For Banana Republicans, The Bill Has Come Due

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.

Historic Election?

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:

  1. FDR’s Dems gained nine seats during one realignment away from the GOP during Great Depression.
  2. 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.

Teased out a little more.

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.

Highest death rate Mississippi, lowest Vermont. Surprised? Yes but not really.

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.

Looking Forward

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.


  1. I’ve been having fun with this issue in the news comments these last 7 days. I have a different take on why Republicans under performed in this midterm election. I searched your lengthy post and you never mentioned Social Security and Medicare. The news stories don’t talk about it much, either. Seniors are a growing voting block. They may be the largest single minded voting block for the next 50 years. I’m a senior now. For me and many other seniors, for the rest of my life the biggest issue will be Social Security and Medicare. I was a Republican for most of my life, and I would return to the GOP if they get right with Social Security and Medicare. I know the system is not “financially sustainable” as it’s current designed, but that can be fixed. If the rich have to pay more taxes, good. They are the only people that have any significant money left in the USA. I’m trying to get this message across to Republicans because I agree with them on many issues like the border and crime, but they have to get right with Social Security and Medicare. Republicans, compromise with the Democrats and make Social Security and Medicare sustainable for the next 50 years WITHOUT CUTTING BENEFITS. It’s my money that they took out of my paycheck, and I want it back now – now meaning every month for the rest of my life.


    1. I didn’t believe anybody cared about the SS / Medicare incident. But if you do, there must be more. There’s a lot going on there, so pardon the lengthy response!

      The incident was Senator Rick Scott floating a tentative party platform, in the absence of proper platform from the 2020 convention, which included sunsetting all federal spending programs. That would put SS / Medicare funding on the chopping block by default, and therefore be one shutdown-like partisan dispute away from being defunded.

      SS / Medicare is effectively a Ponzi scheme. I don’t agree that being a Ponzi scheme in itself is unsustainable, given it is backed by the U.S. government / world’s reserve currency, etc. But it is unsustainable under our current tax scheme, which you also alluded to, and debt ceiling. Raise money via taxes or borrowing, and problem is solved.

      Most conservatives believe the Republicans are the party of fiscal responsibility, despite the easily verifiable fact that Republicans increase the deficit more than Democrats, especially when they control both WH and Congress. They achieve that not just by spending as much as Democrats, but by cutting revenues (taxes) while they do it.

      Unfortunately, if you look at the federal budget, the only way to reduce the deficit without raising taxes is to put SS / Medicare on the chopping block. Reducing military spending makes a dent, but you don’t get near balance without cutting SS / Medicare.

      The political context of the incident is the fight between Rick Scott and Mitch McConnell for control of the Senate. That fight made up much of the infighting that broke out after everybody realized their electoral wipeout (somebody must be blamed for not taking the Senate).

      What Scott seems to be doing with the tentative platform is trying to bring some coherence to an incoherent policy. I think McConnell, the better political practitioner, is happy to not open that can of worms. If conservatives believe Republicans are the anti-deficit party, why rock the boat?

      It is beyond bizarre given Republicans depend so heavily on older voters, more so than usual since Trump, and there are so many of them with the Boomers. It’s hard to conclude anything but political malpractice on Scott’s part.

      I was surprised because I view Scott as a dishonest actor (maybe wrongly), even for a politician. Nobody would say he is a better practitioner than McConnell, but maybe he knows something we don’t. Maybe the donor class is demanding this. They are the ones on the hook for the bill. Maybe both Scott and McConnell know this, but Scott is looking at a longer timeline given McConnell’s age.

      I assume Scott already lost this battle and they don’t bring it up again for a while. But the donors can’t wait too long or they’ll be stuck with the bill. We’ll have to wait and see how it shakes out.

      Again we see politics come back to money and tradeoffs, capital vs. labor.


      1. I don’t believe Rick Scott is an isolated rogue cowboy in the GOP. Senator Ron Johnson proposed the same thing this August. I just Googled that to confirm it. Plus when I say that Republicans want to cut Social Security and Medicare on news comments forums the Republicans call me a liar and demand proof that Republicans are calling for cuts in Social Security and Medicare. Yet as we debate it they basically start declaring that it is financially unsustainable and must be cut. So they are proving my point. Maybe they think by cut I mean eliminated. I think the Republicans would like that, but would be satisfied to cut it in half.

        Furthermore, Donald Trump said that if re-elected he would eliminate the FICA tax. I’ve Googled that to confirm that, too. He said it more than once. Some have suggested that if that happened they would move Social Security into the general tax fund. Well, if they don’t cut benefits, I’m OK with that but it’s probably the first step towards cutting benefits. If they put Social Security into the general tax fund they either have to raise the tax rates significantly to cover the eliminated FICA tax or they have to raise the deficit and the national debt an enormous amount, and Republicans are very much against both of those, so Donald Trump’s plan sounds like the death of Social Security and Medicare. Rich people don’t need those wasteful programs.

        Ponzi scheme or not (I don’t agree that it is although it is similar) they took my money for 50 years. I’ve added it up with interest from investing it in T bills (which is what they do) compounded and they owe me over half a million dollars now. They can give me that and we’ll call it square. I’ll buy a lifetime annuity with it and collect about the same amount. I’m not asking for more than I paid in based on my actuarial life span, but I won’t accept less. The Republicans are supposed to believe in law and order, but they want to steal trillions of dollars from seniors. Steal it, not re-appropriate it. Seniors like to vote and I think they are waking up to what is being proposed. That’s why I voted Democrat this time after being a Republican most of my life.


        1. I don’t think he’s a rogue cowboy either so much as a foolish messenger. Looking at definition, I’d agree “Ponzi scheme” isn’t accurate. It’s not a fraud. It’s “pay as you go,” in which yours and mine went to other people. It has been spent, not invested. It is gone and never coming back. We will be paid by future “investors,” like in a Ponzi scheme. But not fraud.

          I’m old enough to remember when George W. Bush flirted with privatizing SS with savings accounts modeled on the Chilean system implemented by the “Chicago Boys.” Peru now has such a scheme. You can opt into a personal savings account where your contributions are invested in diversified funds managed by the banks, or you can opt for the standard public pension. It hasn’t been around long, time will tell if it works.

          GOP would probably like to do something like that someday. There is more than one way to skin a cat, but it’s a tough sell. And given your vote this time around, it was really stupid to lead the charge with a vow to sunset the programs. I heard one pundit say it was the most egregious unforced error he’d ever seen, and that “Rick Scott drove 300 miles to step on a rake.”

          I didn’t know Ron Johnson also proposed it. Strange because he and Scott are closer to the Trumpian, anti-RINO, working-class, faux labor faction of the party. Why this would come from them I just don’t know.


          1. “Rick Scott drove 300 miles to step on a rake.” That’s funny. Thanks for posting that. I did a little more research yesterday and if they gave me my money back with interest and I bought a lifetime annuity, the monthly amount would be very close to my projected monthly Social Security benefit, except the lifetime annuity would include a 10 year guarantee. That means if I died before 10 years are up the annuity would pay my heirs the unpaid amount of 10 years payments. Social Security doesn’t include anything like that. I also could get a lifetime annuity with no 10 year guarantee and the monthly amount would be significantly more. It’s a tradeoff. I know that they will never write me a check to buy me out of Social Security but it was interesting to compare it to the free market alternative. It’s close, but not as good, probably because the free market would put the money into stocks, but I would get a fixed return – no risk of loss, no chance of gain.


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