Did Trump Crash the Red Wave?
Speaker 1: But thank you all very much. I know it’s a late night, but first I want to start.
Speaker 2: If you look up video from early Wednesday morning of House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy explaining exactly what happened in the congressional midterm elections, you’d be forgiven for thinking maybe the GOP had a pretty good night.
Speaker 1: We are on the verge of historic gains in New York and Florida. We gained four seats alone. We are poised to sweep the entire state of Iowa.
Speaker 2: It was 2 a.m. when McCarthy gave this speech.
Speaker 1: Now, let me tell you, you’re out late, but when you wake up tomorrow, we will be in the majority and Nancy Pelosi will be in the minority.
Speaker 2: There were these little tells that this was not quite a victory party like after McCarthy stopped speaking. The camera pans out and reveals the room he’s been talking to is only half full. And New York Times opinion columnist Jamelle Bouie says in spite of his bluster by this point in the evening, even McCarthy knew the gig was up.
Speaker 3: Kevin McCarthy was predicting 5060 seats. If you’re looking at a 50 seat gain, if you’re looking at a three game, you’re going to know pretty early on in the night. And so when it is when it’s 9 p.m., I start I started really paying attention to returns like 8:00 after finishing dishes. So since 9 p.m. and polls have closed across most of the country and it’s unclear right, how many seats Republicans are gaining and whether they’re going to have control of Congress, then maybe it’s not going to be such a good night.
Speaker 2: Jamelle lives in Virginia and he thought the races against Representatives Abigail Spanberger, Jennifer Wexton and Elaine Luria could serve as a kind of barometer for where the night was heading. Republicans spent a ton of cash trying to oust these Virginia Democrats.
Speaker 3: Into the thinking was if Democrats held all three, then that was just going to be a good night for the party. And they might even hold their House majority if they won two of the three. Then things might be evenly divided. And if they won one of the three or lost, all three are going to be a good night for Republicans.
Speaker 2: What happened?
Speaker 3: What happened was Democrats won two of the three. And we’re looking at kind of an evenly divided, even maybe even a Democratic hold.
Speaker 2: A couple of days later, this is where we find ourselves. Still not quite sure who’s going to control Congress or the Senate, at least of this writing, but with a distinct sense that the grounds shifted because in the days leading up to this week’s election, a narrative had taken shape that the Democrats were in trouble. And this narrative stuck.
Speaker 3: And Republican strategist and lawmaker and everyone did a great job of kind of setting expectations of kind of hyping things up, like we’re going to have a smash through bytedance and popular. We’re going to you know, it’s going to be a straightforwardly successful made for us. And in a funny way, I think what maybe one lesson of the last night might be is to pay a little less attention to the spin of party professionals and a little more attention to just what what the polls are telling us, and to take seriously the idea that if voters are saying, you know, we are evenly divided on who we think we should control Congress, maybe they are actually evenly divided and maybe that’s going to show up in the votes.
Speaker 2: Today on the show why that red wave never materialized. I’m Mary Harris. You’re listening to what next? Stick around. I want to talk about why we saw the results we did last night. And I want to break it down a little bit. Maybe start with abortion, because after the Supreme Court struck down Rowe versus Wade, abortion landed on the ballot explicitly and implicitly in a number of states. And I feel like this midterm election give us some answers on how voters think about this issue. So I guess where would you start that conversation? Because abortion was on the ballot in a number of states.
Speaker 3: I think I would start the conversation on abortion simply with the observation that. DOBBS The Supreme Court’s ruling in Dobbs is very unpopular. The Republican position on abortion, which ranges from total ban, no exceptions to ban with some limited and kind of, you know, ill defined exceptions to effective ban, you know, six week bans, 15 week bans with not that much access afterwards. That stuff is not popular with voters. And even when voters prefer to have Republicans in Congress, they may not necessarily prefer to have Republican abortion policy on the books.
Speaker 3: And we see that right in Kentucky, the anti-abortion ballot measure that a yes vote would have enshrined an abortion ban in the state constitution. I believe it failed. In other states, voters approved measures that would enshrine abortion rights in the state constitutions. And then obviously, we saw in Kansas earlier in the year a big anti-abortion measure going down to defeat. You can see the same of the democracy rhetoric that voters may not have rated democracy protection as their highest priority, but it appears to have been a real priority.
Speaker 3: I think that there’s an assumption, not just amongst observers, I think this is true among many Democrats as well, that voters kind of react mechanistically to kitchen table issues. You know, they see inflation, they see gas prices, and then automatically they’re like, well, I guess I’m going to vote for the other party. But it’s possible, possible that voters are making more nuanced and complicated estimations about who they’re going to vote for and what they value.
Speaker 2: I’m glad you said complicated, because I do think there’s this assumption that voters are simplistic and that they look at issues like abortion and democracy and kind of go like, yuck, complicated, like and grimace and then turn back to these simpler issues of like, costs are higher. Therefore, I will vote for the party that is not currently in power. And I think it’s interesting to look at a place like Michigan, because in Michigan, democracy and abortion were on the ballot and we’ve seen a stunning result. Can you talk about it a little bit?
Speaker 3: Yes. I mean, I think. So in Michigan, Democrats didn’t just hold the governorship. Gretchen Whitmer won reelection, but they flipped the state house first time, I think, in 40 years. Yeah, And there are those kind of victories across across the country, you know, down ballot, unexpected down ballot victories. Tim Ryan in Ohio lost his bid for the Senate, but Democrats won five House seats more than anyone expected them to.
Speaker 2: And many people just assume Ohio red state at this point.
Speaker 3: I think we’re looking at a couple of things. I think first, we’re looking at the effect of weak candidates. Whitmer was up against tutor Dixon, who was, you know, an election denier type, and he just wasn’t a very strong candidate. And weak candidates can have weak down ballot effects. You know, there’s an abortion measure on the ballot to enshrine abortion rights into the state constitution. And so that probably helped goose turnout as well. But also, Whitmer made abortion and democracy part of her campaign, and voters responded.
Speaker 2: And it was a change for her because when she originally ran, her whole campaign was, I’m going to fix the damn roads. There was a conversation that I tell often because it’s why I say it’s time to fix the damn roads. Speaking with a mom who was telling me like it was a real like kind of those kitchen table issues thing and she changed.
Speaker 3: Voters can be convinced to care about this stuff. They can be persuaded to care about this stuff. And there is a good I mean, I hate this word very, you know, business school, but there is like some synergy between Democratic messaging and the actual candidates they’re up against. It’s one thing to make an argument about democracy being on the ballot against someone like Virginia to Governor Glenn Youngkin, who looks just like a guy, right? Sort of like an unassuming, inoffensive guy. And if you were to say, well, that guy is an election denier and he did flirt with that stuff during his primary.
Speaker 2: It’s hard to make it stick.
Speaker 3: Hard to make it stick. Right. Because you, like he can’t, you know, look at him. He does. He’s not he’s just say some dude. But when you are running up against candidates who kind of look and sound like maniacs, frankly, the message can stick. It can. It can land. And I think that’s sort of what’s happening. Democrats are saying one thing and women candidates they’re up against are reaffirming that as well.
Speaker 2: Part of what made predicting the outcome we saw this week hard to do was that in the lead up to this election, the polls simply weren’t telling a consistent story. Jamal says there is an explanation for that.
Speaker 3: It’s all kind of consistent with previous elections in a way that, you know, a successful poll of an electorate or of an election depends on the pollsters ability to to model the electorate, to say this is generally what the voters are going to look like. And you can sort of guesstimate, you can make predictions, but generally you’re going to what you’re going to be basing that off as like previous elections.
Speaker 3: This is what the electorate in a midterm in this state has looked like in the past. And we should reliably assume this is what’s going to look like in the future.
Speaker 3: The problem becomes when you move out of low turnout elections or a kind of static turnout of elections where turnout is not really moving much from cycle to cycle to suddenly high turnout elections, because with a high turnout election, with every additional cohort of voters entering the electorate, you’re basically getting people who pay a little less attention and are a little more fluid in their preferences or have preferences that you just can’t predict from the outset.
Speaker 2: So the chaos kind of grows exponentially.
Speaker 3: Exactly as more of them come in. It just gets more chaotic. Your ability to model becomes difficult and you can make educated guesses as to who is going to comprise this new group of voters. But at the end of the day, if you’re looking at what we’re looking at and this has been true this cycle 20, 20, 2018, these extraordinarily high turnout elections and closely contested elections, it becomes very difficult to say what the electorate is going to look like.
Speaker 2: Well, how high was the turnout this time around?
Speaker 3: I think the current estimate is going to be higher than 2018, or at least at least around 2018 levels, which is just in.
Speaker 2: 2018 was huge.
Speaker 3: But 18 was historic, a historically high turnout for a midterm election. So it’s just going to be it can be hard to model that electorate. It sort of it becomes you can try you can make good guesses, but it reveals the limits of trying to do this sort of thing.
Speaker 2: There’s one more factor in this midterm election I wanted Jamal to unpack with me. Gerrymandering with control of Congress still up in the air. I wanted to know how much of the outcome in the end would be thanks to partisan meddling. He singled out a few states where aggressive maps might shift the balance of power.
Speaker 3: In Ohio, the Ohio Republicans created a congressional map that violates the Ohio State Constitution and just refused to change it. Right. So there you go. And in New York, B, a conservative New York appeals court struck down a Democratic map that would have, you know, gave the party more seats. And right now, Republicans are favored to win the House. But it’s sort of it’s still a little up in the air. Things can still go the other way. And we might be looking at a situation where a Republican, the Republican gain of a House, has less to do with actually winning more votes and just more to do with those two courts or Ohio in New York, those maps favoring Republicans. And this is probably, you know, neither here, here nor there.
Speaker 3: But it’s worth saying that the extent to which the House becomes the House of Representatives becomes sort of calcified this way by partisan gerrymandering, makes it less in line with what it’s supposed to be, which is responsive to the national majority and kind of a direct way. The House, in a lot of ways is becoming kind of like the Senate. And that’s sort of not that’s not good.
Speaker 2: That’s interesting. What do you what do you mean when it’s operating like the Senate? Because I always think of the House is so different. Just it’s so many more people. It’s the people are oh, I think of them as junior varsity versus varsity. They’re a little wilder. But when you say it’s like the Senate, you mean just because it’s more predictable who’s going to come in?
Speaker 3: They’re more predictable, less like and less responsive to national majority. That’s the big thing. So I don’t think of a house maybe because I spend so much time reading 19th century American history, where the house was like the what is the dominant chamber in Congress, the Senate, to only become as dominant as as it is in like the last half century, but for a long time, you know, when you when you thought about who are the statesmen of American politics, they were members of the House of Representatives. And kind of the whole point of the House and design is to be responsive to national majorities, to be the one part of the federal system that really does like shift with the winds much more than the Senate. The Senate, because of its, you know, have its staggered membership. So not every senator is up for re-election and every race be staggered membership, six year terms be equal state representation, meaning that every state gets two senators.
Speaker 3: All those things work to make it far less responsive to the public mood than what the house is supposed to work, which, you know, short, short tenure everyone’s elected at the same time means that ideally, if the national mood shifts in two years, then that’s reflected in the House results and the extent to which partisan gerrymandering inhibits that makes it difficult for the national mood to be reflected, or just like the national vote to be reflected in the results.
Speaker 3: I think it’s makes it more like the Senate in ways that we don’t we don’t want, in my view, we should want the House to basically come as close as possible to mirroring the national to party vote. And right now, we’re looking at a possibility right where the the national popular vote goes for Democrats, for the House, but Republicans win the chamber. And that, to me is, you know, I’m a critic of the Senate, but you can at least say that in the case of the Senate, that’s sort of how the thing is designed. It’s not how the House is designed. And if it’s working that way, then that means there’s a problem.
Speaker 2: We’ll be back after a break.
Speaker 2: Can we talk about one of the places where Republicans or a Republican did quite well, which is Florida? I mean, I guess given the midterm was this midterm has been such a tough one, it looks like right now for Republicans, it’s hard not to think about. Governor DeSantis, who won decisively early, that he’s the future of the Republican Party. Do you think that’s the case?
Speaker 3: Yeah, I feel like I’m like the lone dissenter skeptic. And maybe that’s, you know, maybe I’m wrong about this. But I think the most relevant thing to consider about the Florida results is that both Ron DeSantis and Marco Rubio won smashing double digit victories. DeSantis outperformed Rubio. This is true. But the this is opponent, Charlie Crist, former governor, former like, you know, consistent statewide loser. Right. The guy who runs and loses all the time. The senators have the advantage of probably the weakest possible opponent. And Rubio ran up against Demings, who is like a pretty strong opponent, all things considered. And so it’s entirely possible the Republicans are high on this. And this right now looks like and maybe he is the future of the party.
Speaker 3: But it’s worth considering that rather than this, hey, this is victory representing some unique political genius. It represents basically Florida’s shifting partisan lean race for Florida, as we see a ton of in-migration during the pandemic. Lots of people moving to Florida for political reasons. So lots of conservative voters, this has this has been a capable partisan leader, has been able to consolidate the Republican Party quite successfully in this state. So that’s to his credit.
Speaker 3: But you have structural conditions, plus his partisan leadership, plus a weak opponent, plus the national Republican lean right, sort of like maybe it’s even maybe Florida. Let’s say Florida is like default, a Republican plus five, state Republican plus six. So you should expect a generic Republican to at least win by that. So generic Republican lean last week opponent, plus good economic conditions plus incumbency. All of a sudden, it’s looking like the Saints kind of performed about what you would expect someone in that position to perform. Right.
Speaker 2: Like he’s kind of like a duck candidate like yeah, obvious obvious wins.
Speaker 3: And so if that’s the case, then maybe he is uniquely positioned to lead the Republican Party in its post-Trump era. Or maybe he’s not. And I’m still not entirely convinced that DeSantis is sort of going to be this unstoppable national candidate. So I’m not making any predictions. But I do think that I do think that you cannot sort of directly translate even strong electoral success in a state to the national stage. National politics just is different and runs on a different future. And it runs on qualities that the Santas may not necessarily have.
Speaker 2: Yeah, I mean, others have echoed what you’re saying and people who are Republicans, too. There’s a big New Yorker article that talked to some Republicans who’d worked with DeSantis, and they straight up said, like if he runs for president, he’s going to have to go shake hands with local Republican leaders and listen to them. And that’s not his strength. And so you need to factor that into your assessment of Ron DeSantis. But I think the thing that a lot of people are seeing is that it’s not just the party taking Ron DeSantis seriously. It’s Trump himself. Like last night, you know, Trump obviously was projecting confidence after these returns. And some people noticed that, you know, the one person that Trump was not congratulating who was a big Republican who won was Ron DeSantis. He clearly sees DeSantis as a threat and was sort of teasing him when he had a rally over the weekend.
Speaker 1: Trump at 71, Ron Sanctimonious at 10%, Mike Pence at seven. Oh, Mike said. Better than I thought.
Speaker 2: And so I guess the question becomes like, is he a threat to Trump himself?
Speaker 3: I mean, if if Trump perceives DeSantis to be a threat, then maybe he is. I mean, I don’t think it’s impossible that the Sanders could beat Trump in a Republican primary primary, especially because Republican elites really seem to want this and this like they are really they.
Speaker 2: Want to make fetch happen.
Speaker 3: Right, To make fetch happen. So it’s not clear to me who else is going to run on the Republican side. Tom Cotton just announced he was not. I’d say Josh Hawley might still throw his hat in. Ted Cruz is sort of like desperate to be president or throw his hat. And I mean, you can imagine some other people, but elites seem to want to. SANTOS The question and this is kind of the big this is this is the Trump dilemma for the Republican Party.
Speaker 3: Trump is a Republican, but he’s also not right. He has no particular commitment to the Republican Party or its prospects. Doesn’t really care about its ability to win power in office. He cares about himself occupying a position of power. He cares about his place of pride within the Republican primary, within the Republican electorate. And if he loses that, there’s no real guarantee that he will play ball with whoever is the nominee. And this has always been the fear for Republican elites that if they don’t line up behind Trump, he’ll just go home and his supporters will go with him, because a lot of his supporters, they aren’t partisan Republicans in the same way they’re Trump people.
Speaker 2: Yeah, I mean, it gets me back to this midterm, honestly, because you could see a lot of Republican operatives kind of saying like, oh, Trump did this last night, like this is Trumpism that is causing, you know, the red wave to not happen here because so many candidates who were defeated were aligned with Trump. But even if that’s true, it doesn’t mean that Trump himself is down. Trump himself is only down when Trump is down because, as you said, he’s only aligned with his own interests, not the wider Republican Party. It just makes it unclear to me like what the lesson will be from this midterm for Republicans and for Trump.
Speaker 3: Yeah, I mean, I think that’s I think that’s going to you know, after every time there’s a bad election for Democrats, it’s always like Democratic had to do some soul searching. I think this is a place where Republicans got to really figure out where they are and what they’re going to do, because embracing election, denying madness, embracing Trump. I mean, this hasn’t worked. I mean, this is what’s been so kind of remarkable about the past six years.
Speaker 3: At no point at no point has the Trump led Republican Party been able to assemble a national majority for its objectives or its program. Trump did not win an actual majority in 2016. He won a constitutional majority. He won just the right number of votes needed to trigger a victory under the rules of the Electoral College in 2018. Republicans did not win a national majority. They lost both chambers of Congress in 2020, even with Trump generating a surprising amount of turnout for himself. Republicans did not win a national majority. Now, in 2022, it looks like Republicans, even if they hope, even if they win the House, it looks like Republicans are not going to win a national majority. And so it seems to me that the party might say, we got to do something about this Trump guy.
Speaker 2: Jamelle Bouie. I am always so grateful for your time. Thanks for coming on the show.
Speaker 3: Thank you for having me.
Speaker 2: Jamelle Bouie is an opinion columnist over The New York Times. And that’s her show. What next is produced by Elena Schwartz, Carmel Delshad and Madeline Ducharme. We are getting a ton of support right now from Anna Phillips, Jared Downing, Victoria, Dominguez and Colton Salaz. We are led by Alicia montgomery and Joanne Levine. And I’m Mary Harris. You go track me down on Twitter. I’m at Mary’s desk. I’m handing the reins over to Lizzie O’Leary. And the what? Next TBD crew. I will be back in this feed on Monday. I’ll catch you then.