November was an unforeseeable disaster for the Republicans. Almost all those who are downcast now, such as Newt Gingrich, were in the pre-Nov. 8 consensus that expected substantial Republican gains.
Senate leader Mitch McConnell was still speaking of only marginal changes in the Senate, and possibly not even positive ones, but the general expectation was for a clear-cut victory in the House, a close victory in the Senate, and some pleasant outcomes elsewhere.
Many new telegenic and articulate Republican candidates, such as Kari Lake in Arizona, Tudor Dixon in Michigan, Tiffany Smiley in Washington, and Kelly Tshibaka in Alaska, were all touted as exemplars of a re-launched, dynamic Republican drive to poach the Democrats' advantage with educated suburban women as they had already challenged the Democrats for the Hispanic and African-American votes.
All four of those candidates were defeated, and it was particularly depressing as the Alaska preferential voting system—which was designed to keep "RINO" Sen. Lisa Murkowski in office, as the Democrats would eventually vote for her as a preferred second choice to the orthodox Republican—did finally produce just enough votes to re-elect Murkowski. It couldn't have happened if McConnell hadn't shoveled Republican money to defeat the official Republican candidate, and is a dreary and ultimately hopeless spectacle for Republicans, who have been watching it now since Al Franken was elected in Minnesota in 2008, by counting ballots late and miraculously producing just enough to win over Norm Coleman by 312 votes out of 2.4 million.
A depressingly similar chain of events occurred in Arizona in the gubernatorial election as a pompous Republican electoral officer ceremoniously declared that this was how it was done in Arizona, and all was going very well, as the complacent and thoroughly mediocre Democratic candidate squeaked through ahead of Lake.
With this and the election of the most unfeasible candidate in the modern history of the Senate, John Fetterman in Pennsylvania over Dr. Mehmet Oz, and despite the victory of J.D. Vance in Ohio, the anti-Trump Republicans came snorting out of the undergrowth to denounce celebrity candidates. For the first time, in what may broadly be called the Trump years, the Republicans were back to the old post-defeat back-biting. McCain, Romney, and the Bushes ride again. Whatever else may be said of the Trump era, at least the Republicans were on the offensive, and they had a great deal to attack.
With this trajectory, it's unsurprising that the amiable, but unprepossessing Herschel Walker lost the special Senate race this week in Georgia. The hair's breadth victory in the House of Representatives is so tight Kevin McCarthy is log-rolling in all directions to try to get to the speaker's chair.
The Democrats' chief political prosecutor, Attorney General Merrick Garland, confirmed that an anti-Trump hit-man has been named special counsel to try to indict Trump for Jan. 6—although not a scintilla of evidence has arisen to support such a prosecution—and for the unutterable nonsense about violations of the Espionage Act at Mar-a-Lago in August. The Trump-hating media will soon be splashing his tax returns around, and media taxperts of unquestionable perceptiveness and impartiality, such as Rachel Maddow and Wolf Blitzer, will be empurpling the airwaves with righteous decrials of the insufficiency of his tax payments.
The great takeaway from the midterm elections is that the Democrats can survive even when three-quarters of Americans think that they're leading the country in the wrong direction and the president is more than 10 percent in deficit on job approval polls, by a combination of their continued mastery of harvested ballot vote rigging, and their even more nauseatingly dishonest ability to spook huge numbers of voters with the idea that there's a profound ethics and dignity gap with the Republicans generally as long as Donald Trump is alive and audible.
Nothing has been as painful to me as a political observer since the Watergate debacle as the ability of the profoundly incompetent Democrats of recent years to do a hippopotamus walk through the criminal statutes themselves (Comey, Brennan, Clapper, Steele, Hillary Clinton, the Bidens) while convincing tens of millions of credulous voters that Trump is an ethical menace to the country. But that is where we are, and American civilization is in a precarious condition because of it.
There are only two ways out: Either Trump manages to convince a large number of people in the next year who now believe that he's a force for violence and chaos, that he isn't, or the Republicans will have to get another candidate. The former president got off to a flying start with his campaign announcement on Nov. 15—a gracious, upbeat, reform address. The setbacks since then, in particular, the fiasco of allowing a white nationalist to come to dinner with him in the entourage of Kanye West, are small matters that will pass quickly if Trump is determined to give his enemies as little ammunition as possible to fire at him.
He is seeking to be only the second president, after Grover Cleveland, to be elected to non-consecutive terms. This is a frequent phenomenon in the parliamentary system. In Britain, William Pitt the Younger, Robert Peel, John Russell, Benjamin Disraeli, William Gladstone, Stanley Baldwin, Winston Churchill, and Harold Wilson, and Canada's Pierre Trudeau all had non-consecutive terms. Many of these went to imaginative lengths in opposition to persuade the voters that they had learned from electoral misfortune, and had gained enhanced worthiness of public confidence.
Trump's detractors doubt he could do this, and the Democrats, though they fear him, revile him as a rampaging fighting bull—if the picadors annoy him, he will charge the red cape to his own destruction. if he can manage the tactical skill and self-discipline to be a new Trump, as Richard Nixon succeeded between 1962 and 1968 in becoming a "New Nixon" and selling the slogan “Nixon’s Not so Bad” and then “Nixon’s the One,” then Trump can still be re-nominated and reelected. If he can't, he won't win the Republican primaries. It must be galling for him as the indispensable man in the rise of Ron DeSantis, but DeSantis now, having multiplied his plurality as Florida governor by more than 50 in four years, doesn’t have to do anything for the next nine months except see if Trump can reinvent himself.
The other determining factor is the apparent inability of the Republicans to master the harvested ballot. Trump correctly warned in 2020 this would be used to rig the election, but he was completely inadequate in the counter-measures he took to prevent that. The Republicans claimed to have addressed these issues in the last two years, but it's clear that they made a number of grievous tactical errors, particularly McConnell withholding Senate campaign funds until approximately half the votes had been cast in advance in many races.
Trump has to raise his game, but whoever the Republican nominee is in 2024—and whether Trump has to endure another pseudo-legal ambush or not—has to do much better in countering the Democrats' skulduggery. If neither occurs, we will plod on with a one-and-one-half party system as the country veers harder to the left and a slope in national fortunes becomes a fall.