failure theater. Worse yet, Trump enjoys actively sabotaging the party’s viable prospects if they refuse to bend the knee. He tried to have Brian Kemp removed as governor of Georgia for the crime of telling the truth about the 2020 election. He tried to destroy the Republican Senate candidate in Colorado— a candidate whose victory would have helped the GOP govern if it wins in 2024— because that candidate wasn’t sufficiently sycophantic toward him. The mere prospect of being wildly attacked by him kept terrific candidates such as Chris Sununu, Doug Ducey, and Pat Toomey out of the Senate races in their states. Now, he is threatening to make up lies about Governor DeSantis if DeSantis doesn’t acquiesce to his wishes. These days, Trump isn’t a rebel; he’s the boss. But he’ll only remain the boss for as long as Republican voters allow him to.
And, going forward, why on earth would they do that? The core conceit undergirding Trump’s position at the head of the party has long been that, unlike others, he wins. Sure, his apologists say, he may be crude and ill-disciplined and unpredictable and rough, but he’s the party’s only hope of keeping out the Democrats; he and he alone has shown that he can do that. Now, this is no longer true— if it ever was. Because of Trump, Joe Biden is the president of the United States. Because of Trump, John Fetterman will be a U.S. senator. Because of Trump, the two runoff elections in Georgia in 2021 yielded two Democratic senators, which yielded the American Rescue Plan, which yielded…
blah, blah, blah… more Republican crackpottery from Mr. Cooke. David Graham doesn’t spout that kind of Republican blather in his Atlantic columns but he also pinned the blame for the GOP’s bad cycle on Trump— for making it all about himself. He quoted Democratic strategist Michael Podhorzer: “When elections are clearly about Trump and MAGA, MAGA will lose. What Trump did was make a really large number of Americans say, ‘There’s now something really at stake in elections, and it matters more if I go out and vote.’”
Like many people were pointing out yesterday, Graham wrote that “Across the country, Trump-endorsed candidates underperformed. In Pennsylvania, Mehmet Oz— who owed the GOP nomination to Trump’s help— lost a Senate race to the Democrat John Fetterman, and Doug Mastriano lost the gubernatorial race to Josh Shapiro. The Republican Tudor Dixon lost a bid to unseat Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer… In a traditional midterm election, the president’s party suffers. The opposition party’s voters are angry; those who back the party in the White House are complacent or disheartened and stay home; swing voters are mercurial. Given high inflation, economic jitters, and Biden’s low approval ratings, this looked like it could be a traditional midterm, with huge Republican gains— an impression that GOP leaders encouraged with lofty predictions and late sorties into blue districts. Pundits also doubted that Democrats could capitalize on anti-Trump sentiment when he was not on the ballot, pointing to Terry McAuliffe’s defeat in a 2021 Virginia gubernatorial campaign that he tried to center on Trump.”
Outside of Florida, where Democrats suffered an epochal collapse, Democratic voters didn’t stay home. Independent voters actually backed Democrats narrowly, according to exit polling. The group that the Cook Political Report’s Amy Walter calls “meh voters”— the ones who somewhat disapprove of Biden and worry about the economy— favored Democrats too. (By contrast, in 2018, when Trump was president, those who somewhat disapproved of the incumbent favored his opposition.)
One major factor behind this is abortion. Putting pro-life justices on the court was one of Trump’s central campaign promises and keystone achievements. The Supreme Court’s Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision overturning Roe v. Wade was a major factor for voters, who supported pro-abortion-rights ballot measures in five states.
Pro-abortion-rights backlash was widely expected, but the signs of pro-democracy voting were largely overlooked. Americans consistently tell pollsters that they worry about Trump’s attacks on elections and institutions. A Reuters/Ipsos poll in September, for example, found that 58 percent believe the MAGA movement is a threat to the foundations of democracy. But many observers questioned whether that would be a driving force in votes or simply too abstract to overcome economic worries.
With the votes counted, that seems wrong. Not only did election-denying candidates fare poorly, but voters told the Associated Press that the future of democracy was a top issue for them, trailing only inflation in importance. (Democrats actually won voters who said the economy was not doing well, according to AP).
Podhorzer argues that analysts have failed to recognize the emergence of a big anti-MAGA coalition that started in the 2018 midterm. During the Barack Obama years, Democrats voted heavily in presidential elections, but many stayed home during the 2010 and 2014 midterms, producing a GOP-heavy electorate. But in 2018, the state of play changed. Turnout shot up an astounding 14 percent. That gave Democrats a large tranche of potential voters who had already cast ballots in a midterm rather than just a presidential election, and who could help blunt Republican momentum if they showed up in 2022— which they apparently did.
“There’s this new group of voters there because of Trump and MAGA,” Podhorzer said. “That’s changed the equation.”
Those voters still had to turn out, though. Democratic messaging around abortion helped, but so did hearings of the House committee investigating January 6 and Trump’s attempt to overturn the 2020 election. Republicans rolled their eyes at the hearings, arguing that they wouldn’t change anyone’s mind and were drawing underwhelming ratings. More sympathetic observers supported the hearings as a matter of justice and the political record, but they doubted they would have much political impact.
But the peak of those hearings this summer coincided with both the Dobbs decision and Democrats’ best polling of the midterm cycle. Biden’s approval rose, and Democrats took an edge in the generic congressional ballot. Those measures receded some in recent weeks, but the bump helped push Democrats through to the election.
The consistency of the anti-MAGA coalition, which has been a decisive factor in the 2018, 2020, and 2022 elections, should shape the 2024 election. Its existence helps prevent large swings in results, feeding into the calcification of American politics.
This year’s results also suggest that Trumpism can motivate Democrats or Democratic-leaning voters. On the other hand, only Trump himself motivates his MAGA base— even though he has twice lost the popular vote. That poses a question to the Republican Party ahead of the next presidential primary: Should the party return to Trump, who motivates the base but is a proven loser? Or should they opt for a candidate who can appropriate Trumpism without Trump’s baggage, but who might inspire lower enthusiasm in the base?
Pat Toomey’s red Senate seat is going to Democrat John Fetterman. Toomey blames Trump. He urged the GOP to move away from Trump’s influence and told the Philadelphia Inquirer that Tuesday’s debacle would would diminish Trump’s standing while elevating DeSantis. “Last night across the country was a terrible night for Donald Trump, and an excellent night for Governor DeSantis. The more MAGA a candidate was, the more they tended to underperform even in their own states.” He blamed Trump for forcing bad candidates onto the party.
Toomey explained that he doesn’t think “there’s a discrete moment where the party breaks with Trump in one fell swoop. I think Donald Trump’s influence gradually but steadily declines, and I think it accelerates after the debacle that he’s responsible for to some degree.”
Last night, reporting fro the NY Times, Michael Bender and Maggie Haberman wrote that more and more Republicans are ganging up on Trump and trying to take him down. They blame Trump for the losses Tuesday, as though they don’t share in the blame. “‘Republicans have followed Donald Trump off the side of a cliff,’ David Urban, a longtime Trump adviser with ties to Pennsylvania, said in an interview. Former Representative Peter King, a Republican from Long Island [where, by the way, there was a huge red wave] who has long supported Trump, said, ‘I strongly believe he should no longer be the face of the Republican Party,’ adding that the party ‘can’t become a personality cult.’ The chorus of criticism, which unfolded on Fox News and social media throughout the day, revealed Trump to be at his most vulnerable point politically since the aftermath of the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol.”
[A]t his home in Florida, Trump was privately spreading blame, including to Sean Hannity and the casino mogul Steve Wynn, for his endorsement of Mehmet Oz, the defeated Pennsylvania Senate candidate. He included his wife, Melania, among those he complained had offered poor advice, according to several people familiar with the discussions.
…[I]n 36 House races that the Cook Political Report rated as tossups, Trump endorsed just five Republicans. Each one lost on Tuesday.
“Almost every one of these Trump-endorsed candidates that you see in competitive states has lost,” Chris Christie, the former New Jersey governor, said Wednesday on ABC’s Good Morning America. “It’s a huge loss for Trump. And, again, it shows that his political instincts are not about the party, they’re not about the country— they’re about him.”
King said the results showed that it was time for the party to move on, and he faulted Trump for sniping at political allies.
“His self-promotion and this attacks on Republicans including Ron DeSantis and Mitch McConnell were largely responsible for Republicans not having a red wave,” King said. “We can’t allow blind fealty to Trump to determine the fate of our party.”
Scott Jennings, a longtime adviser to McConnell, the Senate minority leader, pointed to exit polls that showed Trump was less popular than President Biden. He said if Trump wanted to see a Republican elected president in 2024, he should not run.
…Mike Cernovich, a [fascist] blogger and longtime defender of Trump, broke with his political ally on Wednesday, posting a series of messages to his one million followers on Twitter, in which he referred to the midterms as “an ass-kicking” for Republicans, and suggested the only silver lining was “at least no one has to suck up to Trump anymore.”
“The country doesn’t care about the 2020 election,” Cernovich wrote. “Trump can’t move on, oh well. Bye.”