Divided We Stand
In a large insert to The New York Times on November 10, a follow-up to the Tuesday election denotes “five takeaways from the midterms.”
First, the Democratic base showed up. Unlike some other mid-term elections where first-term Democratic Presidents were pummeled by voters (e.g., Obama in 2010 or Clinton in 1994), Mr. Biden was not penalized in a major way by having his majorities in the Congress completely voided due to poor Democratic turnout. The House will turn red, but by a margin of fewer than 10 to 12 seats. The final count in the Senate is up in the air until the Georgia runoff takes place on December 6, but it will at least be 50-50, so functionally in Democratic hands.
Second, the Supreme Court decision ending Roe v. Wade mobilized a lot of people and they voted against the GOP. At a time when the economy, crime, and immigration appeared to be dominating the midterms and doing so in favor of Republicans, the Dobbs decision may have been a lifeline for Democrats.
Mr. Trump did the Dems a favor by advocating in the Republican primaries for a host of weak candidates like Dr. Oz. Nothing can mobilize voters like a truly awful contender. There is no doubt that the biggest winner on Tuesday was Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida and the biggest loser was his rival Mr. Trump. Even though the anti-democratic forces of evil on display on January 6, 2021 were encouraged by Mr. Trump and his lies dominated the GOP primaries, it resulted in the choice of poor candidates and the losses in the primaries by some really excellent Republicans.
Inflation still played a big role in people’s thinking about their vote. The Democrats don’t seem to have a plan to improve this yet either. I suspect if “none of the above” was on the ballot, that choice may have predominated.
Finally, the way the election ended (or almost ended) indicates that the country is still deeply divided and there seems to be ever less land in the middle ground.
There is a lot of good news out of the election results. Many awful candidates lost and some awful members of Congress may not be returned to their seats. The truth is that the country looks today pretty much the way it looked on the morning of November 8, deeply split red and blue and not too many areas of purple.
This may mean that there is an opening for middle of the road Presidential candidates in both parties. Remember, that was sort of what Joe Biden was supposed to be—not a flaming liberal. It hasn’t exactly worked out that way.
Thus, the big questions that remain are about the Presidential race in 2024.
Starting on the Democratic side, these Election Day results will probably embolden Mr. Biden. He will probably run again despite being into his eighties and not seen as dynamic or persuasive. I don’t know if any Democrat would challenge a sitting President. Bobby Kennedy and Gene McCarthy did it in 1968 and it worked as Lyndon Johnson decided not to run. Teddy Kennedy tried ineffectively to do the same to Jimmy Carter in 1980. That was a disaster as he really didn’t know why he wanted to be President. Mr. Clinton and Mr. Obama had no serious challengers from within their own party. Could someone emerge to take on Biden? Sure, but who? Gavin Newsome? Pete Buttigieg? Bernie Sanders? Give me a break. If Biden wants the nomination, he is likely to get it. His fate in 2024 will depend upon against whom he runs.
The Republican nomination is wide open. Of course, Mr. Trump was the first to jump in, but his legal problems are piling up and he really cannot look upon these midterm results as having been successful for him. I think the party is ready to look elsewhere. Mr. DeSantis for sure is going to run. Governor Abbott might, as might New Hampshire governor Chris Sununu and former Maryland governor Larry Hogan. The GOP bench is far deeper than the Democratic bench. Governor Glenn Youngkin of Virginia is also one to watch and could be a potential DeSantis running mate.
What we can say for sure is the country cannot coalesce around anyone just yet. Might it? Not if Mr. Biden is in a rematch with Mr. Trump or even if he runs against Mr. DeSantis.
Some new talent needs to emerge if the country is to consolidate around a set of ideas. Someone must actually outline a real vision for the future. They need to say:
I have a vision for the future.
I have a plan to get us there.
It won’t be easy.
It will be worth it when we arrive.
I don’t see that person anywhere just yet.