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What do the 2023 elections tell us about 2024?
Looking into the crystal ball
The results are in from this year’s mid-mid-term elections, and the big news is that Democrats had a very good night. Steve Berman had a good rundown of the election results yesterday, but the question in many minds is what these results mean for the presidential and congressional elections that are looming for next year. The answer is that it probably doesn’t mean a lot, but there are some lessons that can be learned.
To recap, key races included:
Ohio voters approved a constitutional amendment protecting abortion access by 56-43 percent
Kentucky’s Democrat Governor Andy Beshear defeated a Trump-endorsed challenger by 53-48 percent
Mississippi’s Republican Governor Tate Reeves won re-election by 52-47 percent
Democrats won control of both houses of the Virginia legislature
I think that we can learn at least two lessons from these results. The first and most obvious lesson is that abortion is an albatross around the necks of Republicans. Since the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision, abortion referendums have been on the ballot in seven states. The current tally, if you’re keeping score at home, is Pro-Abortion - 7 and Anti-Abortion - 0. That’s not good news for the elements of the GOP that are endorsing a national abortion ban.
The losses extended to Virginia, where Glenn Youngkin was considered to be a model moderate semi-MAGA governor (try saying that three times fast!). The Virginia results can be viewed as something of a referendum on Youngkin’s overall governance, but a lot of the Democratic message here centered on abortion as well. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that voters handed the legislature to Democrats after Youngkin advocated a 15-week abortion ban.
Youngkin remains personally popular with a 51 percent approval rating as of August, but Virginia’s legislative results indicate that a lot of Virginians aren’t sold on the Republican agenda. That’s particularly true when it comes to abortion.
Further, abortion also played a role in the Kentucky gubernatorial race in which incumbent Democrat Beshear won 29 of 120 counties. In 2020, Trump won 27 of the counties that Beshear carried this week. A key issue in the race was an ad that featured a woman who was raped by her stepfather. Beshear used the woman’s story to rally abortion proponents while his Republican challenger, Daniel Cameron, expressed sympathy but was criticized for the fact that he would not allow rape victims access to abortion.
Personally, I share Cameron’s position that the baby is not responsible for the circumstances of its conception, but popular opinion clearly supports abortion access in cases of rape. Whatever personal opinions of the morality of abortion are, this is a reality that Republicans ignore at their peril.
The good news on the issue for Republicans is that Ohio had its abortion ballot measure this year rather than next year. Ohio has seemingly moved from a swing state to reliably Republican, but an abortion measure on the ballot might well have put Democrats over the top.
The other key lesson to learn is that Joe Biden’s low approval ratings won’t necessarily sink Democrats. If Republicans think that they can tarnish Democrats with association to the Biden Administration, nominate extreme candidates, and then cruise their way to victory based on Biden’s unpopularity, they are likely to be surprised. In fact, that strategy was tried and also failed in 2022.
Will the string of losses persuade Republicans to change course? I’m skeptical. On the platform formerly known as Twitter, Noah Rothman of National Review called this week’s losses an “absolute triumph of pure resolve.”
“Yes, there were a lot of losses,” Rothman adds, “But consider the sheer will necessary to stay the course and keep losing, over and over and over, for the sake of The Fight!”
Or, as I wrote earlier this week, “I won’t be surprised if the same cycle repeats in 2024 and beyond until GOP voters learn that America does not like MAGA.”
If I was the Republican Party as we head into 2024, I’d be looking to keep the crazy in check. The party should do its best to lock MAGA in the closet and keep abortion bans out of the discussion. Pointing fingers at Joe Biden won’t be enough to win so the GOP needs to develop a positive agenda that can reach beyond the party’s base and win over moderates.
If I was a Democrat, my recommendations would be similar. The party needs to talk up the economy, which is actually pretty good (so says the Wall Street Journal), and point out that the Fed has successfully reined in inflation. Progressive radicals should be muzzled, just as MAGA should be.
Overall, I think Democrats have a slight advantage. Even though polling is not good for Joe Biden, it also shows that a generic Democrat beats Donald Trump. My message to Democrats would be to be generic, not radical.
I think a lot of the bad polling for Biden is discontent from progressives, but I expect these voters to come home after the primary. After all, the pro-Palestine Democrats aren’t going to vote for Trump, the author of the Muslim ban. Neither will progressives who should remember what happened when they failed to support the party nominee in 2016. Likewise, every cycle there is polling that shows black voters are considering Republicans, and every cycle, like Lucy pulling the football away from Charlie Brown, Republicans are disappointed. The most that Republicans can hope for is depressed turnout among unenthusiastic Democrats, but no one excites the Democratic base like Donald Trump.
The basic advice that I’d give both parties is just don’t be crazy. As my favorite conservative talk show host, Michael Medved, used to point out, voters typically reject the scarier candidate in favor of the more moderate, saner-sounding candidate. That axiom is bad news for the party that’s poised to renominate Donald Trump.
REPUBLICAN DEBATE: I didn’t watch, but I hear DeSantis and Ramaswamy came out swinging… at Ukraine. If you watched and have comments, feel free to share them below or on our social media.
MAPPING OCTOBER 7: An Israeli group has begun to map every death and kidnapping associated with Hamas’s attacks on October 7. The resulting graphical representation illustrates the geographical range and human cost of the attacks. View it here: OCT7map.com
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