The Morning Jolt

Politics & Policy

After Trump, the Woke Left Roars

Then-president Donald Trump addresses the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) annual meeting at National Harbor in Oxon Hill, Md., February 29, 2020. (Yuri Gripas/Reuters)

On the menu today: contemplating the uncomfortable question of whether the most lasting legacy of the Trump presidency will be a culturally dominant progressive left; a closer look at the early outlook for the 2022 House elections; the CIA offers a “duh” report; and an absolutely bonkers attempt to demonize Pfizer.

Were Woke Progressives the Real Winners from the Trump Presidency?

If you’re a Republican officeholder, it is a fact of life that most of the media will be against you, and look for opportunities to make you look stupid, reckless, ill-informed, malevolent, and hopelessly out of date. You will have your own media that will be friendlier — Fox News Channel, talk radio, etc. — but by and large, you’re going to have the wind in your face every day you’re running for office and in office. While this could change someday, it does not appear likely to change anytime soon, and is arguably getting worse, as more and more media prioritize dramatic and partisan narratives over the facts in pursuit of clicks and television ratings.

It’s also worth keeping in mind that the bias of the media is a hurdle that can be overcome; otherwise, no Republican would ever win anywhere. The Republican Party has 50 Senate seats, 212 House seats (with one more to be settled in a runoff soon), 27 governors’ mansions, 61 state legislative chambers, and a grand total of 4,008 state legislative seats. I would contend that many subpar GOP candidates use “the media was biased against me” as an excuse to cover their own bad decisions and flaws.

No doubt, communication skills matter a great deal for Republican officeholders, particularly the closer they get to the national stage. They’re not going to get the airbrushed, protective coverage that insists Nancy Pelosi is a master strategist.

But even the most brilliant communication skills in the world aren’t much help if they aren’t connected to good judgment. Maybe one of the most underrated and under-discussed duties of a GOP elected official is to not make the job of the opposition easier. Don’t hand them effective and accurate lines of criticism. Everybody’s going to make mistakes, but a good elected official avoids the dumb ones. Don’t practice cronyism or get caught in other scandals. Don’t tell lies, and if you must spin, try to make the spin plausible. Don’t overpromise, and whatever you promise, don’t under-deliver. Work hard, and make sure people see you working hard. Hold your own people accountable. Know what you’re talking about, and when you don’t know, don’t try to wing it. Have a set list of priorities that will product tangible results for your constituents, and don’t get distracted by every media controversy that comes down the pike. And for God’s sake, don’t waste any time or energy worrying about what Mika Brzezinski or Don Lemon is saying about you.

Our last Republican president broke just about all of those rules, and a recent Ross Douthat column spotlights the argument that the progressive Left was the true big winner from the Trump presidency:

[Richard Hanania, who runs the Center for the Study of Partisanship and Ideology] argues that it’s not simply that the millennials and Gen Z are more liberal, or that the Democrats are the professional-class party and so liberalism dominates the professional spheres. These tilts are real, but there are still enough conservative-leaning consumers, enough young and wealthy and well-educated Republicans, to create incentives for institutions to be apolitical or politically neutral.

The key difference, he argues, isn’t sheer numbers but engagement, intensity and zeal. Liberals lately seem to just care a lot more about politics: They donate more, they protest more, they agitate more, in ways that change the incentives for public-facing institutions. Some of these gaps are longstanding, but others have opened only recently, with 2016 as the crucial turning point. That was the year when “the mobilization gap exploded,” creating irresistible pressure “from both within and outside corporations for them to take a stand on almost all hot button issues.”

Why 2016? Well, probably because of Donald Trump: In Hanania’s data, his nomination and election looks like the great accelerant, with anti-Trump backlash driving liberal hyper-investment in politics to new heights, enabling progressives to achieve “true mass mobilization in a way conservatives never have in the modern era.” That mobilization has consolidated progressive norms in almost every institution susceptible to pressure from activists (or activist-employees), and it’s pulled the entire American establishment leftward, so that conservatives are suddenly at war with Major League Baseball and Coca-Cola instead of just Harvard and the Ford Foundation, and the custodians of the national security state are eager to prove their enlightenment by speaking in the argot of the academic left.

For a long time, progressives and Democrats argued that Republicans were villains — and Trump cheerfully and gleefully embraced that role. Quite a few Republican grassroots voters signed on for that characterization as well; having seen Mitt Romney demonized, Republicans figured they might as well gain the advantages of nominating a devil. That paid off in 2016, although we will probably be arguing until the end of time whether only Trump could have beaten Hillary Clinton, or whether she was such a quietly weak and overrated candidate that multiple Republicans could have beaten her.

But the progressive Left is a much stronger cultural force in 2021 than it was on Election Day 2016, and it is hard to believe that Trump’s presidency had nothing to do with that. Nor is there much reason to think that any future version of Trump will be any less of a cultural accelerant; in a March interview with Laura Ingraham, Trump said of the January 6 Capitol Hill riot, “It was zero threat, right from the start, it was zero threat. Look, they went in, they shouldn’t have done it. Some of them went in, and they are hugging and kissing the police and the guards, you know, they had great relationships. A lot of the people were waved in, and then they walked in and they walked out.”

This is something to think about as House Republicans contemplate kicking Liz Cheney out of leadership while taking a “wait and see” attitude toward Matt Gaetz.

Full House

One day after this newsletter told you that “the odds of Democrats’ keeping the House keep getting worse. Post-census redistricting will help Republicans here and there, and the retirements of Democratic incumbents from swing-y districts keep piling up,” the New York Times informs its readers that “with 18 months left before the midterms, a spate of Democratic departures from the House is threatening to erode the party’s slim majority in the House and imperil President Biden’s far-reaching policy agenda.”

The Times notes that we probably haven’t seen the last Democratic House retirement from a swing district this cycle:

[In addition to Charlie Crist], two other Democratic representatives, Stephanie Murphy of Winter Park and Val Demings of Orlando, are weighing runs for statewide office.

All three now hold seats in districts President Biden carried handily last November, but with Republicans in control of Florida’s redistricting process, the state’s congressional map is likely to soon be much better for Republicans than it is now.

Representative Filemon Vela of Texas, whose Rio Grande Valley district became eight percentage points more Republican from 2016 to 2020, chose retirement rather than compete in what was likely to be his first competitive re-election bid.

Here’s a dirty little secret about the House of Representative elections: Very few Washington political reporters pay close attention to them until the very end of the cycle, because they’re way more complicated and harder to get a handle on than statewide Senate elections. If I say “Pennsylvania,” you probably picture the Liberty Bell, Valley Forge, and steel mills. If I tell you that “The National Democratic Redistricting Committee, chaired by Obama-era attorney general Eric Holder, released a statement calling for Pennsylvania’s 15th congressional district to be eliminated,” you probably have no idea where that district is. (It’s a big chunk of the northwest corner of the state, but does not include Erie or much of the Pittsburgh suburbs.)

There’s still plenty of road ahead between now and the midterm elections. But these trends tend to pick up momentum as the cycle progresses. When a president wins, he brings out a lot of grassroots supporters to the polls who won’t be as motivated in off-year special elections, gubernatorial elections, and midterm congressional elections. For the two-year span after a president wins, the opposition grassroots get fired up and the president’s grassroots get complacent. It doesn’t happen every year, but it happened in 2006, 2010, 2014, and 2018. (Yes, the GOP picked up two Senate seats in 2018, mitigating the effect somewhat. Republicans still got clobbered in the House and gubernatorial races.) White Houses and their affiliated party committees know about this pattern and exert enormous effort to counter it — but most cycles, their efforts don’t do much good.

All over the map, there are House Democrats who won in 2020 in part because turnout in a presidential year was just high enough to put them over the top. In New Jersey’s seventh district, Tom Malinowski won by 1.2 percentage points while Biden was carrying the district, 54 percent to 44 percent. In Illinois’s 14th congressional district, Lauren Underwood won by 1.4 percentage points while Biden won by two points. In Iowa’s 3rd congressional district, Cindy Axne won by 1.4 percentage points, while Trump won that district by a tenth of a percentage point. In Virginia’s seventh district, Abigail Spanberger won by 1.8 percentage points, while Biden won by one point.

It works the other way, too; Republicans Mariannette Miller-Meeks of Iowa, Claudia Tenney of New York, Mike Garcia and David Valadao of California, and Burgess Owens of Utah all won by the skin of their teeth in 2020 and should expect serious challenges and have little room for error in 2022.

Control of the House will probably come down to the mood of the country and the issue environment in the fall of 2022 — and Biden’s approval rating will probably be one useful measurement tool. By October 2010, Obama’s approval rating in the Gallup poll had dropped from the post-inauguration 66 percent to 45 percent. In the FiveThirtyEight poll aggregator, Biden’s approval rating started at 53 percent . . . and remains at 53 percent.

Thanks a Lot, Guys

I don’t usually like to pick on the U.S. intelligence community, but sometimes you see a report that almost seems tailor-made to elicit a “duh” response: “U.S. intelligence agencies are warning that any gains in women’s rights in Afghanistan made in the last two decades will be at risk after U.S. troops withdraw later this year.

That’s great, guys. Now could we get an update to the National Intelligence Estimate that water is wet?

ADDENDUM: Former secretary of labor Robert Reich complains that Pfizer made $3.5 billion on its COVID-19 vaccine in the past three months.

How much should that company make for creating and mass producing 430 million doses of the most effective coronavirus vaccine out there, the first mRNA vaccine ever produced, that is helping to stop a global pandemic that has killed 3.2 million people around the world?

By my math, $3.5 billion divided by 430 million doses comes out to $8 a dose. Hey, Reich, let me find a Hamilton, a Lincoln, and a Washington and I’ll cover Pfizer’s profit on your doses.

The New York Times reports that Pfizer’s “profit margins on the vaccine would be in the high 20 percent range.” When you save the world, I think you’re entitled to bring home the bacon!


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