Good luck to anyone (including me!) in trying to figure out what the results of yesterday’s Georgia Senate runoff elections will mean for American politics – especially since there are so many reasons to waffle, and lots of them are very compelling. For example, although as of this morning, it looks like a Democratic sweep, but because the margins are so close, and non-trivial numbers of military and other mail-in ballots won’t be counted until 5 PM EST Friday, the final verdict may not be known until Friday. Largely as a result, recounts are practically certain.
In addition, so much about this entire national election cycle was unusual, and not at all sure to cast long shadows – especially the CCP Virus pandemic and its damaging economic consequences. As a result, on top of events’ impressive abilities to throw curveballs, it’s intimidating to try predicting two years out (when the 2022 midterm elections will be held) much less the outcome of the 2024 presidential and congressional races.
Weirdly, however, despite these yawning uncertainties, today at least I’m feeling more confident about a big question I found tough to answer shortly after the election: whether it’s best for the kind of Trump-ian populist policies I generally support strongly for the President to run for reelection the next time around, or call his political career quits.
Many of my reasons for equivocation still matter greatly. But the passage of two months, and particulary the apparent Democratic Georgia victories, have now convinced me that both Trumpers and therefore country will better off if with Trump-ism without Trump. And even though America’s pollsters overall still need to work hard to get their acts together and rebuild their reputations, it’s been the Georgia Senate exit polls that have mainly tipped me into the anti-Trump column, and two sets of findings in particular.
Several of these surveys are available; I’m using the one conducted by Fox News and the Associated Press because it featured what I regard as more of the most pertinent questions. As for the two sets of findings?
First, it’s clear that Georgia voters back the kind of unorthodox mix of policies that have marked Trump-ist economics. For example, by a whopping 72 percent to seven percent margin, respondents said Congress is doing “too little,” rather than “too much” to help the “financial situation” of “individual Americans” during the CCP Virus crisis. (Twenty-one percent credited Congress with doing “about the right amount.”) This sounds like a strong endorsement of the President’s (last-minute) call for $2,000 virus relief checks, and equally strong disagreement with the opposition of most traditional Republican politicians.
Ratings of Congress’ efforts to help small businesses were nearly identical to the individuals’ results. By 52 percent to 28 percent, however, these Georgia voters felt that Congress was providing “large corporations” with too much rather than too little support. (Twenty-eight percent viewed these efforts as about right.)
Yet by an almost-as-impressive two-to-one, respondents favored “reducing government regulation of business.” Nothing was asked about one of Mr. Trump’s signature issues – trade – but with China so deeply and increasingly unpopular among Americans, it’s tough to imagine that most Georgians would object to his tariffs and other crackdowns on Beijing’s economic predation. Immigration is a tougher call. Only four percent viewed it as “the most important issue facing the country,” but answers to this question understandably were dominated by “the coronavirus pandemic” (43 percent) and “the economy and jobs” (27 percent).
All told, though, these Georgians look like they’d be entirely comfortable with at least much of Trump-ism. But the President himself? Not nearly so much. Thus:
>Mr. Trump himself earned 51 percent-to-47 percent unfavorable ratings from the sample, which consisted of 52 percent Republicans or Republican-leaners, 42 percent Democrats or Democratic-leaners, and seven percent Independents; and 43 percent self-described conservatives, 34 percent moderates, and 23 percent liberals.
>The greater concerns expressed above about the CCP Virus than about its economic consequences clashes with the President’s clear priorities over the last year.
>Indeed, they also endorsed mandatory mask-wearing outside of the home by 74 percent to 26 percent.
>Moreover, by 62 percent to 38 percent, respondents expressed confidence that, nation-wide, November’s presidential votes “were counted accurately” (with 56 percent “very confident”) and by 61 percent to 39 percent, they think Joe Biden “was legitimately elected president.”
>Therefore, Mr. Trump’s handling “of the results of the 2020 presidential election” were disapproved by a 56 percent to 44 percent margin.
And more signs that the President himself turned off many Georgia runoff voters – especially with his election challenges: According to the RealClearPolitics averages, as his protests of the presidential votes continued, both Georgia Democratic Senate candidates, Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock gained momentum at the expense of their Republican (incumbent) opponents David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler, respectively.
None of this is to say that creating a politically successful Trump-less Trump-ism will be easy. As I wrote right after the presidential vote, the President’s charisma-based ability to excite a large mass of voters is not yet remotely matched in Republican ranks. Yet the Georgia runoff results strike me as more evidence that his disruptive instincts represent a growing liability, and Mr. Trump’s insistence that he was the actual 2020 winner virtually rules out the chance that he’ll change spots that he obviously believes won him both election and reelection.
Right now, therefore, it seems clear that, as someone wrote someplace yesterday (unfortunately, I can’t find the quote), Republicans can’t win with Trump, and they can’t win without him.
Yet going forward, I suspect that two truths will begin weakening the President’s support. First, the fact that (as I’ve seen first-hand during my working life), the founders of movements tend to be lousy managers and sustainers of those movements. Second, any movement so heavily dependent on a single personality won’t likely be a lasting movement. So for those reasons, along with the Mr. Trump’s age, the sooner his supporters and leaners can choose a successor, or identify a group of plausible successors, the better.
But don’t think for a minute that I’m highly confident that this transition can take place in time for the 2024 campaign cycle’s kickoff. In fact, I am highly confident that the process will be loud and heated and messy – that is, pretty Trump-y.