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Adventures in Punditry


Apropos Paul’s recent post, nothing separates good from bad punditry like off-year and midterm elections. The Democrats had a bad night last Tuesday because the party that holds the White House always faces a climb. It was particularly bad because Biden’s approval rating is around 42-43 percent.

The fact that Virginia was a close loss – close enough that campaign strategy may have made a difference – and that New Jersey was a very narrow win despite Biden’s terrible approval rating reflects the dispositions of the two states. If Biden’s numbers don’t improve before attitudes toward the midterm election start to lock in, 2022 will be a massacre.

That’s pretty much the story. From a #hottakes perspective, it’s kind of boring; it also makes it difficult for pundits to wishcast onto the election results.

For example, Rich Lowry really wants the GOP to move beyond Trump – I think we can all agree that would be a good thing. Lowry writes that:

Now, Youngkin, who at the end of the day is a Glenn Youngkin Republican, exceeded Trump’s 2020 margins in the reddest parts of Virginia. In Southside Virginia, Trump won by 22 points; Youngkin won by 36. In Southwest Virginia, Trump won by 45; Youngkin by 53. In the Shenandoah Valley, Trump won by 22; Youngkin by 33. In the Upper Tidewater, Trump won by 16; Youngkin by 28.

But maybe it’s not a great idea to compare margins in an off-year election with an unpopular incumbent in the White House to a presidential election.

Because differential turnout.

For example, Trump received a total of 192,700 votes in the Shenandoah Valley region in 2020. Youngkin received around 121,919 votes. Biden got 94,815 votes in 2020, McAuliffe got 43,107 votes in 2021.

In other words, Youngkin saw less of a drop-off (37%) than McAuliffe (55%) did. While I’m sure there were Biden-to-Youngkin voters, it looks like the only code Youngkin cracked is running in extremely favorable environment in a purple-blue state.

In 2014 Larry Hogan won Maryland by a slightly larger margin than Youngkin won Virginia. Maryland is a much bluer state than Virginia. Obama’s approval was 40-42 around that time. Given the choices, it would be great if Hogan were the future of the Republican party. But he’s not. If Youngkin makes good on his appeals to the center, he’s not going to be either.

As Scott notes, what makes this so disappointing is that “even the post 1/6 Republicans are being treated as a normal party” and that “education polarization and America’s multiple undemocratic constitutional features mean that in normal politics Democrats are screwed in the short and very possibly medium term.”

He’s right.

But let me suggest that if the Democrats want 1/6 to, you know, actually affect electoral outcomes then they cannot count on the mainstream media to do their work for them. The insurrection won’t mobilize the base simply because the Washington Post runs long, detailed pieces about it. Waiting for the Select Committee to reach a finding is just wasted time.

Democrats need to beat the drum — through advertisements, social-media campaigns, favorable media outlets – and beat it hard.

In particular, they should relentlessly attack the Republican leadership, especially Kevin McCarthy. Democrats need sustained, loud, and consistent messaging that 1) Republicans tried to steal the 2020 election and 2) therefore can’t be trusted with control of congress.

Will that make a difference? Probably not. It might be effective if the Democrats enjoyed the kind of messaging machine that the GOP does. But if they did we’d be having a very different conversation right now, wouldn’t we?

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