After Mitt Romney's loss of the 2012 presidential election, Reince Priebus' Republican National Committee conducted a post mortem designed to determine what worked. what did not, and to set a way forward. With Donald Trump hovering over the Republican Party, such a post mortem is not possible. Let this suffice.
The big picture: As attorney general Bill Barr confirms, there is no evidence of election fraud adequate to overturn Biden's victory. Biden won the presidency by some 7 million votes which translates to a 306 to 232 electoral college win. Had Trump obtained 44,000 more votes in Georgia, Wisconsin, and Arizona the Electoral College would have been tied, and the presidency would have been decided by a majority of the House delegations. But if pigs could fly...,
For a party analyzing the elections for future guidance, the down ballot results are far different. Instead of losing an expected 20 or so House seats, the Republicans flipped 9 Democratic seats while losing no incumbents to pull within four seats of a majority. Despite being hugely outspent and defending 21 Senate seats to the Democrats' 12, the Republicans had a net loss of one seat and a holding of at least 50 seats going into the January 5, Georgia Senate elections. Republicans flipped Montana to increase governorships from 26 to 27. Republicans gained control of the New Hampshire Assembly and Senate; increasing their control of state chambers from 59-39 to 61-37, and taking a pole position on redistricting which will follow the 2020 census.
And a couple of quick comments on mechanics:
- President Trump was outspent in advertising by $652 million to $381 million; Democratic Senator candidates outspent Republicans $549 million to $319 million; House Democrat candidates outspent Republicans $663 million to $511 million. Any thought of the Republicans being the party of the fat cats is belied by the facts, with billionaires and liberal super PACs spending millions in Florida, Texas, South Carolina and elsewhere.
- The Democratic strategy of pushing mail voting and early in person voting frequently resulted in Republicans winning on election day, only to lose once the "early" votes were counted. Whatever one thinks of the security of the voting system, the convenience of voting from home (during a pandemic) and on any day over a three week period is superior to to a single day at the polls. A note for 2022.
The big question - to be the subject of lots of conjecture, but knowable only in the 2022 elections - was the broad, strong national performance of Republicans because Trump led the ticket, or in spite of Trump leading the ticket? This observer's premise: the underlying philosophy and policy premises of Trumpism capture the national mood. The larger than life persona was necessary to take on the political establishment (Republican as well as Democrat) in the face of intense opposition from the beginning - Mueller; impeachment; the policical media; the tech billionairres. The party is strong enough, the winning themes are clear enough, the constituency is broad enough, and the Democratic opposition is weak enough, that a period of ascendency is likely. That may be more probable without Trump, although his performance over the next year or so will be very important.
The primary macro thought: the party that believes in America will prevail over the party of discontent. The New York Times and Academia may revel in the 1619 Project and the meme that America is fundamentally flawed by its history of slavery and its treatment of the Native Americans. Over time, more voters will attach themselves to the premise that the Founding Fathers understood human nature and the nature of government, and designed a system that assured primacy of the individual; that generations of immigrants have come here seeking economic opportunity and individual liberty; and that this is the most successful, heterogeneous society in the history of the planet.
Several themes are in the wheelhouse of Trump Republicanism:
1. Socialism does not work. For those too young to have read Lord of the Flies or Animal Farm, the examples are plain to see: the Soviet Union of Lenin and Stalin; the China of Mao; the Cuba of Castro; the Venezuela of Chavez. Descendents of Cuban refugees represent the core of Florida's Republican majority. Vietnam refugees represent a political opportunity in California. People want the result of their labor to redound to themselves and their families; the power of the state is inevitably self-serving.
2. The first responsibility of government is to protect the American people.
-- A significant portion of the state and local Republican success comes from the "Defund the Police" movement of Black Lives Matter and AOC. To state it positively, the public is smart enough to grasp that the incidence of abuse is relatively rare and correctible, while the reduction of policing in at-risk communities results in far worse outcomes. To state it cynically, Richard Nixon's call for "law and order" was a pillar of his 1968 victory over Hubert Humphrey, and Governor Michael Dukakis' release of murderer Willie Horton was a pivotal issue in the 1988 campaign.
-- We cannot protect everybody in the world. The 18 year campaign to build a western society in Afghanistan is not worth the cost in lives (Afghan and American) and treasure. There is no fundamental American interest in central Asia.
3. Trump demonstrated in his first three years that it is possible to rebuild American manufacturing, create good jobs for virtually every American, and grow incomes in the bottom third of society faster than inflation and faster than the upper third - to the particular benefit of Blacks, Hispanics, and Asians.
As we enter 2021 with a Democratic president, we should understand the breadth and depth of Republican alignment with mainstream America. This too shall pass. Keep the faith in a better 2021.
And a thought from an active liberal feminist to help explain those Republicans who have been supporting Trump based on his policies:
"A vote is not a valentine. You aren't confessing your love for the candidate. It's a chess move for the world you want to live in." - Rebecca Solnit