Maybe Republicans Will Finally Learn
Nov. 10, 2022
It is rude of Arizona, Nevada and Georgia to keep the country waiting to know the composition of its Senate. Why, days after the election, don’t we know which party controls the House? Why can’t the late-reporting states get their act together on vote counting? It’s the increase in mail-in ballots? So what? You roll with life and adapt. Florida, which spans two time zones, reports its tallies with professionalism and dispatch.
States have two jobs in this area. One is to create the conditions by which people can vote—polling places, machines that work, correctly worded ballots. The second is to count the votes. It’s not rocket science. Leaders keep saying we have to be patient. Why? How about doing your job? Get the mail-in ballots, count them, hold them in a vault until the polls close, and announce the numbers, along with the Election Day vote, that night.
Long counts are not only sloppy, they are abusive. It is in the delay between polls closed and outcome announced that the mischief begins. It’s where conspiracism takes hold. They stole the boxes with the ballots last Thursday—my cousin’s friend saw it.
It is looking for trouble. America isn’t a place where you need to look for trouble.
On the outcome as we know it: The MAGA movement and Donald Trump took it right in the face. Normal conservatives and Republicans fared well. Trump-endorsed candidates went down. Everyone knows the famous examples—Doug Mastriano in Pennsylvania, Don Bolduc in New Hampshire, Tudor Dixon, who lost by 10 points in Michigan. All embraced Mr. Trump, some sincerely, many opportunistically, all consistently. A Hollywood director once said of pragmatic choices, and we paraphrase, that it’s one thing to temporarily reside up someone’s organ of elimination but it’s wrong to build a condo up there, people will notice and get a poor impression. That’s sort of what happened.
Less noticed so far: In Michigan, Democrats flipped both chambers of the Legislature. Republicans lost the state Senate for the first time in almost 40 years. Trump-backed candidates lost big races. The nonpartisan Bridge Michigan said the election should be “a wake-up call for the GOP to move on from Donald Trump’s obsessive quest to re-litigate his 2020 loss.” Jason Roe, a former head of the state party, said the GOP can continue to tilt at windmills or win elections, and if it does the former, “it’s gonna be a rough decade ahead of us.”
Ronna McDaniel, head of the Republican National Committee, lives in Michigan. Think she noticed?
On the other hand Team Normie pretty much flourished east to west. Gov. Chris Sununu in New Hampshire won by 15 points, Gov. Brian Kemp of Georgia by more than 7, and of course Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida by nearly 20.
The weirdness of the Trump candidates—their inexperience and fixations, their air of constant yet meaningless conflict, their sheer abnormality—asked too much of voters, who said no.
On Mr. Trump himself, everything has been said, including in this space for a long time. An esteemed Tory political figure summed it up succinctly in London in August: “Donald Trump ruined the Republican Party’s brand.”
It will now stick with him or not. It will live free or die.
If, in 2024, Republicans aren’t serious about policy—about what they claim to stand for—they will pick him as their nominee. And warm themselves in the glow of the fire as he goes down in flames. If they’re serious about the things they claim to care about—crime, wokeness, etc.—they’ll choose someone else and likely win.
The night before the election I watched Mr. Trump’s rally in Ohio. It was the usual until the end, when, as he spoke, some “Phantom of the Opera”-ish music came from out of nowhere. It was like some deformed giant named Igor was playing an organ as the sound track of the speech. It was like going back to the eerie weird zone of 2015-20, only darker, weirder and less competent. Mr. Trump didn’t know how to coordinate his words with the music, and the words were all dark—America in decline, grrr grrr. There was a deep darkness behind him, and beyond that his big plane. When Gov. Mike DeWine was asked to speak, he mumbled approximately 3.5 words and scrammed. Trump invited another statewide candidate to the podium and he shook him off: No, that’s OK.
I watched and thought: What I am seeing is the end of something. I am seeing yesterday. This is a busted jalopy that runs on yesteryear’s resentments. A second term of this would be catastrophic, with him more bitter, less competent, surrounded by collapsed guardrails. He and his people once tried to stop the constitutionally mandated electoral vote certification by violently overrunning the U.S. Capitol. If America lets him back, he will do worse. And America knows.
The policy positions of Trumpism always had constructive elements. He helped bust the party from its mindless establishment rut, broke the party from its recent always-up-for-a-war impulse and from the condescension of its political strategists toward the working class.
But the man himself poisons his own movement. That’s what became obvious this week.
For almost seven years my email has been full of Republicans who disapprove of Mr. Trump, support many of his policies, see no wisdom in the policies of the left, and are stuck with him.
But they are no longer stuck. This week’s epic loss—a landscape of pro-Republican issues and a repudiation of Republican candidates—should jar them loose. He is nowhere near the only game in town. It’s time for a jailbreak.
There will be other candidates for president, including Mr. DeSantis, who turned Florida red. If Mr. Trump goes forward and Mr. DeSantis does too, it will be one of the great political brawls. Mr. Trump is already essentially trying to blackmail the governor—“I know more about him than anybody other than perhaps his wife.” Mr. DeSantis has wisely refrained from responding.
He should continue holding his fire, not try to laugh it off or respond in kind. He should concentrate on governing and reaching out. If he decides to run, at that point he should answer—in a cool and deadly way, not a personal way. A way that acknowledges Mr. Trump was a breakthrough figure, changed the party in some healthy ways, but got lost in obsessions and bitterness, in petty feuds—in an All About Me-ness that came at the expense of policy and party. All About Me is a losing game, because politics is all about us.
Trump supporters will say, “Well, Trump’s been insulting him a long time, he’s got a right to answer. He’s got a right to insult back, and he didn’t.” Many of them will hear. They’ll think.
Meantime there’s a gift for Republicans in what happened this week. “Every victory carries within it the seeds of defeat, every defeat the seeds of victory.” If Republicans had just won, they never would have learned a thing.
They can learn now. The old saying is there’s no education in the second kick of a mule. This is the third kick, after 2018 and 2020. Maybe they will learn now.