Tag Archives: 2022 elections

Notes on the midterm elections

Saturday night, when Nevada had counted enough votes to declare Catherine Cortez Masto re-elected, we learned that the Democrats would hold onto the Senate. They may even gain a seat, if Raphael Warnock can win the December 6 run-off in Georgia.

As of this morning, almost a week after election day, Republicans are leading in the House, but still have not nailed down a majority. 212 races have been called for Republican candidates, 204 for Democrats. 218 are needed for a majority. NBC is estimating that when all the counting is complete, the GOP will have a slim 219-216 majority. (So assuming Lauren Boebert hangs on to her current slim lead, Speaker McCarthy will lose any vote in which he can’t get Boebert, Matt Gaetz, and Marjorie Taylor Green’s support.)

In the states, Florida went very red, but both Michigan and Minnesota very blue. Democrats flipped governorships in Massachusetts and Maryland, Republicans in Nevada. Arizona is still undecided.

There’s probably a lot to learn from these results that I haven’t deciphered yet. But here are a few conclusions that seem obvious.

Voters in swing states don’t believe the Big Lie about 2020, and want to continue having democratic elections. My biggest fear about the midterms was that they would herald the end of democratic elections in the United States. But that didn’t happen. Yesterday, the NYT’s home page included the headline “Every election denier who sought to become the top election official in a critical battleground state lost at the polls“.

During the 2020 election, it was secretaries of state — both Democrats and Republicans — who stood up to efforts by Mr. Trump and his allies to overturn the results. State election officials certified vote tallies over Republican objections, protected election workers from aggressive partisan poll watchers and, in at least one case, refused a personal entreaty from the president.

The next spring, several candidates pushing the false narrative that the 2020 election had been stolen announced their intention to run to be the top election officials in critical states.

Republican candidates for secretary of state in places like Arizona, Nevada, Colorado, and New Mexico claimed the 2020 election had been stolen from Donald Trump, without basing that belief on the slightest bit of evidence. In Pennsylvania the secretary of state is appointed by the governor, and gubernatorial candidate Doug Mastriano was running as a rabid election denier (in addition to being a Christian nationalist and a barely-in-the-closet antisemite). In Georgia, incumbent Republican Brad Raffensperger had beaten back an election-denier challenge in the primary.

Victories by election-denying candidates would have opened the possibility that in 2024, MAGA secretaries of state might refuse to recognize a Democrat’s victory. If they needed no evidence beyond Trump’s say-so to declare fraud in 2020, why wouldn’t they do the same in 2024?

Fortunately, all those candidates lost. Some of the races were disturbingly close — though Mastriano got soundly thrashed — but they lost. Only Indiana chose an election-denying secretary of state. That could be a problem locally, but it’s unlikely to affect a national election, since a Democratic presidential candidate could only carry Indiana in a national landslide. (Barack Obama barely did in 2008.)

Sweeping abortion bans are unpopular. A lot of Americans have conflicted views about abortion, so the wording of a proposal matters. But if you put a broad abortion ban in front of the voters, they’ll reject it even in some pretty conservative states.

We saw that already in August, when Kansas (which Trump carried 56%-42% in 2020) held a referendum that would have given the legislature the power to ban abortion. (The state’s supreme court had found a Roe-like right to abortion in the state’s constitution. This proposed amendment would have removed that right.) The legislature scheduled the vote to coincide with a primary election that was likely to draw more Republicans than Democrats, but it didn’t matter: Turnout was huge and the proposal failed 59%-41%.

Tuesday, proposals to protect reproductive rights were on the ballot in Vermont, California, and Michigan, while voters had a chance to restrict abortion rights in Kentucky and Montana. The pro-choice side won all five.

The abortion issue is also getting credit for the Democrats avoiding the typical midterm-election-collapse of a party in power. It’s hard to say precisely why voters decide to show up and lean one way or another, but the turnout of young voters was high and heavily Democratic, and Democrats won 68%-31% among single women. Chances are that abortion had something to do with that.

[BTW, it has been hilarious to watch conservative pundits struggle not to grasp that single women don’t want the Republic of Gilead controlling their bodies and making major life decisions for them. Fox News’ Jesse Watters noted that married women tend to vote Republican, so he had a solution: “We need these ladies to get married. And it’s time to fall in love and just settle down. Guys, go put a ring on it.” One America News’ Addison Smith went even further down the patriarchal rabbit hole: “Secular progressivism has turned people into masochists. … 68% of single women voted for people who vowed to let them legally murder their children and continue on living miserable single lives without purpose, without responsibility or meaning.” Attention single women: After a quick search, I wasn’t able to determine whether Addison Smith is married, so he might still be available to bring purpose and meaning to your otherwise pointless life.]

Trump is hurting the Republican Party. He wasn’t losing any races himself this time, but he screwed up the GOP in two other ways. First, the unqualified and too extreme candidates he pushed to victory in the Republican primaries went on to lose winnable elections.

New Hampshire is a good example. Republican Governor Chris Sununu, who kept his distance from Trump, cruised to a 57%-42% victory. But Trump-endorsed election-denying Don Bolduc lost to incumbent Senator Maggie Hassan 54%-44%. Those two results are from the same voters on the same day, so about 1 NH voter in 8 must have voted a Sununu/Hassan split ticket.

Similarly in Georgia, Brian Kemp (who defeated a Trumpist challenger in the GOP primary after certifying Biden’s 2020 victory) won the governorship 53%-46%, while Trump’s handpicked senate candidate Herschel Walker faces a run-off after trailing 49%-48% Tuesday.

The second way Trump undercut the GOP was to divert attention towards himself, his petty grievances, and his backward-looking complaints about 2020, and away from issues like inflation that were working for Republicans. He doesn’t seem to realize that if the 2020 election were run again, he would get his butt kicked again. Most unpopular presidents see their images improve in hindsight, but not Trump. 54% of the public still views him unfavorably.

Conservative power brokers like Rupert Murdoch and mainstream Republican politicians like Paul Ryan see what’s going on and would like to free the party from Trump’s destructive influence, but I’m betting against them. There’s a lot of Trump-blaming in conservative media right now, but that just means it’s January 7 again. Before long, the would-be rebels will be crawling to Mar-a-Lago to kiss the ring, as they did only weeks after January 6. The NYT’s Jamelle Bouie agrees with me:

The idea that Republican elites could simply swap Trump for another candidate without incurring any serious damage rests on two assumptions: First, that Trump’s supporters are more committed to the Republican Party than they are to him, and second, that Trump himself will give up the fight if he isn’t able to win the party’s nomination.

I think these assumptions show a fundamental misunderstanding of the world Republican elites brought into being when they finally bent the knee to Trump in the summer and fall of 2016.

But Jonathan Chait disagrees. It’s different this time, he says, because Ron DeSantis provides a real alternative.

Either way, it’s going to be ugly. Trump has already shown that he will try to burn down a democracy that won’t re-elect him. No one should be surprised if he burns down a party that won’t re-nominate him.

Gerrymandering matters. For years, voters in Michigan have voted for Democratic candidates for the legislature, only to see Republicans keep control. But in 2018, Michigan voters reestablished democracy in their state by overwhelmingly passing Proposal 2, which created a nonpartisan redistricting commission. Tuesday was the first election held under the new nonpartisan maps, and Democrats won majorities in both houses for the first time in almost 40 years.

Compare Michigan to Wisconsin, which is still heavily gerrymandered in Republicans’ favor. Democratic Governor Tony Evers was re-elected with 51% of the vote, and Republican Senator Ron Johnson was re-elected with just over 50%, suggesting an evenly divided electorate. But Democrats narrowly avoided a veto-proof Republican supermajority in both houses of the legislature, which would have made Governor Evers virtually powerless.

Both parties gerrymander when they can, because it’s political suicide to let the other side play by different rules. (Though no Democratic-controlled state mirrors Michigan, with an entrenched Democratic legislature thwarting a Republican majority in the electorate.) But Democrats want to end this game: An anti-gerrymandering provision was part of the For the People Act, which has passed the House in 2019, 2020, and 2021, only to be blocked by Republican filibusters in the Senate. A scaled-down proposal, the Freedom to Vote Act, was put together by Senators Manchin and Klobuchar. But it also was blocked by a filibuster.

The stuff Biden did is way more popular than Biden himself. The pundits predicting a red wave were fooled by Biden’s low approval rating: 41.5% in the latest 538 average, barely higher than Trump’s 39.9%. Normally, a president with numbers like that sees his party get clobbered in the midterm elections.

But Friday, Chris Hayes made an interesting comparison to 2010, when there really was a red wave. In 2010, the Democratic Congress had just passed ObamaCare, and it was very unpopular. (Since it hadn’t taken effect yet, Republicans could claim anything they wanted about it, and they did.) The way Republicans ran against Democratic incumbents that year was simply to point to that vote.

Nothing in this cycle played that same role of connecting Biden’s unpopularity to specific votes in Congress. If Democrats got criticized for voting for the Inflation Reduction Act, they could say, “Yes, I lowered your prescription drug costs, invested in renewable energy, and created jobs for American workers.” The bipartisan infrastructure bill? “Yes, I voted to rebuild America’s roads and bridges, bring broadband internet to rural areas, and replace lead water pipes that have been poisoning our children.” American Rescue Plan? “I voted to get Americans vaccinated, send money to people who couldn’t work during the pandemic, and give loans to businesses so they wouldn’t have to fire people.”

And so on.

So sure, Americans are frustrated with inflation, and Republicans were able to fan people’s fears about rising crime and a few other issues. But how could challengers pin those problems on the incumbent senators or representatives they were trying to replace? And while 2010 Republicans could promise to repeal ObamaCare, what exactly were 2022 Republicans proposing to do about inflation, crime, or anything else?

Polls are more-or-less accurate if you don’t expect too much out of them. I’ve seen a lot of the-polls-were-wrong-again punditry, but I don’t think it’s deserved.

Take the Georgia Senate race, for example. 538’s final pre-election analysis said that Herschel Walker had a 63% chance of winning, with a predicted margin of 1.2%. But now that the votes have been counted, Warnock holds a .9% lead. (Warnock is still short of 50%, so a run-off is happening December 6.)

So Nate Silver’s prediction was off by 2.1%. You can’t really expect pre-election polling to be more accurate than that.

At best, a poll is a snapshot of where the electorate was a day or two before the election, accurate to within some margin of error. Averaging a bunch of polls (as 538 does) should shrink that margin, but not to zero. And as for people who decide at the last minute to vote (or not vote), or who change their minds in the booth — there’s really no accounting for them.

In short, the right response to the Georgia outcome is not “538 was wrong to say Walker would get more votes, because Warnock did”, but “538 said the race was going to be close and it was.”

That’s why the model said “63% chance”. Just for reference, NBA star Giannis Antetokounmpo is currently hitting 65% of his free throws (well below the league average of around 78%). That’s better than a coin flip, but when he steps to the line, Bucks fans are holding their breath rather than counting the points.

Is a more accurate system possible? Well, maybe, but you won’t like it. I suspect that somewhere in the basement of Meta headquarters, somebody has developed an algorithm that predicts how each of Facebook’s tens of millions of users will vote. (For most of us, it wouldn’t be that hard.) Facebook users may not be absolutely typical of the electorate, but the differences are probably not difficult to model and compensate for after you review the data from a few election cycles. And on election day, if the app on your phone is tracking your location, it knows whether you went to the polls.

Facebook’s huge sample base would eliminate nearly all the statistical error. Since it’s a spying algorithm rather than a request for information, you couldn’t just refuse to answer, eliminating another source of polling error. And in order to lie to the algorithm, you’d have to change your whole online behavior, which hardly anybody is going to do. The algorithm’s estimates would always be up to the minute, and in the end it would know a lot about who voted.

I’ll bet that system could be pretty accurate.

Expert speculation, on the other hand, isn’t worth the attention it gets. All that talk of a “red wave” didn’t come from the polls. 538’s generic-ballot polling average finished with a Republican advantage of 1.2%, which would lead a person to expect a Republican Congress, but not a sweeping rejection of Nancy Pelosi’s Democrats. (Compare that margin to true wave elections: In 2010, Republican House candidates got 6.8% more votes than Democratic candidates. In 2018, Democrats did 8.6% better than Republicans.)

The red-wave speculation came from pundits, both too-optimistic Republicans and too-pessimistic Democrats.

The right lesson to draw is that we spend way too much time listening to people speculate about stuff they don’t really know. Psychologically, it’s understandable: We get anxious leading up to an election or some other big event, so we want to believe that someone can tell us what’s going to happen. Even hearing that things are going to go badly can be more comforting than facing life’s real uncertainty.

It’s also understandable from the networks’ point of view: Actual reporting is hard and can be expensive, but gathering a panel of talking heads in the studio is easy and cheap. (A lot of them have a book to sell, a candidate to push, or some other reason they want to be on your show. So you may not have to pay them at all.) By air time, an investigative reporter may or may not have cracked whatever story she/he/they has been working on, but a pundit can be guaranteed to have a speculation ready on demand.

Unfortunately, those speculations aren’t worth much. If listening to them makes you feel better, fine. But don’t kid yourself that you’re receiving valuable information. Life really is terrifyingly uncertain.

So in the end, I wind up agreeing with the conclusion of the editorial I linked to about the polls being wrong again, if you change “study polls” to “try to prognosticate”:

Voters would do well to study the issues more than they [try to prognosticate], and media would do well to provide valuable issue-oriented reporting instead of reporting on a horse race that can change minute to minute.

[BTW: If political predictions were intended to be accurate, networks would keep detailed statistics on which pundits were right or wrong, and there would be bidding wars over the ones with the best records. That doesn’t happen, does it? The red-wave predictors aren’t going to lose their jobs, and somebody who got it right isn’t going to suddenly vault to the top of the profession the way a market-beating hedge-fund manager would.]

Closing Arguments: Biden’s accomplishments

With a refreshing lack of bombast, President Biden and the Democratic Congress have gotten a lot done.

People who believe the media has a liberal bias should consider two phenomena:

  • How easy it is to make people forget the disasters that Democratic presidents inherit from their Republican predecessors.
  • How quickly Democratic accomplishments pass out of the public’s attention, as if they never happened.

So any account of Joe Biden’s accomplishments has to start by recalling where we were on Inauguration Day, a memory that has somehow grown rosy in some people’s minds. (President Obama had to deal with a similar amnesia, as many people forgot Bush had handed him the worst economic disaster since the Great Depression.)

  • Unemployment was at 6.3%, compared to 3.5% last month.
  • 104,265 Americans died of Covid in January, 2021, a rate of 3,363 per day. The current rate is 361 per day.
  • 12-month GDP was $22.22 trillion, barely more than the February 2020 level of $21.92, and well below August 2022’s $25.80 trillion.
  • American troops were still in Afghanistan, having accomplished virtually nothing after 20 years of nation-building that Trump pledged to end, but didn’t.
  • The federal budget deficit for FY 2020 (October, 2019 through September 2020, Trump’s last full year in office) was $3.1 trillion. The FY 2022 deficit was $1.4 trillion. We are currently in FY 2023, whose deficit is projected to be $1.2 trillion.

So let’s start there. Under Biden, we have significantly lower unemployment, higher GDP, fewer Covid deaths, a lower deficit, and our troops are out of Afghanistan.


The economy. In 2019, when unemployment spent most of the year in the 3.5-3.7% range, Trump declared it “the greatest economy in history“. Then the pandemic hit, the economy collapsed, and unemployment skyrocketed to 14.8% in April, 2020.

Both Trump and Biden fought to keep the economy going with emergency stimulus measures, including direct payments to individuals. As a result, the March-September period of this year once again saw unemployment in the 3.5-3.7% range. Jobs are once again plentiful, wages are rising, and many businesses complain about not being able to find enough workers.

The cost of this impressive economic performance in challenging circumstances has been inflation, which peaked at 9.1% (year-over-year) in June and has since been trending downward, though it remains an uncomfortably high 8.2%. (The war in Ukraine also factors into rising energy and food prices.) However, the US is doing relatively well in comparison with similar economies. Inflation is running at 10% in the 19-country eurozone and 10.1% in the United Kingdom.

It is hard to see how any of this will improve if Republicans reclaim either house of Congress. Looking forward to 2024, it will be in Republicans’ interest to block whatever Biden tries to do, especially if it would help the economy. In particular, we can expect a Republican-controlled house of Congress to return to the ransom-demanding practices the GOP used against President Obama. Expect another debt-ceiling crisis, and perhaps this time they’ll push the country into default.


Covid. In spite of his overall mismanagement of the Covid crisis, Trump deserves credit for funding the “warp speed” plan to develop a vaccine quickly. The first vaccines were approved in December 2020, leaving Biden to figure out how to get shots into Americans’ arms.

That was a key part of the American Rescue Plan that Biden got through Congress and signed less than two months after taking office. Remember how, under Trump, states competed with each other for resources to fight the pandemic? That hasn’t happened under Biden. Vaccines have been distributed fairly and for free. (Pfizer recently announced its intention to charge $110-130 per dose when government funding runs out. Imagine if we’d had to pay that from the beginning.)

Republicans could have given Trump credit for the vaccines and made vaccinating the country a bipartisan goal, but instead decided to go the other way. Together with conservative media, they ran a disinformation campaign about vaccines, masks, and everything else Covid-related. As a result, blue Massachusetts has an 82% vaccination rate; red Alabama 52%. Nonetheless, Biden still managed to get 68% of Americans fully vaccinated, including 93% of those over 65.

One cost of Republican disinformation, it’s worth pointing out, has been paid by their voters.

Average excess death rates in Florida and Ohio were 76% higher among Republicans than Democrats from March 2020 to December 2021, according to a working paper released last month by the National Bureau of Economic Research.

Believing what Republican politicians and Fox News hosts tell you can endanger your health.

Foreign policy. When Biden took office, NATO was in shambles. Trump had repeatedly questioned the value of the alliance, and had even suggested the US might not fulfill our treaty obligations to defend other NATO countries if they were attacked. He seemed unable to criticize Vladimir Putin, and even took Putin’s side against US intelligence services in a particularly egregious meeting in Helsinki.

Biden’s reassembly of the alliance has been masterful. NATO has stood together in helping Ukraine resist the Russian invasion, and has even drawn Sweden and Finland into the alliance. Putin, who dominated Trump, has been completely outplayed by Biden. (Trump has continued to be in thrall to the Russian dictator. Shortly after the Ukraine invasion began, Trump described Putin’s move as “genius“.)

The US exit from Afghanistan was ugly, but necessary. To his credit, Biden was willing to swallow the medicine that three previous presidents had passed on to their successors. Trump had entered office promising to end the Afghan war, and repeatedly said he was doing so (including ordering an abrupt withdrawal after the 2020 election, which was not carried out). But he didn’t. Biden did.

After 20 years of nation building, including countless billions spent training and equipping the Afghan army, the Afghan government couldn’t even hang on long enough for us to get out of the country. Sad as those events were to witness, they demonstrated conclusively that our presence, and the continuing sacrifices of our troops, were accomplishing nothing.

Legislation. Another unfulfilled Trump promise that Biden delivered on was the bipartisan infrastructure package.

The legislation will put $110 billion into roads, bridges and other major projects. It will invest $66 billion in freight and passenger rail, including potential upgrades to Amtrak. It will direct $39 billion into public transit systems.

The plan will put $65 billion into expanding broadband, a priority after the coronavirus pandemic left millions of Americans at home without effective internet access. It will also put $55 billion into improving water systems and replacing lead pipes.

That bill didn’t just start the long-delayed rebuilding of America, it also proved that the two parties can still work together. 19 Republican senators and 13 representatives voted to pass it.

Biden’s third major piece of legislation was the Inflation Reduction Act, which he signed in August. This is the first major piece of legislation to fight climate change, and is projected to result in the US’s greenhouse gas emissions in 2030 being 40% below 2005 levels. It also cuts the deficit and reduces prescription drug prices.

Executive orders. President Biden has used his power to help Americans who need it. Among many other moves, he has ordered a limited student debt forgiveness (though Republicans have gone to court to block it), and is also pardoning non-violent federal prisoners whose only offense is marijuana possession.

Closing Argument: Abortion


Will women make their own decisions, or will government decide for them?

For decades, abortion has been a get-out-the-vote issue for Republicans, but not so much for Democrats. After all, as long as the Supreme Court was there to protect your rights, what practical difference could an anti-abortion legislature or Congress make?

But now that Trump’s three appointees have taken their seats on the Court, women’s rights (and privacy rights of all kinds) are up for grabs again. If you want to defend those rights, you have to vote.

The two parties’ positions. Last June’s Dobbs decision has allowed states to pass some truly horrible laws that not only deny women’s bodily autonomy, but even put their lives in danger. Initially, Republicans claimed the Court had simply returned the abortion question to the states, implicitly promising that women in blue states would keep the rights they had before Dobbs. But now many are pushing for a national abortion ban.

If history is any guide, Republicans who haven’t publicly supported such a ban — and perhaps even some who have taken a stand against one — will get in line once it comes up for a vote. Few GOP congresspeople have the backbone to stand up against the anti-abortion movement, and even fewer have shown a willingness to buck Donald Trump. So if a bill is on the floor and Trump is pushing them to support it, what do you think they will do?


By contrast, Democrats support a law that would restore the rights women lost when Roe was overturned.

“Why haven’t they already passed it?” is a fair question. Such a law has passed the House, but fell one vote short of a majority in the Senate. Two Democratic senators haven’t been willing to create an exception to the filibuster that would allow a majority to pass the law. But if Democrats gain two seats in the Senate — say, if John Fetterman replaces Pat Toomey in Pennsylvania and Mandela Barnes replaces Ron Johnson in Wisconsin — the law will pass and President Biden will sign it.

What’s wrong with the state abortion bans? The best argument against the various state abortion bans is to look at specific examples of what they’ve done.

The case that got the most publicity was when a raped 10-year-old had to leave Ohio and go to Indiana to get an abortion. (Indiana has since passed a ban nearly as extreme as Ohio’s, but it does have a rape exception. That law is being challenged in state courts.)

But while they may appear comforting, the exceptions in state abortion bans often provide little protection in practice. The ban in Texas, for example, includes an exception to protect a pregnant woman’s life. But when Amanda Zurawski found out that her fetus was not viable and that continuing to carry it was dangerous, all she could do was wait. The fetus wasn’t dead yet, and she wasn’t dying yet, so under the law, nothing could be done. She describes her experience like this:

People have asked why we didn’t get on a plane or in our car to go to a state where the laws aren’t so restrictive. But we live in the middle of Texas, and the nearest “sanctuary” state is at least an 8-hour drive. Developing sepsis—which can kill quickly—in a car in the middle of the West Texas desert, or 30,000 feet above the ground, is a death sentence, and it’s not a choice we should have had to even consider. But we did, albeit briefly.

Instead, it took three days at home until I became sick “enough” that the ethics board at our hospital agreed we could legally begin medical treatment; three days until my life was considered at-risk “enough” for the inevitable premature delivery of my daughter to be performed; three days until the doctors, nurses, and other healthcare professionals were allowed to do their jobs. 

By the time I was permitted to deliver, a rapidly spreading infection had already claimed my daughter’s life and was in the process of claiming mine.

I developed a raging fever and dangerously low blood pressure and was rushed to the ICU with sepsis. Tests found both my blood and my placenta teeming with bacteria that had multiplied, probably as a result of the wait. I would stay in the ICU for three more days as medical professionals battled to save my life. 


Mylissa Farmer tells a similar story. Her fetus was dying and her own life was in danger, but she wasn’t quite sick enough yet for doctors in Missouri to help her. She had to travel to Illinois for treatment.

Since their ordeal, Farmer has lost trust. While she still feels her obstetrician at Freeman Hospital in Joplin is a good doctor, she’s worried about whether medical professionals in Missouri will be able to offer patients necessary care.

“I haven’t lost trust in care, but I’ve lost trust (doctors) will be allowed to make the medical decisions they need to make,” she said.

She’s lost trust in the politicians who represent her, as well.

Despite reaching out to various legislators, she has yet to receive an answer that satisfies her: Why is this law written this way? If it’s to protect women, why did she have to be in danger before she could get care in-state? Why is it such a binary law?

“The world is too nuanced to put such strict rules in place,” Farmer said.

Farmer’s story is not unique. According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, preterm premature rupture of membranes happens in 2% to 3% of pregnancies in the United States, and leads to preterm birth in one out of four cases.

Imagine if a similar law were in place nationally. Where would women like Farmer go then?


The new laws treat other health dilemmas with similar disdain. Imagine discovering, shortly after you miss your first period, or perhaps during a prenatal physical, that you have cancer. Chemo-therapy and radiation can seriously harm or even kill a fetus. So what’s the alternative? Wait until the baby is born, and hope that your cancer is still treatable by then? If you’re not facing immediate death, that could be the only legal option. No wonder an article in the journal Demography concludes:

Overall, denying all wanted induced abortions in the United States would increase pregnancy-related mortality substantially, even if the rate of unsafe abortion did not increase.

Who decides? Pro-life rhetoric tends to gloss over such complexities. Pregnancies are problem-free, loving families are lined up to adopt even the most damaged newborns, and so the right thing to do is obvious. All we need is a law to make women do it.

But once you admit that there are any valid exceptions, then someone has to decide which individual cases are exceptional enough to qualify. Republicans believe that those decisions should be made by legislatures, or perhaps by hospital lawyers trying to avoid liability under laws the legislature left vague.

Democrats believe those decisions are best made by the people involved: the pregnant woman, advised by her family, her trusted friends, and the best medical and moral advisors she can find. This is especially true when there are significant risk-tradeoffs to weigh. Take the cancer example: Some women may feel so committed to the life growing inside them that they don’t hesitate to risk their own lives. That decision could be heroic, but the law should not force heroism on people.

And I can easily imagine a husband protesting against heroism: “I’m not ready to sign up for a future where you die and I’m left to raise a child by myself.” Those kinds of discussions need to happen inside families, not in Congress or in front of a hospital ethics board.

Religion. Most abortion decisions are not driven by health considerations, but by how a woman pictures her life proceeding with or without a child, and how she frames the moral questions abortion raises.

Different individuals and different religions see those questions differently. Some (but not all) Christian sects believe that a fertilized ovum already has a human soul, and that killing it is murder. Some (but not all) Jewish sects believe that the soul enters the body much later, perhaps not until the first breath. (See the creation of Adam in Genesis 2:7.) Other religions and non-religious people’s opinions are all over the map. Most Americans appear to believe that the moral status of a fetus starts low and increases as it develops, which is why few people worry much about fertilized ova frozen in fertility clinics.

Whose opinion should control? Consider that if you ate a hamburger yesterday, a Hindu might tell you that the steer it came from had a soul every bit as significant as your own, one that may have inhabited a human body in a previous incarnation. Should this Hindu theology limit what you can eat?

Democrats believe that disputed religious questions should be decided by individuals, and that, unless the government has a secular reason to intervene, your behavior should be governed by your own beliefs (or lack thereof). Republicans believe that conservative Christian theology should control everyone’s behavior, a position they sometimes call “freedom”.


Late-term abortions. Anti-abortion activists believe late-term abortions are their trump card. In one typical attack, the National Republican Senatorial Committee claims “Radical John Fetterman Supports Abortion Up Until the Moment of Birth“. The headline conjures up an image of Fetterman (or any Democrat) actively supporting abortion, as if he recommends that women get abortions and tries to persuade them to do so.

But nothing remotely like that is actually happening.

What most (not all) Democrats believe is what I said in the previous section: The decision whether or not to have an abortion can be difficult, and is best made by the people involved rather than by the government. Republicans, on the other hand, believe in some absolute cut-off: After some number of weeks, the government’s judgment automatically becomes better than the family’s. Your case is exceptional if the government says it’s exceptional.

In fact, late abortions are precisely the situations where the government’s arbitrary rules have the least to offer. Such abortions are rare (about 1% of all abortions take place after 21 weeks, and far fewer after 24 weeks), and almost every one is a unique story in which something has unexpectedly gone wrong with a wanted pregnancy. (Though many abortions near the deadline take place because jumping through anti-abortion hoops can delay a poor woman, who may have trouble assembling the resources she needs to travel to a distant city and stay there through a waiting period.)

The Guardian quotes one woman’s husband:

For those who believe these babies are unwanted, Matt says: “You’re not going to wait until halfway through your pregnancy to finally have an abortion.”

I can think of no better closing than to repeat what Mylissa Farmer said:

The world is too nuanced to put such strict rules in place.


Closing Argument: Democracy


One of the two parties in these elections has stopped believing in elections.
You should vote for the one that still does believe.

The last time a Republican was president, he did one of the worst things any American president has ever done: He tried to stay in power after losing an election.

The testimony we have heard since, from his own campaign workers and appointees, as well as elected Republican officials in state and local governments, have stripped away all innocent explanations: He knew he had lost. He knew his claims of fraud were false. He knew his plot to appoint fake electors and count their votes was illegal. He knew the crowd he incited to storm the Capitol was prepared to do violence. And after violence broke out, he refused to tell his mob to go home until it was clear that their attempt to intimidate Congress had failed.

His schemes were thwarted only when elected Republicans and his own appointees refused to do his bidding: Mike Pence, Brad Raffensperger, Aaron Van Langevelde, Jeffrey Rosen, Mike Shirkey, Rusty Bowers, and many others at all levels of government. If not for them, he might have succeeded in overthrowing our Constitution or sparking a civil war.

Afterwards, some Republicans in Congress tried to hold the would-be usurper accountable for his actions and reaffirm their party’s commitment to our system of government: Liz Cheney, Adam Kinzinger, Peter Meijer, and several others.

You could imagine a Republican Party in which all those people are heroes: They did their jobs, fulfilled their oaths, and saved American democracy. But that party doesn’t exist. Instead, almost all the Republicans who resisted the coup attempt have been drummed out of office. (Raffensperger, who survived a primary challenge, is a lonely exception. Whether Pence will ever again win a Republican primary is an open question.)


Instead, the ex-president’s personality cult has solidified its hold on the GOP. The most strident promoters of the stolen-election lie, like Marjorie Taylor Greene, have risen, while those who briefly denounced the coup, like Kevin McCarthy and Lindsey Graham, have had to eat their words to retain their influence. Mitch McConnell can’t even defend his own wife against racist abuse. In the current election cycle, the party has been saddled with absurd candidates like Herschel Walker “because he scored a bunch of touchdowns back in the 80’s and he’s Donald Trump’s friend“.

Across the country, Republicans who still refuse to recognize their candidate’s loss in 2020 are running to oversee the 2024 elections, while his Supreme Court appointees consider whether to re-interpret the Constitution to allow state legislatures to ignore both their state constitutions and the will of their voters. Republicans running for governor in swing states — Kari Lake in Arizona, Doug Mastriano in Pennsylvania — have said they wouldn’t have certified Biden’s 2020 victory, without citing any evidence to justify such a move (because there is none). Some Republican candidates — Ron Johnson in Wisconsin — were active participants in illegal 2020 plots.


Worse, many MAGA Republicans are following Trump’s example by undermining elections in general: If they lose, they claim fraud without any evidence. Others are openly attacking democracy, like Utah Senator Mike Lee, who said: “We want the human condition to flourish. Rank democracy can thwart that.” Like their leader, many Republicans flirt with racism and anti-semitism, and some don’t even try to hide it.

Even a liberal like me can see that America needs a viable conservative party. It’s healthy that our national conversation include voices saying that government should do less, that traditions should change slowly, and that free enterprise plays an important role in our prosperity. Even as I support the consensus of scientific opinion on subjects like climate change or vaccination, I recognize that those views should not go unchallenged. Every party, even one that I support, needs someone looking over its shoulder.

But the conservative party America needs would be loyal to our Constitution rather than to one man. It would support the institutions of democracy and defend the People’s right to elect someone else.

The current GOP is not that party, and it will not become that party until voters have disciplined it for supporting illegal and violent attempts to seize power. It is the insurrectionists who need to be run out of town, not the people who stopped the insurrection plot from succeeding.

That discipline needs to start in these elections. You may agree or disagree with me about inflation, government spending, regulations, taxes, how to balance women’s rights against fetal rights, and many other issues. But we can have those arguments later. Because in the long run, if we lose our democracy, it won’t matter which of us makes the better case.

Does anything matter?


For the Republican base, individual candidates don’t matter. The only thing on the ballot is control of the Senate.

In living memory, all kinds of scandals could topple a candidacy, including some that today wouldn’t be scandals at all. Way back in 1972, Democratic presidential nominee George McGovern had to replace his running mate, Missouri Senator Tom Eagleton, when it came out that (years before) Eagleton had been hospitalized for depression. Newt Gingrich resigned as Speaker of the House for multiple hypocrisies: He profited from the same kind of shady book deal he had targeted previous Speaker Jim Wright for, and he was having an extramarital affair with a much younger woman at the same time he was impeaching Bill Clinton for doing precisely that. (None of that stopped him from being a serious presidential contender a few years later.)

Gingrich’s designated successor Bob Livingston soon resigned after his own affairs became public, giving way to Dennis Hastert, who (it later turned out) had sexually abused at least four male students when he was a high school teacher and wrestling coach.

Two New York governors have had to resign under fire: Andrew Cuomo for sexual harrassment, and Eliot Spitzer for patronizing prostitutes. Minnesota Senator Al Franken resigned after accusations of groping. Louisiana politician David Vitter survived his prostitution scandal for years, and was even reelected to the Senate, but it came back to bite him when he ran for governor. Idaho Senator Larry Craig was arrested for “lewd behavior” in a public restroom, and several gay men described encounters with Craig, but he backed away from his announced intention to resign from the Senate, and instead decided not to seek reelection. Mark Foley resigned from Congress after sexually suggestive texts and emails he sent to teen-aged male congressional pages became public.

But all that was in a different era. In 2016, Donald Trump toughed out the Access Hollywood scandal, along with numerous accusations from women who claimed that his “grab them by the pussy” quote was more than just the “locker room talk” he claimed it was. Later it was revealed that he paid two women (one a porn star) to keep quiet about sexual affairs while he was married to Melania. His political career not only survived, but he continues to be the hero of Evangelical Christians and other “family values” voters.

During the Clinton/Lewinsky scandal of 1998, Evangelical leader James Dobson wrote:

As it turns out, character DOES matter. You can’t run a family, let alone a country, without it. How foolish to believe that a person who lacks honesty and moral integrity is qualified to lead a nation and the world! Nevertheless, our people continue to say that the President is doing a good job even if they don’t respect him personally. Those two positions are fundamentally incompatible. In the Book of James the question is posed, “Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring” (James 3:11 NIV). The answer is no.

But when Christianity Today supported Trump’s first impeachment, Dobson forgot James 3:11 and jumped to Trump’s defense with talk about policy, not character. (He also completely ignored the existence of Vice President Pence.)

The editors didn’t tell us who should take his place in the aftermath. Maybe the magazine would prefer a president who is passionately pro-abortion, anti-family, hostile to the military, dispassionate toward Israel, supports a socialist form of government, promotes confiscatory taxation, opposes school choice, favors men in women’s sports and boys in girl’s locker rooms, promotes the entire LGBTQ agenda, opposes parental rights, and distrusts evangelicals and anyone who is not politically correct.

Trump’s refusal to be shamed, and Evangelical leaders’ unwillingness to hold it against him, inaugurated the nothing-matters era, at least in the GOP. (Franken’s resignation was in 2018, and Cuomo’s in 2021. But they were Democrats.) As late as 2004, National Review’s Jonah Goldberg could title a Clinton-administration retrospective “Character Matters“, and conclude: “The man never had the character for the job.”

But character apparently doesn’t matter any more. All that matters is which side you’re on.

Herschel Walker. Walker’s candidacy to replace Raphael Warnock as one of Georgia’s senators looked sketchy from the beginning. As as Georgia’s Republican Lieutenant Governor Geoff Duncan put it

Herschel Walker won the primary because he scored a bunch of touchdowns back in the 80’s and he’s Donald Trump’s friend.

Walker repeatedly exaggerated (or just invented) his accomplishments. He not only didn’t graduate in the top 1% of his class at the University of Georgia, he didn’t graduate at all. He didn’t work in law enforcement. He falsely claimed to “own” or to have “started” several businesses. He has a record of domestic violence. It’s not even clear that he lives in Georgia. He published a book about struggles with mental illness that dwarf anything Tom Eagleton went through.

After the primary, it came out that he has three more out-of-wedlock children than the public knew about.

But never mind: The bad stuff, he claimed, was all in the past. He got help for his dissociative personality disorder and Jesus has forgiven him, so he’s a new man now. Nothing in his past should count except for the touchdowns and his friendship with Trump.

The abortion scandal. This week serious scandal blew up again: The Daily Beast reported that Walker paid for a girlfriend’s abortion, in contradiction to the no-exceptions anti-abortion position he takes in public. Subsequently, his son went off on him on social media, raising once again the issues of Walker’s violence, lying, and hypocrisy.

Walker claimed not to know who The Daily Beast might be talking to, but a follow-up report narrowed it down for him: She’s also the mother of one of the children Walker has acknowledged.

Saturday, the NYT reported that it had independently verified the Beast’s article.

A woman who has said Herschel Walker, the Republican Senate nominee in Georgia, paid for her abortion in 2009 told The New York Times that he urged her to terminate a second pregnancy two years later. They ended their relationship after she refused.

In a series of interviews, the woman said Mr. Walker had barely been involved in their now 10-year-old son’s life, offering little more than court-ordered child support and occasional gifts.

Both pregnancies took place after the 2008 book in which Walker claimed to have turned his life around.

When the first Daily Beast article came out, Walker said he would file a lawsuit “tomorrow morning”. But he hasn’t.

Parties, not individuals. One reason politicians used to respond to scandal by resigning or withdrawing was that other politicians treated them like lepers. The thing to do when someone had been tainted by scandal was to get far away from them, lest you be drawn into the scandal yourself. (As a song that turns 100 next year puts it: “Nobody knows you when you’re down and out.“) That fickleness was one reason why Harry Truman famously quipped “If you want a friend in Washington, get a dog.”

But something more than public morality and judgment has changed: All elections have been nationalized. The names on the ballot may be Walker and Warnock, but what Georgia voters are really deciding is whether Republicans or Democrats will control the Senate.

And that matters, in turn, because of the increasing partisanship within the Senate. Whether or not judges will be confirmed, for example, depends less on the character or qualifications of the nominees than on the party of the president who nominated them. Whether senators are trying to boost the economy or sabotage it depends on whether or not they belong to the president’s party. (If Republicans get control of either house this year, you can expect another debt ceiling crisis in 2023. And maybe this time they’ll force the US into default.)

The result is a more tribal party that sticks together in crisis, and circles the wagons around any embattled candidate, no matter how undeserving that individual may be. And while Republicans are much further down that road than Democrats, I feel the pull myself: What could I possibly find out about his opponent that would make me root for Walker to win?


That’s the tacit message in all the “X is on the ballot” slogans. Democracy is on the ballot. Abortion is on the ballot. The planet is on the ballot. Compared to those stakes, what do Herschel Walker and Raphael Warnock — or any competing pair of candidates — matter? You may not know or care who the candidates are in your district, but you should vote anyway.

Conservative radio host and NRA spokesperson Dana Loesch, for example, tweeted

IF true, Walker paid for one broad’s abortion compared to Warnock who wants your tax dollars to pay for EVERY broad’s abortion-as-birth control with no limitations. This isn’t a difficult choice and conservatives shouldn’t look to the left to validate their vote.

(But wait: Warnock isn’t pushing any woman to get an abortion, as Walker did. He’s just supporting women who make that decision for themselves.)

Also Loesch:

I want to control the senate and you should, too. The end.

The individual hypocrisy — for his own convenience, Walker pushed his girlfriend to exercise options he wants to take away from all the women he didn’t impregnate — doesn’t even figure. Nor does the “personhood” of a fetus matter. Republicans claim to believe fetuses are babies and that abortion is murdering a child. So if Walker had paid someone to murder one of his four breathing-and-walking-around children, would that not count either? Would conservative talking heads say “That’s just one murder. How many more murders will there be if Democrats control the Senate?”

So does anything matter? Watching Republicans circle their wagons around Walker, it’s tempting to conclude that all this, bad as it obviously is, will make no difference.

But if you think that, you’re looking in the wrong direction. OK, hardcore MAGA types are not going to change their minds. They have convinced themselves that Democrats are going to destroy America, so if the only way to prevent that is to elect grifters, hypocrites, or even outright criminals to high office, so be it.

But if the hardcore supporters of either party were the only people who voted, nobody would bother to campaign. And while it seems to be true that the number of persuadable swing voters is shrinking, there’s still a considerable pool of folks who (whatever they think) may or may not vote.

WaPo quotes conservative radio host Erick Erickson:

Every dribble of new stuff between now and the election I think increases the pool who say, ‘Screw this, let’s vote for Brian Kemp and let’s not do the other race at all.’ Those people exist in Georgia.

Those are the people who might be swayed. It’s not that some ultra-conservative Georgian is going to get pissed enough at Walker to vote for Warnock. But a sizeable number of the voters any Georgia Republican needs are racists who didn’t really want to vote for a Black guy anyway, even if he did win the Heisman. A lot are people who lean Republican, but sometimes don’t vote because they think politicians are all crooks. If they get disgusted enough with Walker, they might just forget to show up at the polls, decide at the last minute to skip the Walker/Warnock line on the ballot, or maybe write in the name of some YouTube influencer they really agree with.

Conversely, watching Christian Walker rail against his Dad on social media might convince a few young men to get off their butts and register to vote. Seeing yet another example of the hypocrisy of the religious Right might give some marginal female voters a push to go protect their bodily autonomy.

If you want to know what difference this scandal will make, you have to look there, not at the Dana Loeschs.

One final note on Christianity. Walker is responding to the scandal obliquely, with an ad his campaign calls “Grace“.

Raphael Warnock’s running a nasty, dishonest campaign. Perfect for Washington. The Reverend doesn’t even tell my full story. My true story. As everyone knows, I had a real battle with mental health. I even wrote a book about it. And by the grace of God, I’ve overcome it. Warnock’s a preacher, who doesn’t tell the truth. He doesn’t even believe in redemption. I’m Herschel Walker, saved by grace, and I approve this message.

This ad is an opportunistic mishmash of themes. On the one hand it hints at a denial: Warnock’s campaign is “dishonest”, so whatever they’re accusing me of, I didn’t do it. On the other hand, maybe I did do it, but God has forgiven me. So anyone who brings up the bad things I did or tries to hold me responsible for them “doesn’t believe in redemption”.

If there still are any Trump-era conservatives who have anything more than an opportunistic relationship with Christianity, I have a theological question: In what theory of grace does God forgive you for stuff that you still deny you did? What kind of repentance allows you to keep saying that your accusers are liars?

All the theologians I know refer to this kind of grace disdainfully as “cheap grace”, which Dietrich Bonhoeffer defined as “forgiveness without repentance”. Your sin goes away because taking responsibility for it is inconvenient. Or, as the mother of the child Walker wanted aborted put it: “He picks and chooses where it’s convenient for him to use that religious crutch.”

Amanda Marcotte points out the long-term cost Christianity is paying and will continue to pay for this kind of hypocrisy: The adults may not believe what they’re saying, but the kids do — until they realize it’s all a con.

The kids are watching. Young people raised in churches often DO believe the lies about chastity and “pro-life.” This hypocrisy exposes them to the truth before they’re too deep to extract themselves. And they turn their backs on their parents. I have met SO MANY people who became liberals because of the hypocrisy of the conservative environments they grew up in. It’s a major reason every generation is more liberal than the last. So this shit matters.

When Christians lament about the decline of their religion and the growing number of Americans with no religious affiliation, they shouldn’t vaguely blame “the culture” or “Hollywood liberals”, because they’re doing it to themselves. Christianity is losing its children because the kids see their elders saying one thing and doing something else.

Who Should You Back in the Midterm Elections?

Deciding what to do with your time and money is the rare instance where speculating about the political horse race makes sense.

One of things I criticize most about American media’s coverage of politics is the endless horse-race speculation: Who’s going to run? Who can win? What issues will the voters respond to, and what positions will they support? What do the polls say about elections that won’t be held until after a whole lot of things have changed?

Speculating about the future is engaging and easy. It fills airtime cheaply, and nobody ever suffers for being wrong.

Endless conversation about things that might never happen is an entertaining way to cover sports, where fans love to argue about who should be traded for who, or where some hot free agent will land. But sports are fundamentally about entertainment; politics shouldn’t be. For the most part, the time we spend speculating about the future draws our attention away from what is happening here and now, and what our leaders are doing about it.

There is one exception, though, and I’m about to invoke it. In every election cycle, people who want to affect the direction of the country have to decide who they’re going to support with their time and/or money. You can’t work for everybody and you can’t give to everybody, so you have to make choices.

One way to choose is to follow your heart; if some candidate inspires you, devote your resources to helping them. Another strategy is to take a pragmatic approach more like triage: There are inspiring candidates who are going to win with or without the help of people like you. (AOC has gotten over 75% of the vote in both of her races.) Other races are lost causes. (It would be great to beat Republican Speaker-in-waiting Kevin McCarthy, but he won by nearly 25 points in 2020, and every prognosticating outlet rates his seat as safe.) So you want to give a push to candidates who might or might not win, depending on whether people like you rally around them.

Most of us do something in between. We’d like to simultaneously feel good about our candidates and make a difference in the outcome. That means looking at races that could go either way and seeing how we feel about the candidates involved.

Figuring out which races those are requires speculation. So that’s what we’ll do this week. (But I’ll try not to make a habit of it.)

The overall climate. Conventional wisdom says that 2022 is going to be a bad year for Democrats, for a number of reasons:

  • Off-year elections usually go badly for the party in power.
  • The marginal voters Democrats depend on are less likely to show up in non-presidential cycles.
  • Biden’s popularity is low.

The current generic-ballot polls (would you rather vote for a Republican or a Democrat?) have the GOP ahead by 3.3%. If that holds up, gerrymandering produces a substantial Republican majority in the House. Generally, Democrats have to win nationally by at least 3% to break even. In 2020, they won nationally by 3.1%, which netted them a narrow 9-vote House majority. By contrast, a 1.1% Republican win in 2016 produced a 47-seat majority. (So Republicans are right when they say the system is rigged. It’s rigged in their favor.)

And who knows, things might play out that way. But November is still 9 months off, and there are other factors that could turn the situation around.

  • The Republican primaries may fracture the party, producing damaged candidates either too Trumpy to win or not Trumpy enough to mobilize the base. Nominating bad candidates lost the Republicans Senate seats they should have won in Missouri in 2012 and in Alabama in 2017, just to name the two most obvious cases.
  • The GOP has no agenda, which should become more apparent as election day approaches. In general, Democrats are running to do good things, while Republicans are running to stop bad things. Republicans only win if the public is in a sour mood, which it currently is, but may not be in a few months.
  • A lot of that sour mood is the public’s frustration with Covid, which might not be as big a factor by November.
  • By November, inflation should be slowing down, but Biden’s job growth numbers will still be something to brag about. Moody Analytics Chief Economist Mark Zandi writes: “The hair-on-fire discourse over high inflation is understandable, but it’s overdone.”
  • The Democratic base could get energized if the Supreme Court reverses Roe in June, as it seems they will.
  • As the legal net closes around Donald Trump, he may decide to take the GOP down with him.

Summary: As you go into the midterm elections, be realistic but not fatalistic. The future isn’t written yet.

The Senate. The current Senate has 50 Democrats and 50 Republicans. 34 seats are up for election in 2022; 14 held by Democrats and 20 held by Republicans. Wikipedia has a table of how four different well-regarded sites rate the elections. They don’t all agree, but most tilt slightly towards Republican control. The most pessimistic is Inside Elections, which favors Republicans in all their current seats, but thinks three Democratic seats are toss-ups: Catherine Cortez Masto in Nevada, Raphael Warnock in Georgia, and Mark Kelly in Arizona. Maggie Hassan in New Hampshire also faces a tight race, though she’s currently favored to win.

All these predictions are subject to the same possible turns of the tide that I listed above. Raphael Warnock’s seat in Georgia is a good example. Current polling has Trump-endorsed Republican candidate Herschel Walker ahead of Warnock by 1%. But other than his name recognition from winning the Heisman playing football at University of Georgia in 1982, Walker is a terrible candidate. He’s not very articulate (especially if you put him on a stage next to Warnock, who is extraordinary), he has no political philosophy to speak of beyond loyalty to Trump, and he has a history of violence, domestic abuse, and mental illness. (No wonder Trump likes him.)

And finally, let’s be honest: A lot of the White racist voters Republicans need are going to lose interest in a contest between two Black guys. Republicans have a history of fantasizing about Black candidates like Colin Powell, Herman Cain, and Ben Carson, but changing their minds sometime before election day. Right now, when all most voters know about Walker is his name and his football career, is probably Walker’s peak.

But anyway, if you’re inclined to play defense, look at Warnock, Kelly, Cortez Masto, and Hassan to see who you feel best about. Warnock would be my choice, though I have supported Hassan in the past when I lived in New Hampshire.

If you expect Democrats’ fortunes to improve and want to play offense, the states to look at are Wisconsin (Ron Johnson), Pennsylvania (Pat Toomey is retiring), and North Carolina (Richard Burr is retiring). Of these, the most satisfying outcome would be to boot Covid-misinforming, coup-sympathizing Ron Johnson out of the Senate. The problem is that the Democratic challenger won’t be chosen until the August 9 primary. The current front-runner is Lieutenant Governor Mandela Barnes. I worry a little about the rural Republican base getting energized to fight a Black candidate from Milwaukee, but my quick look at Barnes suggested an Obama-like charm that might protect him. He did win statewide office as Tony Evers’ running mate in 2018.

Pennsylvania’s primary won’t be until May, and there is still a large field. But to me the promising candidate is Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman. He’s a little off-the-wall, but in a folksy way that should make him hard to demonize. (“John and Gisele have chosen not to settle in the Lt. Governor’s Mansion, instead opening up the pool in the official residence to children who typically wouldn’t have access to one. They live with their three children Karl, 12, Gracie, 10, and August, 7, in a restored car dealership in Braddock with the family dog, Levi.”) But if you hold the run-a-moderate-in-swing-states theory, Rep. Conor Lamb is probably your best bet.

In North Carolina, the field is wide and the primary is in May. The current favorite is Cheri Beasley, who was the first Black woman to be chief justice of the state supreme court. She narrowly lost a re-election campaign in 2020.

If you’re really ambitious, you might hope to knock off Marco Rubio in Florida. You’ve got a strong candidate to work with: Rep. Val Demings, who was on the short list to be Biden’s vice president.

The House. House races don’t get as much national attention as Senate races, so finding one you want to get involved in is harder (unless you happen to live a swing district with a good candidate). On the other hand, you’re more likely to have an influence on a smaller race.

In general, the people you would feel best about beating — Marjorie Taylor Green, Matt Gaetz, Jim Jordan, Paul Gosar, etc. — are in very safe Republican districts. (That’s why they can be as extreme as they are.) I keep getting email from a Democratic guy running for MTG’s seat, and I definitely feel the temptation, but I keep reminding myself that there are more effective things to do than tilt at that particular windmill.

If you don’t have a good local candidate to support, take a look at the 16 crossover districts identified by Sabato’s Crystal Ball. These are House districts that elected a representative from one party, but voted for the other presidential nominee. In other words, they seem like races that could go either way, and so are obvious places to attack or defend.

In Maine-2, for example, Democrat Jared Golden was re-elected by 6.1% in 2020, while Biden was losing the district by 7.4%. In New York-24, Republican John Katko won by 10.2% while Biden was winning by 9.1%.

Sadly, the crossover Republicans tend to be the most reasonable people in their conference, so beating them won’t be all that satisfying. Katko, for example, voted to impeach Trump and negotiated the deal for a bipartisan January 6 commission that the rest of his party rejected. Possibly seeing the handwriting on the wall from both left and right, he’s retiring.

Likewise, if you’re on the leftward wing of the Democratic Party, the crossover Democrats aren’t likely to make your heart beat faster. Ron Kind is retiring, and of the remaining six, only Matt Cartwright of Pennsylvania-8 has a 2020 GovTrack ideology rating more liberal than Nancy Pelosi; he was the 58th most conservative of 237 House Democrats while Pelosi was 48th.

Other seats rated as toss-ups are CA-22, CA-27, CA-45, CO-8, IL-17, IA-3, KS-3, MI-3, MI-7, MI-8, NM-2, NY-11, VA-2, and WA-8.

Governorships and other state offices. At this distance from November, it’s hard to guess which governor’s races will be competitive. For what it’s worth, the races that look close to outside experts are: Arizona, Georgia, Kansas, Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin.

Other than Kansas, those are precisely the Biden states Trump tried to steal, so having a Democratic governor in place in 2024 might be pretty important. Other than Arizona, where Gov. Ducey has been term-limited out, they all have Democratic governors now. Republican primary candidates are competing to see who can take the most extreme positions about the 2020 election, with most saying they would not have certified the results. (In Arizona, Trump-endorsed Kari Lake has pushed it even further: She said “I agree” when a crowd of her supporters chanted “Lock her up” about Democratic Secretary of State Katie Hobbs.)

For similar reasons, you might want to support Democratic candidates in purple-state Secretary of State races that you’ve never cared about before. Republican candidates are basically promising to cheat, if that’s what it takes to put their favorite fascist back in the White House.

Two gubernatorial races that seem like long shots would be very satisfying to win: booting out Ron DeSantis in Florida and Greg Abbott in Texas. Abbott’s approval ratings are negative, but it remains to be seen whether Beto O’Rourke can cash in on that. DeSantis seems to be in better shape.

Local races. As we’ve seen in recent weeks, state legislatures and local school boards make important decisions. And as the Supreme Court whittles away at the power of the federal government (at least until Republicans can get back in control), that trend will only increase.

Local races are often the most satisfying to work on. You’re shoulder-to-shoulder with the candidate and working with your neighbors. And who knows? Once you get involved in local politics, you might find yourself running for office yourself someday.

How Ominous Were Tuesday’s Elections?


The Democratic candidates for governor lost in Virginia and barely won in New Jersey, two states that have been reliably blue in recent years. What does that say about 2022 and 2024?

Tuesday, Republican candidate Glenn Youngkin won the governorship of Virginia, a state Joe Biden carried in 2020. Youngkin won by 2%, a 12.1% improvement over Donald Trump’s 10.1% loss. Meanwhile in New Jersey, a state Biden carried by 16.2%, incumbent Democratic Governor Phil Murphy could only manage a 2.6% margin, a 13.6% fall-off from 2020.

Those results, along with a comparable decline in Biden’s approval numbers (currently underwater with 7.5% more people disapproving than approving), have Democrats panicking about their prospects for the 2022 and 2024 elections, and pointing fingers at each other to assign blame. The parallel in everyone’s mind is 2009, President Obama’s first year, when poor performances in the same two governor’s races did indeed predict a massive 2010 loss.

Democrats look at 2009 as the alarm that went unanswered, and are determined not to make the same mistake this time around. That leads to two big questions: What exactly happened in 2009? And what comparable mistakes do we need to fix now? Hence the finger-pointing.

Is it 2009 again? Will next year be 2010? Let’s start by examining the basic premise: How much does the current situation resemble 2009? There are a number of similarities:

  • A Democratic president elected by a wide margin (9.5 million Obama, 7 million Biden) is much less popular a year later. Biden’s approval/disapproval was +17% on Inauguration Day and -7.5% now. Obama’s (by a different measure) was a whopping +54% at inauguration and down to +10% by November, 2009.
  • The president’s ambitious agenda is stuck in Congress. Both Obama and Biden had early legislative victories with a stimulus plan. But ObamaCare wouldn’t pass until March, 2010, and his climate bill never did pass. Biden’s bipartisan infrastructure bill passed Friday night (too late for the 2021 elections), and his Build Back Better plan is still in limbo.
  • The economy is improving, but still not good. In 2009, GDP bottomed out in the first quarter of 2009, but the improvement still wasn’t showing up in October’s unemployment rate: 10% (the peak), compared to 7.3% the previous December (the numbers available on Inauguration Day). This year, Biden has already seen improvement in both GDP (up 9.2% in the last year) and unemployment (4.6% in October compared to 6.7% last December), but inflation (up 5.4% in the last 12 months) is worrisome and the economy still doesn’t feel normal.

One other similarity is harder to support with hard numbers, and may be in the eye of the beholder: the significance of racism in the Republicans’ winning message. Youngkin made the mythical “critical race theory” a centerpiece of his campaign, and race always lurked in the background of anti-Obama messaging.

While granting the similarities, I want to call your attention to two points against doomsaying:

  • 2009 was worse. Obama won Virginia by 6.3% in 2008, but Republican Bob McDonnell (whose 2014 corruption conviction was overturned by the Supreme Court in 2016; he’s currently a professor at Pat Robertson’s Regents University, where all Republican sins are forgiven) won the governorship by 17.3% in 2009, a 23.6% reversal for the Democrats. Obama won New Jersey by 15.5% in 2008, but Chris Christie was elected to his first term as governor in 2009 by 3.6%, a turnaround of 19.1%.
  • While 2009 did presage a 2010 congressional wipeout, Obama got re-elected in 2012. 2010 really was the “shellacking” Obama said it was. Democrats lost 6 Senate seats, 63 House seats, and 6 governorships. But in 2012 Obama beat Mitt Romney by 3.9% or 5 million votes.

An additional nebulous factor is that the benefits of ObamaCare phased in slowly; you couldn’t get coverage from the ObamaCare exchanges or use a ObamaCare subsidy until 2014. So in 2010, Republicans had free rein to demonize imaginary “death panels” and the “government takeover of health care“. ObamaCare’s favorability rating turned negative in 2010 and didn’t turn positive again until 2017.

Biden’s bills should be much harder to smear with dark fantasies: His infrastructure plan may not have new bridges open by next November, but work will be underway and people will be getting jobs. We still don’t know what (if anything) will be in the BBB bill if and when it eventually passes, but we can hope for immediately popular items like reducing the price of prescription drugs or a child tax credit. Even the bill’s increased taxes are popular, if they really do focus on the wealthy.

In short, there are definite resemblances, but 2021 is not 2009, and 2022 doesn’t have to be 2010 unless we let that happen.

What exactly happened in Virginia? Our political dialog goes wrong when people decide what they want the story to be before they look at the facts. So before we start assessing blame and breaking glass for the emergency, let’s get straight what really happened.

538 does a good job analyzing the polling, and by “good job” I mean that they are appropriately humble about what can and can’t be deduced from what we know. As always, Democrats were strong in Virginia’s cities, and Republicans in the rural areas, while the suburbs were a battleground. The interesting question, though, is not the parties’ absolute strength, but where votes shifted to erode Biden’s 2020 margin. The answer is the suburbs.

According to exit poll data, Youngkin won 53 percent of these voters across the state, which is roughly the opposite of what happened in 2020, when exit polls suggest President Joe Biden carried voters in those areas with a similar share of the vote.

From that data, it’s tempting to jump to the conclusion that McAuliffe lost the kind of people we associate with the suburbs: educated professionals. But no. Youngkin’s gains on Trump were mostly among non-college whites.

Interestingly, though, it doesn’t look like white college-educated voters, often disproportionately associated with the suburbs, necessarily drove Youngkin’s victory. The polarization of white voters by educational attainment has been a developing trend in recent years, and the Virginia result shows an even more substantial split, thanks mainly to Youngkin gaining among white voters without a college degree. Remember, plenty of white voters without a four-year degree live in suburban places, too.

538 finds it hard to assess the impact of Youngkin’s critical race theory message, for reasons that I’ll illustrate with an example: If I run for office promising to stop the Martian invasion, exit polls will undoubtedly show that I won among voters who were worried about the Martian invasion. But did they vote for me because of that issue, or were they my voters first, and just repeated my anti-Mars rhetoric when a pollster asked? Voters who, say, watch a lot of Fox News, are upset about CRT and voted for Youngkin. But what caused what? As Vox’s Zack Beauchamp put it:

partisans who would have voted for their party anyway often parrot whatever message they heard from the campaign or allied media.

A lot of Youngkin voters said they cared about education, but probably not in the usual sense of wanting better funding and higher test scores. In addition to his race-related issues

Exit polling found that voters who believe parents should have “a lot” of say in what their child’s school teaches overwhelmingly supported Youngkin over McAuliffe (77 percent to 22 percent). … Youngkin also made appeals to parents fed up with more than a year of remote learning and other COVID-19-related school policies, like requiring masks in schools. But all of this falls under the category of “education,” which makes it incredibly hard to disentangle which issue had a bigger impact on voters.

Ordinarily, you would expect an education-focused parents-rights campaign to overperform among parents, but that didn’t happen either. Youngkin won White parents, but not by a margin larger than Republicans typically do.

538 wound up concluding that

disappointment with Biden’s presidency is what ultimately drove support for Youngkin.

Most interestingly, opinions about Biden had more impact than opinions about Trump.

almost twice the share of people who had an unfavorable view of Trump backed Youngkin (17 percent) than the share who disapproved of Biden and backed McAuliffe (10 percent).

Beauchamp agrees:

The election returns from Virginia show a uniform swing against McAuliffe, not an especially strong backlash in areas where CRT was an especially prominent issue. In New Jersey’s gubernatorial race, there was a similarly sized swing against Democrats despite CRT not being a major part of the campaign.

A broader look at election night on November 2 tells a different and more familiar story: McAuliffe lost because of a nationalized backlash against an unpopular incumbent president.

The red and blue theories of government. In general, Democrats and Republicans campaign differently because their voters are looking for different things from the government. Democrats believe that government can improve people’s lives. As Abraham Lincoln (in an era when the Republicans were the activist party) put it:

The legitimate object of government is to do for a community of people whatever they need to have done, but cannot do at all, or cannot so well do, for themselves, in their separate and individual capacities.

So, for example, I can take public transportation, but I can’t build it. I can sign up for broadband internet, if the big internet providers feel like offering it in my community. But if they don’t, I need government to push them. I can hope that new drugs have been tested before the pharmaceutical corporations put them on the market, but I can’t do it myself. I can’t manage the money supply for full employment, or test for lead in my drinking water, or prevent climate change, or do any of a thousand other things government does (or could do) for me.

Republicans, on the other hand, see government more as an obstacle and a source of interference. In their worldview, individuals should mostly fend for themselves, and to the extent they need to organize, the market will organize them. All the things government can usefully do are already being done (and then some), and happen more or less automatically.

So Republican campaigns aren’t about what government can do to improve your life. You don’t vote for a Republican hoping to stop a pandemic or get health insurance or pay for college. Instead, you vote Republican so that someone will use the bully pulpit of government to speak for you. Republican officials don’t do much to help their voters, but they stop other people from doing things their voters disapprove of, like getting abortions or changing their pronouns or kneeling during the national anthem. What Trump voters loved most about him was not any particular government action, but that he forcefully agreed with them and viciously insulted people they resent.

This is also why Republicans can invent issues out of nothing and Democrats can’t. Free community college isn’t an issue unless real people want to attend community college. But critical race theory can be an issue whether it actually exists or not, because it’s about other people, and who knows what devilry they might be up to?

As far back as 1988, Bush the First was making a issue out of the pledge of allegiance. He wasn’t promising to do anything about the pledge of allegiance, but somewhere out there people were refusing to say the pledge, and Mike Dukakis had defended them. After Bush won, the words pledge and allegiance didn’t appear in his 1989 inaugural address, because the pledge had nothing to do with his plans to govern. Nobody had expected that it would.

Thirty-three years later, Democrats still haven’t solved that problem. Terry McAuliffe was flummoxed by critical race theory just as Dukakis was by the pledge issue. Because how do you fight something that isn’t real?

Democrats need results. In short, pretty much every election hinges on whether the public focuses on symbolic issues or real-life issues. Death panels or the War on Christmas presages a Republican victory; the minimum wage or affordable health care a Democratic win.

Real issues tend not to be as click-baity as symbolic issues; wealth inequality is tedious compared to canceling Dr. Seuss. So voters looking for entertainment will trend Republican. (That’s the other thing Trump’s fans love about him: He’s never dull.) But why shouldn’t voters reduce politics to entertainment if it’s all hot air anyway? If neither Medicare for All nor JFK Jr.’s return is ever going to happen, why not choose the more engaging fantasy and follow Q rather than Bernie?

That’s why Democrats need results. People need to see that politics leads to something, and isn’t just an identity or an excuse for tribes to battle each other. Biden was popular those first few months because he seemed to be doing what he had talked about. He said he would beat the pandemic with vaccines, then he signed a bill to fund vaccine distribution, and sure enough: vaccines started rolling out. By June, the pandemic seemed to be over, the economy was coming back, and Biden had moved on to talk about fixing bridges and bringing broadband to rural America.

Politics works! So Biden (and Democrats) are popular.

Then the Delta variant hit, vaccine resistance became a thing, the economic recovery paused, and Biden’s further proposals bogged down in Congress. So politics doesn’t work; it’s just a bunch of people yelling at each other. Suddenly Biden’s popularity crashes and Democrats underperform in elections.


Pointing fingers. Several well-known commentators were quick to assign blame for Tuesday’s disappointing results, and their voices were amplified by the majority of the beltway press, particularly in The New York Times. Probably the voice that got the most attention was James Carville, who denounced “stupid wokeness”. NYT columnist Maureen Dowd quoted Carville, and went on to attack the Biden agenda.

Biden has pursued his two bills with Captain Ahab-like zeal; he pines to be F.D.R. and eclipse Barack Obama, who pushed him aside for Hillary.

Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi hail the bills as transformational. But what are you transforming into? The election cratering showed that such overweening efforts are putting off many voters who are still struggling just to get by, as they move beyond the degradation wrought by Trump and Covid.

Outside the editorial page, The Times’ post-election analysis gave plenty of space to similar complaints.

More pointedly, [Virginia Rep. Abigail] Spanberger said Mr. Biden must not forget that, for many voters, his mandate was quite limited: to remove former President Donald J. Trump from their television screens and to make American life ordinary again.

“Nobody elected him to be F.D.R., they elected him to be normal and stop the chaos,” she said, alluding to the sweeping agenda the president is seeking to enact with the thinnest of legislative majorities.

And the NYT’s editorial board echoed:

Tuesday’s results are a sign that significant parts of the electorate are feeling leery of a sharp leftward push in the party, including on priorities like Build Back Better, which have some strong provisions and some discretionary ones driving up the price tag. The concerns of more centrist Americans about a rush to spend taxpayer money, a rush to grow the government, should not be dismissed.

Again in the NYT, Mark Penn and Andrew Stein made the point even more forcefully:

Swing voters in two blue-leaning states just sent a resounding wake-up call to the Biden administration: If Democrats remain on their current course and keep coddling and catering to progressives, they could lose as many as 50 seats and control of the House in the 2022 midterm elections. There is a way forward now for President Biden and the Democratic Party: Friday’s passage of the bipartisan physical infrastructure bill is a first step, but only a broader course correction to the center will give Democrats a fighting chance in 2022 and to hold on to the presidency in 2024.

This kind of beltway common sense apparently needs no supporting evidence. Only Penn and Stein quote poll results, and they rely exclusively on Penn’s own poll, which is obviously skewed. (Example: Only 62% of the respondents say they have “gotten the vaccine”. But according to the CDC, 70% of Americans over 18 are fully vaccinated, and 80% have gotten at least one dose. Penn and Stein call attention to the 58% who oppose the “$1.5 to $2 trillion dollar social spending bill” if it would be “financed by increasing the deficit and tax increases”, which is phrased to imply that the respondents’ own taxes would go up. But 66% of even Penn’s skewed sample supports a 15% corporate minimum tax and 59% favor a wealth tax on billionaires. Throughout the survey, Penn’s questions frame issues as Republicans frame them. “Do you think the schools should promote the idea that people are victims and oppressors based on their race or should they teach children to ignore race in all decisions to judge people by their character?” But who exactly is teaching students not to judge people by their character? Unsurprisingly, 63% oppose such teaching.)

Let me repeat a point I made above: When pollsters (other than Mark Penn) tell Americans what’s in the two bills, they like it — and that was when the reconciliation bill was $3.5 trillion. When they’re told rich people’s taxes will go up to pay for it, they like it even more.

The problem isn’t that the Biden agenda is too big or too expensive or too left-wing. The problem is that Democrats have been talking about it for a long time and it’s not done. (Or at least it wasn’t done when voters cast their ballots on Tuesday. Jennifer Rubin wonders if we might have seen a different result after all the good news that came out Friday.) As long as it’s just a set of proposals in Congress that change every few days, the American people aren’t going to take it seriously. That’s not action, that’s a bunch of people arguing about stuff that may never happen — precisely what Americans hate most about politics.

So why isn’t it done? The answer to this question is really simple, and it’s the complete opposite of what the beltway-press echo chamber is saying: The bills weren’t done in time to help Terry McAuliffe because Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema slow-rolled them.

I am not saying that there is anything illegitimate about either moderate or progressive Democrats pushing their views and trying to get the best deal they can. Personally, I think the current Manchinized $1.7 trillion reconciliation bill is considerably less good than the original $3.5 trillion proposal. (The Washington Post’s editorial board agrees with me, for reasons that go beyond the spending total.) But that’s not my point. Manchin and Sinema are senators, and the bill can’t pass without them. There’s no reason why they (or anyone else) should have to vote for a bill they don’t believe in.

But let’s assume that some kind of BBB bill is eventually acceptable to both factions of the party — maybe the current $1.7 trillion version, or something with even more concessions to the two rightmost Democrats.

Why couldn’t that same bill have passed in July?

The answer to that question has nothing to do with Rep. Pramila Jayapal, the progressive caucus, Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer, or Joe Biden. Some version of the reconciliation bill didn’t pass months ago because Manchin and Sinema have stalled and are still stalling. When all the other Democrats were ready to get on with serious negotiating, Manchinema were hard to pin down. They expressed vague qualms without making counter-proposals. That’s what has taken so long.

So if Terry McAuliffe wants to blame somebody, that’s where I’d look.

What’s the real lesson of Tuesday’s elections? Get stuff done, especially popular stuff that people can see happening. Certain phrases, like “defund the police” and “critical race theory” are unpopular, so Democrats shouldn’t run on them — but no major candidate was doing that before Tuesday.

When you do get stuff done, make sure people know about it.

If you can’t get stuff done, make sure the public understands that Republicans are the obstacle, not other Democrats. As much as possible, Democrats should do their within-the-party negotiating behind closed doors. The House should pass some nice, simple, one-popular-issue bills, like resolving the Dreamers’ immigration status or protecting voting rights or eliminating obviously corrupt billionaire tax breaks. And then Chuck Schumer should make as big a show as he can out of Republicans blocking those bills in the Senate. (The 2022 attack ad writes itself: “Billionaire hedge fund managers can thank Ron Johnson for saving their giant tax break. Given how much dark money is pouring into Wisconsin to support Johnson’s re-election effort, maybe they already have.”)

A final note about “wokeness”. Black Americans started telling each other to “stay woke” long before I noticed the phrase. A 1938 Leadbelly song says “I advise everybody, be a little careful when they go along through there – best stay woke, keep their eyes open.” The term showed up in a 1962 NYT article on Black slang. More recently, a 2008 Erykah Badu song and then a Childish Gambino song popularized it. Zaron Burnett III defines its original meaning as “an earnest expression that Black people need to stay conscious of the agendas operating against us”.

Becoming (as opposed to staying) woke was a consciousness-raising experience similar to what feminists used to express with the word “click“. A feminist click-moment was when some switch flipped in your head, and you suddenly saw familiar situations in a new way. For a while, White allies in the anti-racist movement used woke that way.

More recently, though, conservatives have made pejorative term out of woke. In particular, it has become a racist dog whistle: Some person or movement or proposal is “too woke” if it’s too Black. Burnett says:

Woke is now a funhouse mirror version of itself. It no longer refers to being aware of the agendas that operate against Black people, nor does it mean to stay conscious and present, or even skeptical. It’s been mockingly weaponized so that it can be an expression of winking anti-Blackness by someone like [Senator Josh] Hawley. 

… “Wokeness” in this context is also an update of the tired, more obvious dog whistles like “thug,” “inner-city youth” and “urban contemporary.” They’re all just polite ways to say (or whisper) Black. And so, for the modern tech-savvy racist, to be against woke culture is a casual, more acceptable form of anti-Blackness (i.e., no white hood necessary). 

One of the things I thought we had learned from George Lakoff’s framing articles in the early 2000s was not to use opponents’ frames. Using the vocabulary of the Right strengthens the Right, and using the vocabulary of racists strengthens racism.

So Democrats and liberals (especially White Democrats and liberals) should never, ever use the pejorative form of woke. (They should be careful with the positive sense too, because it seems to have timed out.) Whatever you’re trying to say, find some other way to say it. Because when you talk about “stupid wokeness”, you’re telling the White supremacists that you’re on their side.

James Carville should know that. Shame on him.