How Trump and DeSantis Will Attack Each Other
Gaming out the Republican civil war.
1. What Actually Happened
Why did Democrats do well and Republicans do poorly last week? Lots of reasons. But it’s important not to fall into the trap of over-weighting the factors that fit your worldview.
For instance: I would love to tell you that last week the Great and Good American people were motivated to reject anti-democratic impulses and support normalcy. And surely those motivations played some part. But were they the main story? Probably not.
By the same token, Republican elites, who have been dying to get rid of Trump, want to claim that the election results were a rejection of Donald Trump. And surely that played some part, too. But also, this doesn’t seem to be the main story.
So again, lots of factors were at play. Including one that doesn’t get talked about much: excess COVID deaths. There’s been an ongoing study of the Republican resistance to the COVID vaccines and the preliminary findings suggest that post-vaccine, Republicans accounted for about 80 percent more of the excess deaths than Democrats. Part of this is because of vaccine hesitancy; part of it is because of the age profile of voters.
I’m not going to burden you with the math here, but if you want to read up on it, the data is quite striking, all the way to the county level.
To take just one example: between January 2021 and this month, 9,400 people in Nevada died of COVID. The data suggests that the majority of these people would have been Republican voters. Keep that number in mind.
But when you strip away all of the things we would like to be true about this election, you get to some boring, foundational facts about the main drivers of the results:
The Dobbs decision hurt Republicans and helped Democrats in a large way.
Many of the Republican losses were by extremely small margins. For example:
Adam Laxalt lost the Nevada Senate race by 6,000 votes. (Go look at that COVID number again.)
Kari Lake seem to have lost the Arizona governor’s race by about 30,000 votes. (The count is not final.)
Joe Kent lost in Washington’s 3rd District by 5,000 votes.
Republicans are on track to win the national House popular vote by +4. In terms of the expression of popular support, this was the party’s best showing of the Trump era.
So while I’d like to say that last week was a ringing endorsement of democracy and rejection of Donald Trump, the real answer is much more of a mixed bag:
Dobbs created strong headwinds for Republicans.1
Candidate quality mattered at the margins. As did COVID mortality numbers.
Many key races were determined at the margins.
Trump may have been a drag on some Republican candidates, but on the whole Republicans had their strongest showing of the Trump era.
All of which is to say: Yes, last week was a good sign if you love liberal democracy. But also: It probably wasn’t as good a sign as many of us would like it to be. And if you think that Trump couldn’t possibly win 270 electoral votes should he be the Republican nominee in 2024, then you are . . . zealously optimistic.
2. Red Team
I concur with Jon Chait’s contention that the current revolt of Republican elites against Trump is a serious challenge to his domination of the party—probably the most serious since the 2016 Republican National Convention.
So I want to game out how each side of this civil war is likely to approach the coming months. Keep in mind: No value judgments here. We’re just trying to think through what’s coming.