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Tuesday was a good night for Dems but ...
it won't help Biden ...
So, what are we to make of Tuesday’s off-year elections in the United States? My take is that, if there was ever any doubt previously that it would happen, it is now clear that the preservation of robust abortion rights is a winning issue for Democrats. It is also as plain as day that an endorsement by Donald Trump often does more harm than good for GOP candidates for statewide or national office — a pattern that started more than three years ago and continues to this day.
It appears that some Republicans have had enough. As the conservative Wall Street Journal editorial page put it (free link), “Republicans lost or did worse than expected in 2018, 2020, 2022 and again in 2023. That won’t change until Republican voters finally get tired of all the losing.”
In Virginia, which was seen as a barometer of GOP national success, Democrats narrowly took control of the House of Delegates and maintained their slim majority in the state Senate. Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin was not on the ballot but he had, in part, framed the fight for control of the state legislature around passing and signing into law a 15-week abortion ban, with exceptions for rape, incest and the life of the mother.
Youngkin had hoped to forge a path forward for Republicans nationwide who wanted to enact what they thought would appear to be “reasonable” restrictions on abortion. In my weekly appearance on WICC radio (see below), I told host Paul Pacelli on Tuesday that if Youngkin was able to pull off the feat of maintaining Republican control of the House, flipping the Senate and enacting his abortion ban, that the governor would become an instant GOP rock star.
I have to say that I was surprised at the abject failure of Youngkin, a nerdy investment banker, to deliver the goods. In a post-Roe-world, Republicans look like the dog that caught the car. They have seized that big political prize and now have no idea what to do with it.
In Kentucky, a red state Trump won by more than 25 points in 2020, incumbent Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear won reelection by 5 points. His Republican opponent, state attorney general Daniel Cameron, had been endorsed by you-know-who.
In Ohio, two proposed state constitutional amendments passed by nearly the same margins: one that would enshrine abortion rights in Ohio as they were previously before Roe v. Wade was overturned; and another that would permit the legalization of recreational cannabis. Both measures were widely opposed by Republicans.
On Newsmax, former Republican Sen. Rick Santorum attributed the losses in Ohio to the notion that abortion and marijuana are “sexy” issues that brought out a lot of young people who don’t know any better. This is a very seductive rationalization, but as Jeff Goldblum’s character in the Big Chill said, “I don't know anyone who could get through the day without two or three juicy rationalizations. They're more important than sex.” To which his friend replied, “Ah, come on. Nothing's more important than sex.” “Oh yeah?” Goldblum retorted, “Ever gone a week without a rationalization?” End of discussion. We should all cut the hapless Santorum some slack.
But the key to cutting losses for Republicans is not only adopting more moderate positions on reproductive freedom, but finding a forward-thinking leader. From the beginning, Trump has cast his candidacy to regain the White House as a test of his followers’ loyalty and their desire to exact “retribution” on those who wronged him — and by extension, wronged his followers.
I can’t think of a single example in modern political history where that strategy has worked. But if ever there was a year when it might be a winning game plan, it could be 2024. Notwithstanding the weak showing of Republicans generally this week, it’s obvious the standing of President Biden is equally poor.
The recent release of a New York Times/Siena College poll (free link) of six crucial swing states shows Trump leading Biden in five of them. As I wrote on Threads, if those numbers hold up, there’s no way Biden wins. There has since been considerable bed-wetting in Democratic circles, with no less than David Axelrod, a former top Obama strategist, suggesting Biden would be doing the party and the nation a favor by getting out of the race. This prompted outrage in the comment thread and elsewhere (click here or on the image to see it).
As the experience of Bashear in Kentucky shows, there are plenty of ticket-splitters out there who think nothing of voting for candidates of different parties. And besides, the mood of the electorate can change greatly between election cycles. In other words, as Dems eye the 2024 race for the White House, they should not take too much comfort from Tuesday’s results.
Now whether Biden can win a second term depends, by some measure, on who his opponent will be. It looks like Trump could win if the election were held today. But that can change quickly, or even over the course of the 12 months between now and the election. But I don’t anticipate that will happen.
One of the major concerns voters have with Biden is his age, which is ironic when you consider that Trump, who himself appears in cognitive decline on the campaign trail, is only three years younger. This just in: between now and next November, Biden will continue to age.
As of 2020, the average lifespan of a male in the U.S. was 77¼ years. Biden will turn 81 in a couple of weeks and will be 86 at the end of a second term. As I told Pacelli on WICC, statistically Biden will not make it through his second term. The reality is that in order to cast a ballot for Biden, a significant percentage of the electorate will have to have confidence in his vice president to succeed him as commander-in-chief. As I wrote last month, Kamala Harris has disapproval ratings that are even higher than her boss’s (55% vs. 54%). How do voters concerned about Biden’s age get past that?
Meanwhile, I watched most of last night’s Republican debate so you don’t have to. Once again, you-know-who wasn’t there but it was the usual shitshow anyway. Click here for the full replay, if you want to make yourself cringe. My takeaway is that by far the strongest candidate Republicans could run would be Nikki Haley.
Haley endured a withering assault from the Smarmy Ramaswamy, who called her “Dick Cheney in three-inch heels” and he even dragged her daughter into the fray for the sin of using TikTok. For the latter offense, Haley glared at Vivek and snarled, “You’re just scum.”
Of Vivek’s first insult, Haley displayed a sense of humor: “They’re five-inch heels, and I don’t wear them unless you can run in them,” adding that they weren’t a “fashion statement,” but rather “ammunition.” That woman is tough as nails. Standing between the two swordsmen, the hapless Gov. Ron DeSantis looked like he wanted to duck.
Charlie Sykes of the Bulwark captured the moment perfectly:
What would Abraham Lincoln think about Vivek Ramaswamy? What would Bill Buckley say?
Probably something like: what a dick.