I went into the voting booth on Tuesday wondering if this was going to be the last free and fair election that I would ever participate in.
It was a reasonable question given that our Supreme Court is taking up a case this year to decide if states can overrule voters in assigning their electoral college votes. Early indications suggest that our 6-3 conservative court will agree, meaning that a plurality of votes for a candidate in a given state may no longer be sufficient for a state to assign its electoral votes. The U.S. constitution says that states get to decide how electoral votes are decided. Typically whoever wins a plurality of the presidential votes in a state gets all the electoral votes for the state, although there are exceptions. Nebraska and Maine, for example, base them on congressional district. The wrinkle this time in that the court is likely to agree with the argument that state supreme courts can’t overrule the legislature on these matters. So if a highly gerrymandered state legislature wants to assign its votes in variance to the popular vote, the state’s supreme court is unlikely to be able to make them do otherwise. Add this expected ruling to Rucho v. Common Cause (2019) that essentially allows gerrymandering forever and it’s quite possible that a state’s electoral votes could never be assigned to the candidate who wins the most votes again, effectively putting states like California and Texas permanently out of play in the Electoral College.
It’s all so outrageous you have to wonder how the court could seriously entertain any of these ideas. You would think one-person, one-vote would be an implicit basis for all democratic government. Essentially, the Supreme Court is saying that it can overrule the will of the people, making our republican form of government non-democratic. The only escape would be a constitutional amendment, or possibly a law passed by Congress, which looks dubious of passage before the current congress expires in January.
So like many Americans I was damn nervous Tuesday night and deliberately went on a news blackout, waiting to see the results in the morning. The results did surprise me, and surprised most pundits. Almost everyone was expecting what usually happens in a midterm: the president’s party loses lots of seats and you get divided government again.
It’s not clear two days later that that’s what will happen. The Republicans look likely to win the House, but rather than the forty or so seats they would expect to win, so far it’s +9, which is enough. A number of races have still to be called, mostly in California which will count its absentee ballots in a lackadaisical way. So the final results won’t be known for weeks, perhaps. The Georgia Senate race between Hershel Walker and Raphael Warnock is going to be decided in a runoff on December 6. Warnock though is leading slightly in the popular vote, so he’ll probably pull it off, which means that Democrats will likely still control the Senate 50-50 like they do now next year. This is hardly ideal but would still allow them to control the agenda and keep nominations to federal courts from being blocked.
So the election defied expectations. Republican off-year gains will be marginal at best. Overall, Trump was on the ballot yet again, and his endorsements were generally bad news for Republicans. He did best for Republicans in Florida where Governor Desantis crushed his opponent Charlie Crist by nearly twenty points. At least in Florida, Trumpism remains popular. But elsewhere Trump’s candidates did poorly at best. Without his endorsement, Brian Kemp crushed Stacey Abrams by almost seven points. Josh Shapiro crushed Doug Mastriano by fourteen points in the Pennsylvania governor’s race. Kari Lake seems likely to lose the Arizona governor’s race. In short, Trump’s coattails don’t mean much anymore. Thus, Trumpism doesn’t mean much either. So for me the big takeaway is that for three elections in a row, Trumpism failed to deliver for Republicans. If Republicans had any brains, they’d cut Trump loose. If any Republican is going to be able to win in 2024, it won’t be Donald Trump; it will be Ron Desantis.
Which is why I am enthusiastic about Trump running again. It’s the surest way to keep a Democrat in the White House past 2024, and if Republicans are stupid enough to nominate him again they can expect another 2020 rout again. Trumpism is dead; the sooner Republicans come to that realization the sooner they will be able to wield political power again. The Supreme Court’s rulings may flip the Electoral College anyhow, but the winner will be unlikely to claim a mandate when a plurality of Americans didn’t vote for him or her.
Republicans also discounted the court’s Dobbs decision which allowed states to regulate abortion rights again. Two states (including Kentucky) added a woman’s right to an abortion to their state constitutions. There is simply no support for restricting abortion rights in all but the reddest of states. Most of the women voters I know were motivated principally by the ruling, and marked November 8 as “Roe-lection Day”: their day to wreak revenge. It worked pretty well. Again, if Republicans were smart they’d read the tealeaves here and stop pressing to restrict abortion right; it will only continue to boomerang against them.
So the election surprised me all right in that it hit Democrats pretty lightly and proved conventional wisdom wrong yet again. The Republicans tried to make it all about inflation and crime, but voters didn’t seem to be buying that message. I’ve seen no increase in crime where I live and I bet that’s true for most voters. It seems that democracy and basic human rights were a larger concern for most voters, so in that sense it was a relief.
Now to start holding my breath for the 2024 election.