The modern political pundit is a voice in the wilderness, a self-styled beacon of truth against a pampered and bought-off establishment. Yet to cut against the trend: I was wrong about last night’s midterms. I thought it was going to be a Republican rout. Even after the Dobbs decision came down and Democrats saw a boost in the polls I still didn’t think abortion would ever trump inflation and crime in the minds of voters. And while 2022 didn’t see a blue wave, it sure didn’t see a red wave either.
Instead the scene this morning looks a lot like the status quo. If current vote totals hold, then the Senate will remain 50-50 with Kamala Harris breaking the tie, while Republicans haven’t flipped enough congressional seats to retake the House. And so another narrative is taking shape: the GOP lurched too far to the extreme. It embraced Donald Trump, that radioactive monument to right-wing indulgence, and his endorsed candidates, from Dr. Oz to Kari Lake to Don Bolduc, went down to defeat.
There’s something to that, as Oliver Wiseman notes (though it’s worth pointing out that Trump’s hand-picked Georgia Republican Herschel Walker is potentially headed for a runoff with Raphael Warnock). And with Ron DeSantis’s coattails flowing up and down the Florida peninsula, Republicans will be taking a good hard look at whether it’s time to move on from MAGA 1.0. Yet if the GOP is going to self-flagellate over being too outlandish, then Democrats are due for the same. That’s not just me talking: exit polls found that 51 percent of voters thought Democrats were too extreme, compared to 52 percent for Republicans.
Why? Because it is extreme in the United States (and across the non-Chinese-speaking world for that matter) to support abortion at any time up to and until birth. Yet this was the de rigueur position of Democrats, including Raphael Warnock, the alleged pastor in Georgia. It is extreme to dismiss voters’ concerns about their own safety while crime is spiking by as much as 36 percent in New York City. Yet several Democrats were guilty of this, starting with New York’s governor Kathy Hochul, who blamed the crime issue on a “conspiracy” of “master manipulators” and “data deniers.”
And, of course, it is extreme to teach children about sexual identity and trans ideology in elementary school. Yet the position of the Democratic Party all over the country has been that Ron DeSantis was a hobgoblin for trying to ban this, that his attempt amounted to a “Don’t Say Gay” bill.
The difference here seems to be one of style versus substance. Voters aren’t keen on Trump, want the volume turned down and are ready to put all the QAnon-curious “second civil war” rot behind them. But that doesn’t mean they line up with Democrats on the issues either — or that by at least tolerating wokeness Democrats haven’t shot well past the mainstream. And so their judgment amounted to a shrug. They lurched to neither side, handing neither party the decisive win it wanted.
The difference now will be made among the 10 to 15 percent of voters who say their own party is too extreme, as well as independents. That means Republicans can still capitalize on Democratic overstepping come 2024. But to get there, they may have to rediscover a word they’ve long been sidling away from: conventional.