Categories: Economic News

Trump returns to the polls

Put two things together.

The first is the surge in Republican support for Donald Trump since the FBI raided his Mar-a-Lago residence.

The second is the flow of good news this summer for Democrats as the 2022 midterms approach. Democratic candidates are leading Senate races in Arizona, Georgia, Ohio and Pennsylvania. How Politician notes, all-party primaries in Washington state show Democratic candidates running well ahead of their performance in 2010 and 2014, the last big Republican years. The Democratic position is increasing in generic polls. Across the country, there are signs that Republicans could pay an immediate political price for overturning the Supreme Court. Roe v. Wade. Above all, August’s economic news has turned good: Gas prices are down, headline inflation is down, employment is up.

The first fact, the rally to Trump, reminds us that his narrative of personal grievances still moves Republican voters deeply.

The second fact—the improved congressional prospects of Democrats—reminds us how little Trump’s complaints resonate with the larger voting public. GOP leaders have made a lot of noise about the Democratic obsession with pronouns. But Trump’s Republicans have a pronoun problem of their own: Trump demands, and they agree, to talk about “me, me, me” when the electorate has other real, bread-and-butter concerns.

Big-money Republicans hoped 2022 would be the year the GOP quietly dumped Trump. Those hopes have faded throughout the year as extreme and unstable pro-Trump candidates have triumphed in primary after primary. Their last best hope was that the re-election of Ron DeSantis as Florida governor would painlessly knock Trump out of the race for the Republican presidential nomination in 2024. Now that hope is dying, too.

DeSantis ran in 2018 as a cowardly Trump sycophant. He had four years to become his own man. He fought the culture wars, even turning on his former backers at Disney, all to prove himself to be the alpha male bully that Republican primary voters prize. But since the Mar-a-Lago quest, DeSantis has once again filled the section of Trump’s beta male role, sidekick and cheerleader.

Trump has reasserted dominance. DeSantis has been sent. And if Republican presidential politics in the Trump era has one rule, it’s that there is no recovery from submission. Turn over once and you won’t be able to get back on your feet.

Trump specializes in creating rituals of dominance and submission. Their Republican base is both their audience and their instrument. But to those outside the subculture excited by these rituals, they seem degrading and ridiculous. Everyone else wants jobs, homes, cheaper prescription drugs and bridges that won’t collapse, not public performances in Trump’s theater of humiliation.

Mid-term elections are often referendums on the pressing issues of the day. Voters treat them, in effect, as their answer to the implicit question, “Do you have any complaints?” And because voters tend to have grievances, the president’s party tends to suffer losses. But this time, the loudest complaints of the “outside” party are moving away from most people’s lives.

Historically, conservatives spoke the language of stability; progressives, the language of change. This summer, however, Trump’s Republicans are speaking the language of confrontation, of threat, of violence. Five days ago, Peter Wehner described here a The Atlantic the angry screams on right-wing message boards and websites. This threatening language is now being used by the former president himself. Allow me impunity or else face more armed violence from my supporters is Trump’s implicit warning.

That’s one hell of a message to take into the midterm elections. And it’s a message that, by the way, changes the 2022 ballot question from “Do you have any complaints?” to “How do you respond to bullies who make threats?”


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