How a Red Wave Turned into a Trickle …
Feel like you’ve just been trampled? How to explain the GOP’s nonsuccess Tuesday night? Inflation is soaring, American cities are besieged with the worst crime in decades, and the nation’s leader has an approval rating at 41 percent. Yet somehow on election day there was no bloodbath for Democrats. Not even close. We are now two days after mid-term voting, and, if things hold steady, Republicans will narrowly win control of the House and Democrats will remain in control of the Senate.
Get Trump Out?
Could Rep. Liz Cheney have been right? The GOP had to get Donald Trump out of its system? Donald Trump did a lot of good while president, admits Andrew McCarthy. He praises Trump’s zeal to fight the right enemies, albeit often for the wrong reasons. Trump’s methods became less effective over time, however, and often just ceased to be useful.
… you can’t force a dedicated base of supporters — one whose leaders have more of a stake in Trump’s future than in the Republican Party’s — to do an instant volte-face just because you’ve had an epiphany and suddenly decided enough is enough.
Many “Somebody Elses”
Almost all of us conservatives who supported Trump in 2016 had preferred somebody else (usually, many somebody elses) in the primaries.
But Trump won because the GOP field was too big, his celebrity towered over it, and he built an insurmountable lead driven by the momentum of a devoted fan base.
Then, he did something miraculous: He beat a Clinton, which the GOP had never been able to do — and he did it after two presidential cycles in which Obama had drubbed a moderate, establishment-minded GOP nominee.
The Trump base’s loyalty intensified after that, particularly when he kept playing to it rather than building out from it. Given that he had a good shot at being reelected before Covid, his base took over many of the state GOP organizations and secured often-decisive influence over the RNC. It became a significant factor in what much of right-of-center media chose to cover, and how.
A Midterm Lesson
You can’t erase those kinds of gains overnight; you have to let them erase themselves over time. We all wish it would happen more rapidly than it has, but it hasn’t. That’s the lesson of last night’s midterms.
The Slow, Long Game
By insisting that everyone take the harsh medicine right this instant, Liz Cheney turned into persona non grata. As Mr. McCarthy notes, a “correct diagnosis and the right medicine, however, are no guarantee of a cooperative patient.”
The only realistic strategy for peeling Trump supporters away from Trump has always been the maddeningly slow long game:
- simultaneously spotlight and oppose the Democrats’ radicalism
- ignore Trump (or at least sidestep him when practical)
- navigate the 2022 midterms through Trump’s damaging interventions
- get positioned for a non-Trump 2024 nominee who can win
Politics Is the Name of the Game
Why did Democrats have such a good night on Tuesday? McCarthy attributes Democrats’ success in putting Donald Trump on the ballot while they “expertly highlighted that the Republican Party chose to put Trump on the ballot by nominating the deeply flawed man’s preferred deeply flawed candidates.”
And let’s, please, quit whining about how Democrats are hypocrites for backing Trump’s candidates in primaries, calculating that they’d be easier to beat in November. That’s politics . . . and these candidates could not have won unless Republicans voted for them.
Unfortunately, a political base really punches above its weight in primaries. Normal people, including persuadable Democrats, independents, and Republicans, have no interest in relitigating 2020; but for too many people involved in the primaries, that was a priority.
Eighteen months ago, Mr. McCarthy wrote in NRO:
Donald Trump cannot win the presidency again. He is popular in a number of places, but poison in most others.
The former president will never again have what he’d need to win a national election: the reluctant support of doubters who, for the sake of stopping Democrats, were willing to take a chance on his flawed character. Had it not been for Trump’s bizarre post-election performance, culminating in the disgraceful Capitol riot, congressional Republicans would be in a position to stop Democrats right now. . . .
The future of the GOP has to be conservative. If the future is Trump, it will no longer be the conservative party, and it will be in the wilderness for a very long time.
Andrew McCarthy also predicts that the GOP will not remain in the wilderness for long.
But last night’s crushing disappointment probably had to happen before we could get out of it.
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