Good Friday Morning! I’m back this week after taking an unexpected week off. It’s primary season where I am, and I spent the day and evening watching election returns. On that same note, I’ll be covering the midterm elections this week and walking through the landscape for why Republicans are likely to lose the House, and the things they need to turn things around. Links to follow.
Before jumping into that, I want to highlight a story you should follow, but that I don’t have enough information to have an accurate opinion on yet. The children found in a New Mexico compound in squalid conditions appears to be more than just “training for school shootings.” Both the AP and CNN stories buried what appears to be the real story: these were Muslim extremists, on par with something like ISIS, training children for suicide missions. And this is buried in the main CNN story:
Hogrefe, the sheriff, said authorities got a warrant to search the property last week after they received a message from what appeared to be someone inside the compound that said “we are starving and need food and water.”
“I absolutely knew that we couldn’t wait on another agency to step up and we had to go check this out as soon as possible,” Hogrefe said in a news release Saturday, “so I began working on a search warrant right after I got that intercepted message — it had to be a search warrant and a tactical approach for our own safety because we had learned the occupants were most likely heavily armed and considered extremist of the Muslim belief.”
The sheriff did not elaborate. Later, in a phone interview with the Santa Fe New Mexican newspaper on Sunday, Hogrefe said FBI analysts told him the suspects appeared to be “extremist of the Muslim belief.”
If this description holds, this isn’t some set of extremists. These are Islamic terrorists who set up a base of operations in New Mexico with the express intent of attacking US schools. If true, this should be the top story across every news service in America.
New this week at the Conservative Institute
Sergio Marchionne was the famed savior of both Fiat in Europe and Chrysler during the Financial Crisis. His leadership during that time will be studied for years to come, on how he took a company left for dead by central planners and turned it around with astonishing speed.
The 3D gun debate is, like all gun debates these days, run on outrage and few facts. I explain the laws at stake and why the lawsuits won’t succeed in stopping companies from selling and sharing 3D printed gun designs.
Bernie Sanders has never allowed anyone to score his Medicare for All plan — and for a good reason. The pricetag on his legislation would crush the US budget and economy.
Republicans will need a miracle to save the House (maybe the Senate)
We’re getting close to the midterms, so I wanted to give an update on where the overall race stands, for the House in particular. Republicans should hold the Senate, with a few chances to pick up a seat or two. The big question is the House.
And all available evidence says that the Republicans are in danger of losing the House.
It’s important to note the headwinds here. Republicans control all three branches of government. Historically, whichever party holds the Presidency will likely lose seats in the following midterm elections. Only FDR and George W. Bush in 2002 have won seats during a midterm, and both of them got boosted by massive catastrophes (WWII and 9/11).
Along with history, Republicans also face an uphill climb in the generic ballot. Democrats hold a 6 point advantage in polls asking people if they’d rather have a Democrat or a Republican running DC. Democrats usually have a built-in advantage in such polls, due to their numbers in large cities. But right now they’re outperforming that advantage.
Add to that Donald Trump’s continued underwater approval ratings, he’s currently averaging around 42% approval to 52% disapproving, and you get the toxic mix for Republicans.
The GOP has a midterm election in a year where their generic candidate is only holding a 6-point lead, while the President only has 42% support. They can point to the economy doing well, but even that’s not enough as Trump engages in a trade war that, more often than not, hurts his base.
Americans always react against the party in power, for any number of reasons. And the most significant headwind facing Republicans so far is that they’re losing college-educated suburban voters. They’re losing them almost certainly because of the President. Sean Trende, the elections analyst at RealClearPolitics who wrote often of how Trump could win in 2016, notes this trend:
This is all of a piece with the intuition nationally that college-educated whites are turning away from the Republican Party in reaction to Donald Trump’s presidency. I’m a staunch opponent of “Demographics are destiny” takes, but the GOP cannot function simply as a party of working-class whites and expect to win many elections (of course, I’m not sure Democrats can hold together a coalition of urban liberals, college-educated whites, and various minority communities, but that’s a story for another time). With the economy growing, there really is no reason Republicans should find themselves in this predicament, but the erratic nature of the Trump presidency seems to be filtering down-ballot.
If there’s an argument to be made in the Republicans’ favor, it is that the incredibly high level of Democratic enthusiasm is skewing these results in primaries, reversing the trend where Democrats tend to perform better in the general. Perhaps Ohio’s 12th wouldn’t be a nail-biter in a general election, but rather would be more like a four-to-five-point win. Maybe Democrats won’t get their traditional boost over primary turnout in places like Washington and California.
Republicans can’t just point to the economy. Trump’s behavior and tweets have an impact. And so far, when you look at polling and the results in special elections, his behavior is hurting the GOP in these races.
Trende’s piece notes that Democrats are outperforming. Their outperformance isn’t coming from people switching votes, it’s coming from their base being more engaged in special elections, and Republicans not showing up. Dave Wasserman of the Cook Political Report wrote a Twitter thread pointing out that a number of these elections are showing depressed Republican turnout.
The $1,000,000 question is whether or not Democrats can achieve a wave election. Generally speaking, a wave election is whenever one party can flip 40+ seats in the House.
Can they do it?
They have the polling and history behind them to achieve a victory.
The primary issue stopping them is the increased polarization of the country combined with gerrymandering by both parties has reduced the number of competitive districts across the country. Nate Cohn analyzed this at the New York Times and said the following:
Today, there are just nine Republicans who represent districts that tilt toward the Democrats, based on the districts’ voting in the last two presidential elections compared with the country as a whole. There were 24 Republicans in such a precarious position in 2006, 67 such Democrats in 2010 and 90 Democrats in 1994.
In a wave election, Republicans representing Democratic-tilting districts like these would be projected to lose their re-election bids. They are the figures farther down the slope in the accompanying illustration. (The one all by itself at the bottom, representing Pennsylvania’s Fifth, was sunk by redistricting.)
Mostly, though, the districts are above sea level. Incumbents who represent even somewhat Republican-leaning districts are generally favored to win re-election, even in a wave election. Waves aren’t necessarily as deadly as you might think.
This makes it hard to imagine huge Democratic gains, like those the Republicans made in 2010. In past elections, incumbency has been worth around seven points, although that advantage has been declining.
Republicans have so many safe seats that the Democrats would be expected to gain only 22 seats if they flipped Republican-held districts at a rate equivalent to the waves of 2006 or 2010 (without factoring in the large number of open seats). It would leave them one seat short of a majority.
And while people blame gerrymandering for this situation, it’s far more a description of the increasing polarization in this country. There’s a reason red and blue states are getting redder and bluer; people are choosing to move into areas closer to their identities (W. Ben Hunt wrote about this trend in his most recent note, which I recommend).
Cohn’s analysis would account for a number of the “close, but no cigar” races by Democrats in special elections between 2017 and the present.
In theory, polling and Trump’s approval rating say Democrats should have the capabilities of retaking the House. That’s the better bet — right now.
Republicans need the race, specifically the generic ballot numbers, to shrink so they can pull out close wins to have a chance. If the House remains tight, the GOP should hold the Senate or gain seats there.
Last thing I’d note is that given the hyper-narrative driven world we’re in, I’d fully expect some big “October surprise” story to come out of the blue and affect the election outcome. It’s the new norm in our politics and we’ve generally seen one in every cycle. Whoever gets the worst end of that October surprise will lose the midterms because the media will cover it that way.
Links of the week
Things Fall Apart (pt. 1) – W. Ben Hunt, Epsilon Theory
Social Justice and Words, Words, Words – Scott Alexander, Slate Star Codex
A Warning from 1995 – Declinism never changes. – John Podhoretz, Commentary Magazine
Why Racism Begets More Racism – Jonah Goldberg, National Review
We live in Donald Trump’s illusion – Jonah Goldberg, The LA Times
To Limit the Second Amendment, New York Attacks the First – David French, National Review
Generation Shapiro: Ben Shapiro and the future of American conservatism – Matthew Continetti, The Washington Free Beacon
The Family’s Role in the Miracle of Western Civilization: An Interview with Jonah Goldberg – W. Bradford Wilcox, The Institute for Family Studies
Meet the Bullies from the World of Social Justice Poetry – Hannah Yoest, The Weekly Standard
Progressive Bill de Blasio will get a free pass on his attacks on media – Beckett Adams, The Washington Examiner
How 2,000-year-old roads predict modern-day prosperity – Christopher Ingraham, The Washington Post
Satire piece of the week
GLENDALE, CA — VeggieTales creators are celebrating the legalization of recreational cannabis use with a new character, Cannabis Carl. The character is a sign of the progress the United States has made on its views on the controversial plant. “Kids are ready for this,” said Dreamworks executive Brian Jones, who is overseeing production on the current series.
In his inaugural episode, Cannabis Carl will be at the border to the VeggieTales house property, trying to cross over to start a new life, only to be met by Pa Grape who is out patrolling for illegal vegetables. After Pa Grape puts Carl in custody for being an illegal plant, Mayor Archibald passes a new law that Cannabis Carl is a legal citizen. Carl is welcomed by the Veggie Cast as they sing a song about old laws and new covenants, drawing a powerful parallel from scripture that is easy for kids to understand. As the episode ends, Cannabis Carl helps Mayor Archibald cure glaucoma in his right eye and ends up becoming roommates with Mr. Lunt, buying snacks at Pa Grape’s store and living off of the town’s generous food stamp program.
Thanks for reading!