I’ve refrained from Republican-bashing for over a year, since How Trump Turned the GOP into Banana Republicans and #StopTheSteal: What’s Next for the Banana Republic?. I’ll go back down to low frequency, but last week was a bomb.
From How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Trump (March 2020)
And in a strange way, I think Donald Trump has been good for American governance. He’s an enduring stress test. For you Taleb followers, he’s making the American government “anti-fragile.” This is how I came to love Trump. By engaging in conduct that runs the gamut from unethical to blatantly corrupt, from ignorant to infantile, he is forcing society at large to confront an unfit leader.
Trump’s reality TV show has prompted a surge in interest in civics, especially among young people. There has been a great redemption of public servants in government, an increased esteem for everybody from diplomats to science wonks.
This is how Trump is making America great again.
I’ve known this movement will end badly. I haven’t worried about when. Then I shared this FB observation from the morning of Jan. 6, after Democrats flipped two Senate seats in Georgia but before the insurrection began.
In both instances of a party taking control of the White House and Congress and losing all three in just four years, that party was punished in elections for a long time. Both times correlate with major political realignments. Nobody would disagree that Trump ushered in a realignment, but what remains to be seen is whether the Republicans will face prolonged punishment.
I was skeptical about extended Democratic control. The election ending Trump’s term wasn’t a resounding condemnation of the party, just him. Democrats only flipped the Senate after weeks of Trump undermining Georgia’s political system and Republican leaders during the runoff. Without that extra dose of Trump, I think the GOP would have kept the Senate and this historical analogy wouldn’t apply.
Then the Trump-inspired mob sacked the legislature.
I’m still skeptical the Democrats could run the table for a decade given how different the terrain is from the 1930s. But this midterm election is a signal.
I’m writing before final results are in, but it’s clear this a historic failure for the GOP. Newly elected presidents face a bloodbath in congressional elections two years later. Only two presidents have bucked the trend in the last 100 years:
- FDR’s Dems gained nine seats during one realignment away from the GOP during Great Depression.
- W. Bush’s GOP took eight after he peaked at 92% approval following 9/11.
Only one second-term president gained seats: Bill Clinton amid an unpopular push to impeach him.
Teasing out the data a little more, Democrats suffer more than Republicans in modern history. Since the latest realignment following the Civil Rights Act of 1963, in which black voters flocked to Democrats and conservatives began preferring Republicans, new Democratic presidents’ first midterms lost an average of 44 seats.
With the highest inflation in a generation and Biden’s approval ratings underwater, most pundits expected the Democrats to suffer a bloodbath of at least the historical average. Losing 30 seats seemed to be the consensus. Some bullish Republicans predicted 60. Yet Biden’s performance may be a Democrat’s best since JFK, who lost just four seats just after the Soviet Union backed down in the Cuban Missile Crisis.
It was clear by morning that a “red wave” election had not occurred, and Republican infighting began immediately. Looking at which GOP candidates won and which ones lost, the through line is clear: Trump. The most prominent MAGA candidates lost, while many moderates who kept their distance won.
The MAGA candidates who won enjoyed uncompetitive races, weak opponents (Barnes) or popular moderates as teammates (DeWine). The most embarrassing losses happened where MAGA dominated the primaries in swing states (PA, MI). It’s hard to come to any conclusion other than that Trump is the L factor.
Beyond Abortion, Democracy and Gen Z
Most analysis highlighted the higher-than-average turnout among Zoomers (born between 1997 and 2010), and their higher-than-average preference for Democrats. That is true, but the more existential threat to GOP is a base heavily skewed toward Boomers.
Forget the neo-Klan conspiracies you hear on Fox News. The real replacement isn’t by race or nationality, but age. Every year, 2 million Boomers die and 4 million Zoomers turn 18. Every year.
Those Zoomers didn’t come of age in a time when people complained there was no difference between the two parties. There is a stark contrast now, and the Republicans are abhorrent to Zoomers on most of today’s most topical issues: climate, guns, gay/trans issues. Abortion was just icing on the cake for that generational reckoning that has only just begun.
It’s not just Gen Z coming of age, it’s also Boomers dying. In 2024, there will be 8 million more Zoomers and 4 million fewer Boomers, a net gain of 12 million for Gen Z.
The COVID Divide
Given the pandemic was politicized from the beginning, there is a partisan differential in the COVID death rate: the COVID Divide. Republicans opposed every public health measure from masks to lockdowns and even vaccines. While they believe the benefits of that approach outweighed the costs, it certainly didn’t benefit their share of the electorate. You can see the COVID Divide in the states’ death tolls.
We’re not looking at the effect of government policy here, but how much each party gained or lost voters in the pandemic. Each voter made their own choices, regardless of where they live. I live in a red state and avoided ever catching COVID (to my knowledge). In mostly blue St. Louis, our hospitals filled up with patients from red, rural areas who ignored those guidelines. Everybody I know who died or was hospitalized were Republicans. Even today, despite two thirds of the population being vaccinated, more unvaccinated people die from COVID than vaccinated.
How much did the COVID Divide change the electorate?
The number is unknowable, but I’ll go with the death rate in the reddest to the bluest states from above (Mississippi to Vermont): four dead Republican voters for every dead Democrat. You could make the argument that it’s higher or lower. But I’m going with four to one.
Is that significant enough to change electoral outcomes. Here’s the formula:
# total deaths x 0.6 = net Democratic gain in surviving voters
net Democratic gain ≥ electoral victory differential?
If the net Democratic gain in voters is greater or equal to the spread of a Democratic electoral victory, you can credit the COVID Divide.
I started with the numbers for Pennsylvania, where Democrats flipped a Senate seat. Pennsylvania had 48,000 deaths from COVID, but the race was decided by 233,755 votes. In PA, COVID deaths didn’t matter (only Trump).
My estimation of the COVID Divide could only affect races Democrats won by a very tight margin. Nevada had 11,580 COVID deaths. My formula assumes a net gain of 6,948 for Democrats. Democratic Senator Catherine Cortez Masto won by about 9,000 votes.
The COVID Divide didn’t affect that race either, according to my 4:1 assumption. But maybe my assumption is wrong and the ratio is higher. It doesn’t take into account children of COVID deaths who blame conservative propaganda for their parents’ deaths.
The red wave did not materialize, but the 2022 midterms were high tide for the Republicans. Political parties out of power don’t do better in the next round of elections. What I call a “bloodbath” in this electoral performance is graded on a curve. Republicans did flip the House. In 2024, they’ll likely face a real bloodbath, not graded on a curve.
Will the price Republicans pay for Trump extend beyond 2024? Much depends on Trump.
A political leader with such a poor record would normally be ushered into a graceful retirement. But we do not have a normal Republican party, and he does not want to get off the stage. He is expected to announce his 2024 candidacy next week.
It sounds absurd to let Trump continue leading the party, but a proper purge is a high price to pay. Let’s say Mitch McConnell could wave a magic wand and excise all the MAGA clowns tomorrow. The GOP would be wiped out in the very next election because the Trump cult is large enough that it’s needed to win. And given that cult identifies with Trump over party, they’ll stay home if he is banished. The Republicans cannot win with them, nor without them.
Even if Trump isn’t the nominee, does he gracefully concede and support the nominee with time and money? Hard to imagine. More likely he burns the house down on his way out.