POLITICO Mag: The GOP Brain Trust on Why the Party Lost So Big

I was asked by POLITICO Magazine to contribute a snap reaction to the off-year election results, and what Republicans can take away from the experience. It’s a good variety of perspectives, though I think I’m the only one who went the realpolitik route.

Read the full piece here.

My take:

Democrats had a strong night on Tuesday across the board, a morale-boosting affair that will sooth concerns over the increasingly shaky Presidential polling. While the results largely lined up with survey data, Republicans failed to live up to outsized expectations predicated on expanding from their 2021 success, which now registers as a blip in retrospect. The unmistakable pattern of the Trump era is that of Democrats becoming the party that excels in low turnout elections, while GOP fortunes are increasingly tied to low propensity voters who only tune into national elections.

What this off-year success can’t assuage — and at some level serves to exacerbate — is the creeping sense that, despite a favorable environment and galvanizing issue matrix, the growing public malaise surrounding President Biden leaves him singularly vulnerable to defeat. For the time being, voters are telling pollsters that they’d even prefer former President Trump, despite his own immense baggage and unpopularity. Age, inflation, and disaffection among key voter groups all have taken their toll, and an overwhelming share of Democrats profess to want someone new as their nominee, even if they can’t agree who that should be.

As we hurtle toward the primary season, Republicans continue to wrestle with the same paradox that has gripped them since that fateful ride down the escalator — Donald Trump is at once the cause of and solution to all of the party’s problems. If he behaves himself, acts rationally, and keeps the attention on Biden and his myriad issues, Trump could maintain his current advantage, turning out unlikely voters without turning off the persuadable habitual voters who decide elections. Of course, that’s not who Donald Trump is, and a campaign punctuated by high-profile courtroom drama will place him front and center in voters’ lives in a way we haven’t experienced in nearly three years. So long as Trump is the presumptive nominee, no lead is safe, even as Biden’s manifest weakness makes the race a true toss-up. If they’re not prepared to move on from the former president — and the base is clearly inclined to double down — Republicans have to harness Trump’s red state strength and capitalize on a favorable Senate map, where wins in West Virginia, Montana and Ohio would ensure control of at least one lever of power for years to come.

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