The Normie Center Strikes Back
Democracy works, survives, and can surprise us (including me). A great night.
Let’s first herald the truly good news. Democracy surprised almost all of us, as it sometimes does. It made some of us look a bit foolish (more on that in a bit). It defied most predictions and historic analogies. The election ended up with a super-close race for both House and Senate — highly unusual for a midterm when inflation is soaring and most people are super bummed about the country.
More good news: Joe Biden’s “Jim Crow 2.0” failed to materialize in Georgia. And most important of all: there are (currently) no widespread allegations of fraud or illegitimacy, despite many close races; and the candidates who made election denial their platform lost decisively. The thumping defeat of nutjob Doug Mastriano in Pennsylvania — and the way he helped drag down other Republican candidates in the states — is just fantastic. According to the exit polls, “79 percent said they were very (47 percent) or somewhat (33 percent) confident that elections in their state were being conducted fairly and accurately.” Huge and encouraging news.
And it behooves me to note that Biden’s speech on democracy last week was in retrospect right in its priorities. Voters are worried about democracy’s survival and Biden’s distinction between MAGA Republicans and the rest obviously worked with some, including Republicans. Voters who “somewhat disapproved” of Biden’s record nonetheless broke for the Dems when the alternative was a MAGA loony.
Yes, as I anticipated, there was pushback to Democratic extremism. Republicans look set to win the popular vote overall. Where CRT was on the ballot — in school board races, where it belongs — it lost badly everywhere. The Latino vote kept trending GOP, making even Miami-Dade a Republican bastion. In New York City especially, Asian-Americans’ support for the GOP soared. We even have the first openly gay MAGA congressman. The Squad members of Congress all saw their support slide in their safe districts.
On the “LGBTQIA+” question, “26 percent said our society’s values on gender identity and sexual orientation are changing for the better, 50 percent for the worse.” That’s a huge backlash against “queer” and trans extremism, and it’s hurting gays and lesbians. And in the face of media insistence that America is an objectively white supremacist country, 45 percent said racism was either not a problem at all or a minor one. (Fifty-three percent said major.)
This is striking: around a third of non-white, non-college voters went Republican. According to exit polls, Asian-Americans went from 77 percent Democrat in 2018 to around 60 percent now. Latinos went from 70 to 60. (One irony is that Republicans gained many minority votes in solid red states, which didn’t have much of an effect on the outcome, but bolsters their raw numbers.)
But these trends were overwhelmed by other issues, and did not amount to the kind of decisive rejection of Democratic leftism I favored and suspected would happen. I was wrong. I remain convinced that wokeness is terribly destructive to liberal society, but my obsessions are obviously not everyone’s. And my fault was in not seeing how MAGA extremism — the sheer anti-democratic crazy of the GOP — was seen by independent voters as far more dangerous than the crazy left. I actually agree — see this recent piece, for example — and if I didn’t live in a super-blue city, I might have felt differently about my protest vote. But from the broadest perspective, I was simply wrong to emphasize the impact of the far left as much as I have. You’ve told me this many times. I should have listened more, and I will.
Two other issues seemed to have made the critical difference: abortion and Trump. The Dobbs decision, it’s now clear, was a catalyst in mobilizing the Democratic base and in persuading suburban white women to abandon the GOP. Where Republicans proposed a clear middle ground — such as Florida’s 15-week ban — they survived. Where they threatened to impose blanket bans or were indecisive — even in solidly red states — they lost badly. And, as I predicted, the end of Roe has become a boon to Democrats in the democratic process, as long as they allow for sensible limits. The Christianists caught the car; and they still don’t know what to do. Good. Voters do.
Then Trump. His deranged fixation on 2020, the mounting evidence of his complicity in January 6, the endless lawsuits and investigations, and his constant, swivel-eyed, foam-specked raving: all of these helped remind Americans that he’s a) bonkers and b) toxic for all of us. His chosen candidates were almost uniformly terrible. His inability to restrain his hateful impulses endures.
However unpopular Biden is, Trump turned the election from a referendum on the incumbent into a choice between him and Biden. His ego demanded nothing less. But he subsequently sabotaged his party. In the key states of Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania, critical to his 2016 victory, a quarter of the voters told exit polls they had voted in opposition to Trump. And there seems to be a near-instant understanding among GOP activists (and Murdoch media) that this deranged ego is a liability going forward. What has been said previously in private is now out in the open, even on the truly MAGA right. Scanning the Trumpist bloggers the past week is a bit like reading Russian war-bloggers after the Kherson defeat, furious that their cult hero has failed on the battlefield.
On the Dishcast this week, Damon Linker argues nonetheless that the cult of Trump ensures he will be the nominee in 2024, whatever happened last Tuesday. I take the point. Trump does loom over everything in the GOP, and has a connection to the base that appears indissoluble. And yet …
… this was still a terrible night for him, especially with Ron DeSantis’ gobsmacking 19-point victory in Florida. That DeSantis — a dour, polarizing figure in the culture wars — won a stonking victory in what was only recently a swingy state, and made such huge gains with Latinos, makes him the super-star of the midterms. Donors will notice. He has figured out how to captivate the Trump base with stunts, and yet also govern competently and aggressively. He shows how anti-wokeness, if decoupled from nuts and bigots, can win the center. He’d be a formidable candidate in 2024.
And this is the obvious difference between the GOP and Trump in the past and now. Now, there’s a clear Republican alternative: DeSantis. And, as Boris once said, “when the herd moves, it moves.”
Trump also walked straight into a trap. In the days after the election, as Republicans were picking their wounds, DeSantis was their only real good news. He was an instant party hero. And yet Trump instantly tried to destroy him — while DeSantis stayed aloof. That’s why this time could be different: GOP voters saw close up that Trump isn’t really a Republican. He’s just Trump.
And the results also show that the damage Trump and the MAGA forces have done to the Republican brand is deep — especially for independents and the generation who came of age under Trump. Gen Z has emerged as ferociously left. For all my anti-wokeness, I couldn’t vote Republican if I lived in a swing state solely because of Trump — and the nature of the party he has remade in his image. Sarah Longwell describes this dynamic, recalling focus groups in Michigan and Wisconsin, where extremist GOP candidates turned off sane moderates:
“We would have these swing voters who would say things are going bad: inflation, crime, Biden’s doing a bad job, all of it. And then you say, ‘Okay, Gretchen Whitmer versus Tudor Dixon. Who are you voting for?’ And even though they’re pissed at Whitmer — she hasn’t fixed the roads, she did a bad job with COVID — they were voting for her. Because they all thought Dixon was crazy.”
And one senses that the right-populist surge is retreating somewhat everywhere. Boris is gone in Britain, just a few years after a landslide win, replaced by a mainstream non-white Tory. Bolsonaro was just dispatched in Brazil (and is not protesting the results). Putin and Xi increasingly look like tin-pot tyrants, incapable of adjusting to events, adopting insane policies — invading Ukraine and imposing zero-Covid madness — and grabbing more and more power to protect them from the consequences. There is a vibe shift toward the center — even in left-media and pop-culture.
This leaves the Democrats with a huge opportunity. If they can find a candidate who can move to the cultural and social center on some issue or other (immigration, please!), and keep their economic leftism, the future is theirs. Their problem, of course, is that no credible candidate springs to mind — and 67 percent of voters in the exit polls oppose Biden running for a second term.
Which also gives the GOP a historic chance: don’t blow up the country in the House (if you win it), tone it down a lot, move to become a multiracial party for those without college education, eject Trump’s madness … and give DeSantis a chance. The GOP problem, of course, is that the Trump cult is not done and is incredibly hard to dismantle. But it seems more battered today than at any point since 2015.
Which is to say that in this still-functioning, high turn-out unpredictable democracy, sane American voters just gave both parties a winning path back to the center. Whoever gets there first will win.
(Note to readers: This is an excerpt of The Weekly Dish. If you’re already a subscriber, click here to read the full version. This week’s issue also includes: a big dose of midterm take-age with fellow conflicted moderate Damon Linker; a page-and-a-half of dissents over my midterm angst with the Dems; 11 notable quotes from the election week; three Yglesias Awards from the right, center and left; 14 links to other Substack posts we enjoyed this week on a variety of topics; a Mental Health Break of an authoritarian meltdown; serene window views from the Austrian Alps and Aruba; and, of course, the results of the View From Your Window contest — with a new wintry challenge. Subscribe for the full Dish experience!)
Here’s a dissent from a subscriber and a “long, long-time reader of the Dish — the OG, then the independent blog, and now, again, this version”:
Over the past year or so I have subscribed and unsubscribed maybe four times. You are a brilliant writer and thinker. But I become so annoyed these days at your annoyances. Yes, the woke stuff on the left goes too far sometimes. Yes, the whole trans issue with children is worthy of discussion. But you have made these issues such a core part of your writing, mentioning them in article after article, even when they are not germane to the point at hand.
As a reader, I don’t need you to confirm my beliefs. I need you to challenge them. At the same time, I don’t want to read articles in which your goal seems to be enforcing your own beliefs, almost trying to get me, the reader, to confirm yours.
A whole page of new dissents — over the track record of Biden and the Dems — is here. As always, keep the criticism coming: firstname.lastname@example.org.
New On The Dishcast: Damon Linker
Damon is a political writer who recently launched his own Substack, “Eyes on the Right.” He’s been the editor of First Things and a senior correspondent at The Week, and he’s the author of The Theocons and The Religious Test. Back when we were both at Newsweek / Daily Beast, he edited my essays, so we’ve been friends for a while. We also both belong to the camp of conflicted moderates.
Listen to the episode here. There you can find two clips of our convo — on the impossibility of predicting politics, and on the question of whether DeSantis can dethrone Trump. That link also takes you commentary on last week’s episode with Fareed Zakaria, as well as my take on Joe Rogan’s debate with Matt Walsh over marriage equality. It’s well worth a listen:
Browse the entire Dishcast archive for an episode you might enjoy, including ones with Christopher Rufo, John McWhorter, Ann Coulter, Cornel West, Douglas Murray and Charles Murray. A few upcoming guests: Robert Draper, Glenn Loury and Carl Trueman.
Dissents Of The Week: When Will You Get It?
Here’s the first reader upset over my latest column, “Will Biden And The Dems Finally Get It?,” posted four days before the election:
Your column had me screaming. It’s all well and good to say you’d like Democrats to govern more to the center and you hope they receive that message in the midterms. But it’s easy for you to make a protest vote in DC. You owe it to your readers to say whether you would do the same in the races that will decide the balance of the Senate: in Pennsylvania (and vote for a snake oil salesman), in Nevada (and vote for a proponent of the Big Lie), or in Georgia (Walker?!).
Despite all my hair-pulling over this post, I’m tempted to finally pull the trigger and subscribe if only to see the reader dissents.
As I said in the column today, I’d use my protest vote only in a solidly blue state. I’d have voted Dem in any swing state.
For more than a dozen detailed dissents on a variety of issues related to Biden’s record, click here — a whole page of smart commentary from the best readers on the web. As always, keep the criticism coming: email@example.com.
America Magazine republishes an interview I gave in 1993 on being openly gay and Catholic. Money quote: “I do not believe the church is an evil institution. I do not believe it wants to hate gay people. I think the church just cannot cope.”
In The ‘Stacks
This is a feature in the paid version of the Dish spotlighting more than a dozen of our favorite pieces from other Substackers every week. This week’s selection covers topics such as Bolsonaro backing down, retracted rape claims, and racial segregation on campus. Below are a few examples:
The Resident Contrarian picks apart Emily Oster’s plea for a “pandemic amnesty.”
Danielle Crittenden republishes a lost essay by Hitch showcasing his lust for conservative women, especially Thatcher.
You can also browse all the substacks we follow and read on a regular basis here — a combination of our favorite writers and new ones we’re checking out. It’s a blogroll of sorts. If you have any recommendations for “In the ‘Stacks,” especially ones from emerging writers, please let us know: firstname.lastname@example.org.
The View From Your Window Contest
Where do you think it’s located? Email your guess to email@example.com. Please put the location — city and/or state first, then country — in the subject line. Proximity counts if no one gets the exact spot. Bonus points for fun facts and stories. The winner gets the choice of a VFYW book or two annual Dish subscriptions. If you are not a subscriber, please indicate that status in your entry and we will give you a free month subscription if we select your entry for the contest results (example here if you’re new to the contest). Happy sleuthing!
The results for last week’s window are coming in a separate email to paid subscribers later today. Our paragliding sleuth in Tblisi writes, “Greetings from a happy street dog in Georgia” — your moment of zen:
See you next Friday.