The GOP’s Midterm “Red Wave” Now Looking Like A Crimson Puddle
by Richard Cameron
The GOP’s Midterm “Red Wave” Now Looking Like A Crimson Puddle
Long before the mass media’s election prognosticators woke up to the reality that the mid-term elections were not going to go according to the script – (the so-called “mid term curse”) that the politicos had written for it, I held a contrarian viewpoint. You could sum it up as “not so fast, Sherlock.”
I knew that Republicans were in for an unpleasant surprise – that being that if their objective to flip the House and Senate was not derailed entirely, it would be a singularly underwhelming substitute for a blowout. It’s the old, you know, “counting the Chickens” thing.
Now that the unforeseen is materializing, we’re seeing the choir of gloom and doom that harmonized about Democrats losing in a “Red Wave”, forget how that tune is sung, the musical notes and what the words were. A few are admitting their projections were speculative and premature and some are pretending they never maintained them to begin with.
The Black Swan mid-terms
My argument against the forecasts has always been that what can be seen as ‘historical trends’ about mid-terms cannot be used as a predictive tool in the age of Trump and Trumpism.
One of the things I regularly go back to in discussions about such as “historical precedents” and “historical norms” is the fact that everything having to do with Trump’s election in 2016 and subsequent term in office is patently a ‘Black Swan’ event. By that I mean there was a confluence of anomalies that all came together in a planetary alignment that put Trump in the White House.
That abnormal functioning within the Republican party has persisted throughout Trump’s term in office and obviously ever since it ended as well. Republican elected officials at state and national levels have trafficked their and their voters’ grievances along behind them like a truck bed full of rotten fish.
It was inevitable that independents, suburbanites, centrist Republicans (do they still exist?) and swing voters would come down with a case of fatigue with Trump and his party’s interminable whining and deranged / psychotic antics.
That exhaustion was evident even before the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision obliterating Roe V. Wade, the revelations of Trump sitting idly watching television during the attack on the Capitol, plus the discovery that Trump has been maintaining and mishandling top secret, classified documents at his residence in Palm Beach.
Nate Silver, writing in FiveThirtyEight, (“Why Trump’s Presence In The Midterms Is Risky For The GOP“), muses on an X factor that syncs very closely with my Black Swan observations. He notes that in all of the previous mid-term elections, the former president and / or the former losing candidate – (Trump is both), maintained a low, almost invisible profile, but Trump has most decidedly, not done so.
Former Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush kept a very low profile after completing their second terms. And the previous losing candidate before Trump, Hillary Clinton, famously retreated to the woods in Chappaqua, New York, after 2016. Their search traffic quickly dropped to near-zero once their campaigns or presidencies were over, and then stayed there.
Trump’s search traffic, meanwhile, is much less than during his presidency, but it’s still fairly high. Over the past year, in fact, there’s been about as much search traffic for Trump as for the current president, Joe Biden!
The article is thought provoking overall, but Silver sums up his observations writing that, “Republicans are behaving in atypical ways for an opposition party in the midterms, and they may get an atypically poor outcome as a result.”
How do you solve a problem like the Donald?
Over the last four months, Republicans have concluded they have to adopt a defensive strategy in place of the offensive one they were assuming would carry them into power in November. It’s not entirely new or different, but due to the clumsy and inconsistent manner it is being deployed, it scarcely resembles a strategy at all.
What is it then? Well, first, let’s mention the part of it that never lifted off the launch pad. It was the long shot proposition that Donald Trump could be persuaded to keep a low profile, especially about his incessant allegations about non existent voter fraud and a “rigged election.” That was really never going to happen, as anyone familiar with the behavioral components of an individual possessing the Dark Triad of personality disorders, could have told them.
Trump hasn’t the inclination or disposition to shut the hell up and there is no one in his orbit that can convince him to do so – so that’s out the window. That means that as much as the Gee Ohhhhh Pee would wish it otherwise, Trump is on the ballot.
But if messaging that repulses swing voters is a disease, the Trumpubs have it and a bad case of it and it has spread from Trump to the national slate of candidates that are consequential to the twice impeached loser ex-president.
In this perspective, I was modestly surprised that the Rupert Murdoch controlled, right leaning online tabloid, the New York Post’s editorial board sees the Trump problem synoptically with me, writing earlier this week that;
“Those GOPers know Trump’s already an albatross: His “stolen election” derangement in late 2020 is why Dems control the Senate now, and his endorsements in this year’s primaries have helped saddle Republicans with enough weak Senate candidates this year that retaking the chamber seems increasingly out of reach. Plus, for all the tens of millions Trump has raised since leaving the White House, he hasn’t yet spent any of it even to help the candidates he’s endorsed.”
Republican strategists (oxymoron?) wake up conjecturing and fearing what fresh hell will proceed from the mouths of not only Trump, but his most prominent cadre of mouthpieces, the likes of Marjorie Taylor Greene, Lauren Boebert, Paul Gosar, Jim Jordan, Matt Gaetz, Hershel Walker, Ted Cruz, Ron Johnson, Blake Masters, Dr. Mehmet Oz, Doug Mastriano, et al.
Between these gaffe machines, we have heard rank anti-Semitism, the extolling of fascists, misogyny, illiteracy about science, medical quackery and white nationalism on steroids.
Then if not a “silence the squeaky cray, cray, wheels” strategy, which was a non-starter to begin with – what then? The Plan B – if it could be described as a plan at all, is to try to shout over Trump and the loudest of the loonies, a message that all your problems are attributable to Democrats. That’s all there is and there ain’t no more.
Blame inflation and the higher prices that come with it and crime on Biden and his party. That sort of approach has been a recipe for success in other off year national elections and in the abstract, is a pretty reliable and effective battle cry.
That was then, this is now. Republicans are the slaves, not the masters of their primary voters and their voting base generally. That was the bargain that was struck when they lined up behind Trump and that is now a straitjacket that even the great Houdini couldn’t escape from.
GOP voters may complain about prices and they do, but what really animates them and drives them to the polls, is hate, cruelty, spite, resentment, fear of displacement and the desire to drag America back to the glorious utopia of white Christian dominance of society.
The Trumpublican Party – Naked and Afraid
Instead of maintaining an exclusive and intensive focus on blaming Biden and the Dems for a cornucopia of troubles and circumstances, real or imagined, GOP candidates are having to serve up the political equivalent of Viagra to their base to prevent their engagement in the upcoming election from going flaccid. Sorry about the image – kind of.
The quandary is an obvious one. One cannot message to moderate voters and extremists simultaneously. To paraphrase the lecture about “two masters” in the Gospel of Matthew, “no man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else. he will hold to the one, and despise the other” – replace the word ‘man’ with candidate for public office and ‘masters’ with voters and there you have it – an inescapable reality for the political landscape of 2022.
This is not to say that a clumsy and painfully obvious pivot is not taking place. Various Republicans are attempting to scrub their websites of extremism and intolerance. The campaign operatives somehow believe that taking a huge bottle of Wite Out correction fluid (remember that?) to it all, will render it invisible.
That ignores the fact that their opposition has been cataloging all of it for months and preserving it for public display in the form of election ads. “We’ll make sure voters see and hear what Republicans have said in their own words — and if they try to hide from their record it will only reinforce that they cannot be trusted,” said Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee spokesperson Nora Keefe.
The toothpaste, as they say, is out of the tube.
If, for example, you were on record at any time, unequivocally opposed to a woman’s freedom of reproductive rights of any kind, it’s part of the record and fodder for attack ads no matter how much you believe you buried it.
You bought it, you own it and you can’t take it back to the store just because it doesn’t fit as well as you thought it would or because your ass looks too big in it. So then, I ask once again – what’s left? What’s left is the pivot with a broken bearing – inflation, crime, government spending.
Two problems among many. One is that you can’t serve any of that up without a heaping helping of culture wars. Swing voters may initially give you points for referencing those kinds of vaguely defined hot button issues. So far, so good, but then they subtract everything when they hear something that to them – whether they label it as such or not, sounds like a poorly veiled reference to racist paranoid replacement theory and Christian Nationalism, both of which are colossal turnoffs to any voter outside the GOP base.
And second, even if it were possible to thread the needle between economic issues and the sort of demagogic and corrosive rhetoric we’ve referenced, these would be red wavers don’t have any answers when asked how they would go about taming inflation or crime. They don’t have a plan and because they don’t, they have nothing to outline. It’s a short and unsatisfying conversation.
What’s the plan, Stan?
On one of the CNN discussion panels, Republican strategist Alice Stewart attempted to push back on Democratic momentum that is building, by injecting the subject of inflation. She was questioned about where and what is the Republican’s plan to combat it, and gave a non-answer, responding, “the plan is to reduce inflation.” That was it. No specifics. The same is true on another of the commonly invoked issues – crime. More on that later.
Imagine this conversation. I take my car to a local auto repair shop and tell the manager that my ride is running kind of rough. He says to me, “don’t worry, I’ll take care of that.” I ask, “how do you plan to do that?” He responds, “not to worry, we’ll figure it out after you sign the work order.” Am I going to leave the car with him and hope he knows what he’s doing when he can’t even articulate the process of how the car would be serviced? Nope.
Well, voters aren’t hearing much of substance about their ideas to fix inflation. Republicans, it appears, at least know better than to bring up another permanent tax vacation for billionaires as a solution, but we’ll see.
What they don’t apparently know better than to bring up, is monkeying around with retirement aged people’s Social Security and Medicare benefits.
NEW: Social Security politics are back as GOP candidates grab the “third rail” in 2022 races
Blake Masters proposes to “privatize” it (before backtracking)
Ron Johnson wants to subject it to annual spending bills
RSC + R House candidates float changeshttps://t.co/W7H8yqGQzi
— Sahil Kapur (@sahilkapur) August 28, 2022
As Sahil Kapur references in the tweet, Social Security and related retirement benefits, have perennially been recognized as one of the “third rails” of politics – as the saying goes, “touch it and you die.”
Rick Scott, Ron Johnson and Blake Masters, along with dozens of other lesser lights in the MAGApublican constellation have not had political coronaries yet, but the prognosis is dire. Those are unforced errors akin to putting one’s own hand behind their back and showing themselves off the edge of a cliff.
It’s the Reproductive Rights, stupid.
Let me just tell you what a lot of women voters are thinking right about now. I’m not a mind reader, but I am an eavesdropper and it is safe to assume from what I am hearing, that they are concluding that inflation comes and goes but once my right to decide about what’s best for me with a troubled or unwanted pregnancy is taken away, it may not be returned ever.
The Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF), revealed in its own late July tracking poll that:
Among women between the ages of 18 and 49, there has been a fourteen percentage point increase in the share who say abortion will be “very important” to their 2022 midterm vote (59% in February to 73% in July). In addition, six in ten women voters between 18 and 49 now say they are “more motivated” to vote because of the Supreme Court’s decision (up 19 percentage points from May when the question was asked about a scenario in which Roe was overturned based on a leaked draft opinion). The vast majority (88%) of the more motivated group of women voters between 18 and 49 say they plan on voting for candidates who will protect access to abortions.
The Democrats, as a result of this are seeing record voter registration in places like Pennsylvania, based on just those kinds of concerns.
The real field of battle in this election, is on turf that moderates and independents reside in – the outer metropolis and suburbs. Polling has indicated that since June, the middle electorate’s issues of concern, have shifted and now include a number of items that align them more with the positions that Democrats are campaigning on.
While GOP election operatives deny the vulnerabilities in the general election of the slate of candidates that have emerged from their primaries and assert that the only things on voters’ minds are inflation and crime – the data argues to the contrary.
“Sticking To Your Guns” comes with a steep price tag
Outside of abortion restrictions, the broad electorate beyond the MAGA voting element are factoring in which party intends to address gun violence. As can be seen in the graph below, voters as surveyed by Ipsos, rate concerns about gun violence higher than they do regarding the general category of crime.
As you can see from the results, self described independent voters are twice as likely to align themselves with the Democratic party on the scourge of gun violence than they are with the GOP. Mass shootings play largely into this collective risk assessment, which was already warming up even before the rampage at Robb Elementary in Uvalde, Texas claimed the lives of 19 children and two of their teachers.
Deep Thoughts Robb Elementary Incident Response – Profile In Cowardice
The most that Republicans would agree to, even in the aftermath of this horrendous slaughter, were some tepid and relatively inconsequential “better than nothing” new provisions such as closing the “boyfriend loophole”, encouraging states to more strenuously administrate Red Flag laws and a broad based 10 day waiting period for purchasers under 21. Even these modest policy adoptions enraged the MAGA element among members of Congress, the Senate and the far Right.
Since Uvalde, Americans have seen great regularity in the reporting of shooting incidents including those fitting the classification of mass shootings, which are constant reminders of the vulnerabilities.
But when you see incidents such as yet another armed attack on supermarket employees and patrons, in a lily white (91.3%) town like Bend, Oregon, the perception of the random nature of these events and the possibility you could be anywhere and wind up a casualty, hits home with a lot of marginally political voters. It’s much less of an abstraction at this point.
The result of that is that it only heightens the awareness of voters of the need to address the problem seriously. A POLITICO/Morning Consult poll conducted in the days after the school shooting in Uvalde, revealed that 67% of Americans strongly or somewhat support banning assault-style weapons like the gun used by the 18-year-old shooter Salvador Ramos.
The glaring implication of that is the GOP is out of step with more than 2 out of 3 potential voters and a majority of likely voters on the question of weapons more appropriate to the battlefield and the access to them. This is yet another policy issue that Republicans in swing districts would like to compromise on, were it not that they have allowed their base voters to take them hostage. And they have only themselves to blame.
How about the seditious attack on the nation’s capitol on January 6th and the plot to overturn the election? According to at least one poll, a recent NBC News poll, Americans now rank “threats to democracy” as the most important issue facing the country — higher, even, than the cost of living and the economy.
I’ve yet to hear a single Republican mouthpiece reference that finding. Ignore it and it will go away is the mantra. That, or if we mention the word “crime” often enough, it will distract voters from everything else we’re on the wrong side of their inclinations on. Except it wont.
The MAGA Republican Party or the Monsanto Party? Either way, it smells malignant
We’ve discussed the catastrophic branding problem for the GOP. It needs triage and needs it desperately, but no one can herd all the cattle together and impose messaging discipline. McCarthy can’t do it. Mitch McConnell can’t do it.
Certainly Trump has no interest in doing it – he has his hands full with kvetching about rigged elections and witch hunts. When he’s not doing that, he’s excusing the mob that terrorized Capitol Hill and musing about granted them all pardons as if they are patriots not traitors.
The tepid debates that characterize the policy differences between progressives and centrists in the Democratic party, play like a Ladies’ tea in comparison to the fracturing of Republicans between what the MAGA majority in that party label as “RINOS” as opposed to the Qanon contingent and election deniers.
While you have Lindsey Graham alluding to eruptions of lawlessness – “riots in the streets”, if Trump is held accountable and the Taylor Greenes and Boeberts popping up daily, AOC and Bernie on the Democrat side are almost invisible by comparison.
The most Republicans can do at this point is to flail about and label everyone in the Democratic party as over the top “woke”, “wild eyed Marxists” and “Communists”. Has the John Birch Society, the Red Scare of the 1950’s and Senator Joe McCarthy become fashionable again?
It’s also somewhat remarkable and paradoxical that while on the one hand, Trumpublicans in conservative media and in Congress, have been calling Democrats all manner of defamatory epithets before, during and after Trump’s failed presidency, they are now having snowflake meltdowns about being described as “semi-Fascists.”
Perhaps the most compelling sign we could point to pertaining the turning of the tide, is the counter offensive underway from the Democrats. President Biden’s natural inclinations are to blunt his criticism of the other party and to attempt to coax them into entering into compromise agreements. That was what he was known for in his long tenure in the Senate.
It has been difficult for his political advisors to nudge him away from that into a directly confrontational stance. Obviously, based on the speech he gave in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, he’s all in and the gloves are off.
The first salvo was in Bethesda, Maryland last week, when Biden alluded to the current dominant strain of Republicanism as “semi-fascism.”
“What we’re seeing now is the beginning or the death knell of an extreme MAGA philosophy. It’s not just Trump, it’s the entire philosophy that underpins the — I’m going to say something, it’s like semi-fascism.”
The only quarrel I would have with it, is that what is being celebrated in the GOP is not “semi” anything. It’s full throttle fascism. If in one of my wildest Walter Mitty-ish somnolent delusions, I was POTUS, I would be much more personally inclined to describe most Republican voters with the hyphenated moniker, “Idiot Americans.”
Even so, the president’s comments were very pointed, even by his standards. “America must choose. You must choose — whether our country will move forward or backward. Trump and the extreme MAGA Republicans have made their choice — to go backwards full of anger, violence, hate and division.”
“Hey! You stole my lunch!”
One of the things that has Republican election operatives tearing their hair out, is that President Biden and his party have actually taken the crime and “law and order” policy issue off the GOP’s plate while they were distracted with the aftershocks of the FBI retrieval of government documents at Mar A Lago.
In Pennsylvania, Biden outlined the centerpiece of his administration’s legislative initiative (“Safe America Plan”) to address crime. laying out a $37 billion budget proposal for Congress to fund more law enforcement hiring (as many as 100,000 new recruits) and crime prevention efforts across the country.
The president told the audience in attendance, “When it comes to fighting crime, we know what works: officers on the street who know the neighborhood … who know the families they’re protecting, who get the training they need to be able to do their jobs well, who work to earn the community’s trust.”
The plan would, in addition to the hiring, involve a training component, intervention strategies, improvements to the criminal justice system and efforts to keep guns out of dangerous hands.
Other elements of the plan have provisions to deal with some of the high profile aspects of crime that Republicans frequently emphasize like the organized retail theft rings that shock the sensibilities of law abiding citizens.
Biden also took some Brass knuckles to Republicans on the mythology they portray as being friends of the police.
“Don’t tell me you support law enforcement if you won’t condemn what happened on the 6th. For God’s sake, who’s side are you on? You can’t be pro-law enforcement and pro-insurrection. You can’t be a party of law and order and call the people who attacked the police on Jan. 6 ‘patriots.’”
President Biden additionally took the opportunity to recap Democratic accomplishments over the last several months, including the first small steps to curb gun violence, boost infrastructure spending, jump start computer chip manufacturing, provide more funding to benefit veterans exposed to toxic burn pits, lower health care costs, expand green energy development and address climate change in an unprecedented and comprehensive way.
As has widely been reported, President Biden’s approval numbers have gotten a noticeable bump in the last month and the generic ballot has Democrats now either tied or a few points ahead of the GOP.
The script has been re-written
Do all of the factors I outlined here, equate to a major turnaround in the fortunes of Democrats in the election this Fall? It seems possible, but not guaranteed.
Forecasters, the likes of Larry J. Sabato at the University Of Virginia, “Sabato’s Crystal Ball” and Election handicapping site FiveThirtyEight, are, to varying degrees leaning toward predictions that the Democrats will not only hold the Senate, but possibly pick up some seats. Sabato just changed Arizona and Pennsylvania from “toss up” to “leans Democratic”.
FiveThirtyEight, looking at the races in the aggregate, rate the Democrats as having a 65 percent chance to not only hold the Senate, but pick up one to three additional seats there.
One of those, for example, is, as I mentioned, the Senate seat formerly held by Republican Pat Toomey. FiveThirtyEight now extrapolates from their models that Lt. Gov. John Fetterman beats discredited TV doctor, Mehmet Oz, 79 out of 100 virtual election simulations.
The situation is appearing equally dire in Arizona, where Trump’s anointed candidate Blake Masters, is now struggling to stay afloat after Mitch McConnell read the tea leaves and cut off additional campaign funding. The latest bombshell in that race is reporting that Masters has two fake electors on his campaign staff.
On the House side, the picture has been altered, most forecasters say, from originally the GOP winning about a couple dozen more seats than Democrats, the so called first mid-term “wave” of the opposition party – to now an estimation of perhaps between a 5 and 8 seat advantage. Those estimates are fluid and appear to be narrowing at a fast clip, due in part to signals that inflation may be moderating – gas prices are heading South, for example.
Election analysts, including myself, are also recognizing early indications of what voter inclinations might be heading into November by examining recent results in special elections to fill vacated Congressional seats.
Particularly notable among them were wins by Pat Ryan in New York’s 19th congressional district and the victory by Mary Peltola over former governor Sarah Palin in Alaska for that state’s sole congressional seat. Of note here, is the common denominator that both Ryan and Peltola included in their appeal to voters, their intention to fight to preserve the rights of women to choose whether or not to terminate a pregnancy.
Pundits have also taken notice of the substantial upward movement in President Biden’s own poll numbers. One of the polls stands out from the others. Gallup polling has been the one that has proved most resistance to movement for the president. And in the August 25 survey, Biden is now at 44 percent.
Gallup reports that, “the increase in Biden’s job rating is largely buoyed by political independents, whose approval rose from 31% last month to the current 40%. Democrats’ (81%) and Republicans’ (4%) ratings of Biden are not significantly changed over the same period.”
Biden gaining 9 points with independents has to be causing alarm bells at GOP HQ. Another troubling red flag for Republicans is something the NBC poll discovered about how “persuadable voters” are tracking in terms of their leanings.
Our most recent NBC News poll contained one more set of numbers about how November’s upcoming election doesn’t look like your traditional midterm. Persuadable voters are breaking towards the party controlling the White House and Congress, which is unlike what we saw in 2010, 2018 or even earlier this year.
Our poll defines “persuadable voters” — representing about 25% of the sample — as registered voters who are not core Democrats or Republicans, meaning that they’re either hard independents or Democrats/Republicans who aren’t reliable party backers. These voters are disproportionately males, ideological moderates, self-identified independents and those living in the exurbs.
And in our combined NBC News polls from January, March and May, Republicans were ahead by 6 points among persuadable voters, 39%-33%. But in our poll this month, Democrats — the party in power — were up by 3 points among these voters, 40%-37%.
It all comes down to …
At the end of the day – all of this, no matter which direction your prediction points, based on available data and a dizzying intersection of important factors, including the effect of partisan Gerrymandering – adds up to speculation.
Out of all the components of possible election outcomes, it is indisputable in the current environment that two things equate to Jokers in the deck – voter turnout and where independents land.
Enthusiasm appears to be trending Blue more so than Red for the first time in this cycle. If abortion rights are as potent as they appear to be, it could tilt the turnout in favor of the more motivated voter – a woman who wants to preserve her bodily autonomy.
Concerning the other cardinal factor in a mid term – where independents are headed, signs indicate they are aligning substantially with Democrats on most key policy issues – guns, abortion, preserving democracy, holding Trump accountable for his crimes, ballot access and human infrastructure investments.
The Wall Street Journal has this to say about a trend they uncovered in their latest registered voter survey:
Democrats hold a slight edge over Republicans, 47% to 44%, when voters are asked which party they would support in their congressional district if the election were held today, a lead that is within the poll’s margin of error of plus or minus 2.7 percentage points. Republicans had a five-point advantage in March.
The Democratic gains come from increased support among independents, women and younger voters. Black and Hispanic voters, who have traditionally favored Democrats heavily, are also more solidly supportive of the party than they were earlier this year.
Among political independents, typically the key to victory in close elections, more voters now favor a Democratic candidate for Congress than a Republican, 38% to 35%. In March, Republicans led among independents by 12 percentage points.
As to the “Trump on the ballot” debate, I’ll give the last word to Rick Tyler, a Republican strategist and election analyst.
Tyler told The Hill that the environment looks “not even close to a red wave election year. The enthusiasm is just not there. Last time Republicans had a good year, they were 6 points ahead in the generic poll. Now we’re barely 2 points ahead. So it’s definitely not going to happen.” Tyler added, “Donald Trump has turned this campaign from a referendum on Joe Biden, inflation, high food prices, high gas prices and affordable housing into a referendum on him.”
We’ll be tracking all of this, but for now, the Democrats, if not a cat with nine lives, sure seem to be one with more than a strong pulse and a dramatically improved prognosis.