The Corner


What the Midterm Results Mean

Beto O’Rourke delivers a concession speech in El Paso, Texas, November 6, 2018. (Mike Segar/Reuters)

A few thoughts about last night.

One, I am happy to see the admirable Senator Ted Cruz reelected in Texas, where you can almost buy a Senate race but not quite. I like Senator Cruz a great deal (and I like him even more when he’s not campaigning) but I’d have enjoyed watching a reasonably well-qualified ham sandwich defeat Robert Francis O’Rourke, one of the most insipid and puffed-up figures on the American political scene. I was also pleased by the victory of Rick Scott, who is either the best bad politician in America or the worst good one, depending on how you look at it.

Two, for whatever it’s worth, this did not feel to me like a national referendum on President Donald Trump, at least any more so than any other midterm election is a referendum on the president. Not exactly, anyway: This was another skirmish in the ongoing and intensifying culture war of which President Trump is more a symptom than a cause.

Which brings me to my third observation: The Democrats have gone well and truly ’round the bend. I spent a fair part of last night with Democrats in Portland, Ore. — admittedly, a pretty special bunch of Democrats, Portland being Portland and all. The professional political operators are what they always are — by turns cynical and sanctimonious — but the rank and file seem to actually believe the horsepucky they’ve been fed, i.e., that these United States are about two tweets away from cattle cars and concentration camps. The level of paranoia among the people I spoke to was remarkable.

Fourth, and related: The Democrats don’t seem to understand what it is they are really fighting, which, in no small part, is not the Republicans but the constitutional architecture of the United States. The United States is, as the name suggests, a union of states, which have interests, powers, and characters of their own. They are not administrative subdivisions of the federal government. All that talk about winning x percent of the “national House vote” or the “national Senate vote” — neither of which, you know, exists — is a backhanded way of getting at the fact that they do not like how our governments are organized, and that they would prefer a more unitary national government under which the states are so subordinated as to be effectively inconsequential. They complain that, under President Trump, “the Constitution is hanging by a thread” — but they don’t really much care for the actual order established by that Constitution, and certainly not for the limitations it puts on government power through the Bill of Rights and other impediments to étatism.

Fifth: President Trump and the phenomenon of which he is a part have made their mark on the Republican party, and it is going to be a lasting mark. But there is going to be a Republican party after Trump. What that party is going to look like is still more up for grabs than many people think. If the Republicans are smart, they will make the constitutional questions discussed above central to their public message.

Sixth, and related: Fox News has censured Sean Hannity for appearing at a Trump campaign event. I wonder if they have ever watched his show or listened to his radio program, which are explicitly and unapologetically campaign vehicles. It is not as though Hannity et al. were part of the Republican campaign apparatus — they are the Republican campaign apparatus, far more consequential to the political and (mercy!) intellectual direction of the GOP than is, say, Ronna McDaniel. (Who? Exactly.) The right-wing media caucus is a new kind of political constituency, one that now has a great deal more power than the Chamber of Commerce or other more traditional Republican interest groups. Conservative talk radio is an endless soap opera with only one story line — “Betrayal!” — which inevitably influences Republican political strategy. A Ted Cruz or a Scott Walker has basically two choices: Try to build a larger electoral coalition by bringing in more independents or a few Democrats alienated by (see below) the party’s direction, or go all-in on the Kulturkampf stuff and try to win your race by turning out the hardcore partisans and writing off everybody else. The narrative structure of talk-radio politics precludes compromise and coalition-building, being as it is oriented toward the takfiri model of discourse. That works, until it doesn’t. Awful close in Texas last night.

Seventh: If you want a good whiff of what it is the Democrats currently are smoking, come visit Portland. I spent part of last night following around a troop of so-called anarchists who were marching through the streets chanting the usual obscenities (the formal demand last night was the abolition of ICE, but “F*** Trump!” was the most lustily chanted slogan), blocking traffic, engaging in the casual lawlessness now associated with this city. Two poor neutered cops following them around at a deferential distance as the boobs in the black face masks taunted and cursed them. A police vehicle pulled up alongside the mob and apologetically informed them that in order to ensure that they may safely exercise their First Amendment rights, the Portland police department would very much appreciate it if they stayed on the sidewalk and refrained from blocking traffic. The mob responded with a new chant: “Whose streets? OUR STREETS!”

They aren’t wrong about that.

Mayor Ted Wheeler has surrendered the streets of Portland to gangs of literal blackshirts. Portland police apparently told the media that the protesters “obeyed traffic signals,” as KGW8 reports, which is an outright lie. It wasn’t a riot like they had here in 2016, but it wasn’t exactly law-abiding, either, and the gang made a point of flouting the traffic laws in front of the police who were instructing them not to, as a form of mockery that the Portland police apparently are happy to endure.

Postscript: It is a world-class inaptronym that Portland’s police chief is named Danielle Outlaw.

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