November 10, 2022 | Reading Time: 4 minutes

GOP elites are shopping around, but they’re stuck with Trump

Cults end when the leader dies.

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The counting continues to continue. We won’t know the final results of the midterms for a few more days. That hasn’t stopped partisans and pundits from telling tales explaining why the Democrats defied history (or returned to it, as I argued Wednesday). Perhaps surprisingly, the fingers are pointing straight at Donald Trump.

The editorial page of the Wall Street Journal, the frontpage of the New York Post and some Fox talking heads blamed the criminal former president for endorsing flawed candidates and otherwise depleting the party’s momentum. Attention turned to the election two years hence. “If Donald Trump announces he’s running for president again, the 2024 election is over,” the Journal declared.

The Journal’s editorial page is the elite voice among Rupert Murdoch’s many rightwing voices. The hope seems to be moving Trump aside for someone else, namely Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. Well before Tuesday, when he crushed Charlie Crist, DeSantis had been raising his profile and consolidating power. The weaker Trump gets, the more GOP elites seem to long for an unblemished face.

This is a man who refused to concede defeat so much that he led an attempted paramilitary takeover of the US Capitol. Even if party elites committed themselves, the DeSantis wing of the party would eventually collide with the Trump wing. Then what?

The problems here are many. First, Joe Biden will win reelection no matter who the Republican nominee is. He’s the incumbent. His achievements are titanic. His party defied midterm history (or returned to it). If nothing else, Tuesday showcased the president’s strength. (That’s despite his low aggregated job approval rating.)

Second, it doesn’t matter what elite rightwing media says about Trump, good or bad, because his legions aren’t going to listen. 

He has conditioned them to attack “the enemy of the people.” Some elected Republicans are adding their voices, saying the party needs to get beyond Trump. But we’ve seen this before. We’ve seen the party fuss before Trump goes to war. Then the party surrenders.

Byron York, the Washington Examiner’s chief shill, pushed an NBC News poll showing more support for the party than for Trump among GOP voters. “Result: Trump 30 percent, GOP 62 percent. Lowest-ever Trump number; highest-ever GOP number,” he said. 

But York, who knows better, is pretending these numbers won’t melt into the air the moment Trump takes the GOP lickspittle to the wall. They almost certainly will. Party leaders haven’t dared resist him. 

Even if they do get behind DeSantis, that’s not going to stop Trump. Remember, this is a man who refused to concede defeat so much that he led an attempted paramilitary takeover of the US Capitol. Even if party elites committed themselves, the DeSantis wing of the party would eventually collide with the Trump wing. Then what?

Then you’d have an enfeebled candidate limping out of the wreckage of a national convention into a general election against a powerful incumbent. It would be similar to George McGovern’s ass-kicking in 1972. The Democrats nearly ate themselves alive before sending their exhausted nominee to slaughter by the president, Richard Nixon.

Murdoch and other GOP elites are right. Trump won once, but since has lost again and again and again. But by losing, one could argue, he’s become more powerful among Republicans who see him as God’s tribune, the chosen one who’d save them and their country. The cult of Trump, which is fascism by another name, won’t end now or two years from now. Cults do not end, not until their leader dies.

The Democrats did so well, because women are mad about the Supreme Court striking down Roe, ending federal abortion rights. 

It’s been a day, but already that’s the conventional wisdom.

The Republicans themselves are giving it credence. Axios reported this morning on “the blame game” and how independent Republican actors are “zeroing in on the party’s lack of an abortion message.”

Is that right? Mmm, maybe. 

Exit polling is notoriously unreliable. Even if it were, it wouldn’t provide a full explanation as to why “the red wave” never crashed. 

By far, the biggest concern among voters was “the economy” and inflation. Forty-seven percent of voters said that was the top issue facing the country. Meanwhile, according to the AP, only 9 percent said it was abortion. (All other issues were in the single digits.)

But when asked about the most important issue facing them, respondents gave a different answer. Thirty-one percent said inflation, 27 percent abortion, 11 percent crime and gun policy, respectively, and 10 percent immigration. While this data shows that GOP messaging was just terrible (immigration and crime were major themes), it’s clear that abortion did not dominate the midterm.

The most accurate answer is probably a mix of things. Some people may think abortion is an economic issue. Some may think “the economy” includes Biden’s advanced child tax credit program. Others might report that inflation is top of mind but not fault the Democrats for it. The point here is that, so far, nothing points to one big thing.

“The youth vote”
No one is saying the “youth vote” is a big thing, but some are connecting dots that don’t exist or can’t be connected. 

Tufts’ Center for Information and Research said a record number of people under 30 showed up, 27 percent. “It’s clear that young people had a major impact on the 2022 midterms,” the center’s report said.

No, it’s not clear. 

Only 12 percent of all midterm voters were under 30, according to the AP. (Twenty-one percent were 30-44; 30 percent were 45-64; and 28 percent were 65 and up. In comparison, the “youth vote” is gravy.) That 12 percent no doubt helped the Democrats, as races are  often won at the margins. But “major impact”? Mmm, I don’t see it.

Some say young people showed up because of the president’s student debt relief program, but that’s a leap of faith more than proof-finding. I haven’t found a connection, though debt relief might have been bundled up with top concerns about “the economy.” 

Voters under 30 have many concerns, like everyone else. But saying the Democrats won because of the youth vote, and the youth vote showed up because of student debt relief – those are empty words. 

It’s better to say the youth vote contributed to Democratic victories by greater numbers than in the past, which is true. The Center for Research and Information said the midterm election featured “the second-highest youth voter turnout in almost three decades.”

That’s good enough.

John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.

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