After elections, politicians and pundits invariably go out and make the case that the results have confirmed their priors, and cherry-picking data and anecdotes to weave into their preferred narratives. The final conclusion is always some version of “the lesson we should take from the election is that we need to enact all of my policy and aesthetic preferences.”
In the spirit of more sincere political discourse, I’m going to think about some things that surprised me or challenged my understanding of American politics. At the same time, I’m going to gloat about some things as well, because who doesn’t like to brag about being proven correct.
Prior Confirmed: Republicans Can Do Well Among Hispanic Voters
In March 2019, I wrote a piece for the Orange County Register mostly framed as a rebuttal to arguments from (conservative) Michael Anton in his famous Flight 93 Election essay, and indirectly to liberal dreams of the Emerging Democratic Majority, that Hispanic immigrants and their children increasing as a share of the electorate spell inevitable doom for the Republican Party.
In the piece, I focused on pitching Republicans on accepting Venezuelan refugees. As evidence, I used the fact that Cuban-Americans, as well as Vietnamese-Americans, have historically voted for Republicans, and that accepting Venezuelan refugees would help Republicans electorally, as they are fleeing a leftist government just as the Cubans and Vietnamese did. To be clear, I really dislike making “they’ll vote for us” an argument for whether or not to accept refugees—we should accept refugees regardless of which party they’d tend to prefer—but if that argument is able to change someone’s minds and make them more likely to support refugees, that’s good for refugees.
The importance of Republican improvements among Latino voters in Nevada and Florida, making the former extremely close and locking in a decisive victory in the latter, help vindicate this idea and refute “demographics is destiny” devotees of both the left and right.
Prior Challenged: Trump is a Significant Hindrance to This Goal
In that same article, I argued that Republicans needed to drastically reverse their immigration policy and rhetoric to do better among Latinos as a whole.
However, despite the Trump administration’s hostile immigration policy to both undocumented and legal arrivals, he improved significantly among Latino voters. According to AP, Trump won 35 percent of the Latino vote, compared to Biden winning 63 percent. That’s a major improvement over 2016, when Trump won only 28 percent of the Latino vote compared to Hillary Clinton’s 66 percent.
Republican populists, immigration hawks, and generally pro-MAGA types are (unsurprisingly) overstating the extent of this victory. 35 percent is a decent outcome for a Republican among Latinos, but it’s a far cry from George W. Bush’s performance. Bush the Younger won 36 percent of the Hispanic vote in 2000, and improved to 44 percent in 2004. Meanwhile, while Trump did better among Hispanics than McCain (31%) and Romney (27%), that’s somewhat confounded by the fact that McCain and Romney ran against Barack Obama, while Trump faced Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden.
Still, the fact that Trump managed to improve his support among Hispanics at all, let alone by 7 points, is a significant knock against my belief that MAGA Republican views on immigration are a death blow to the GOP among Hispanic voters. They are bad policy, they might not be good for Republicans’ Hispanic outreach, and Trump does not have a unique ability among recent Republican presidential candidates to connect with Hispanic voters, but they weren’t the political catastrophe among those voters I thought they would be.
Prior Confirmed: Never Count Out Susan Collins
This one pretty much explains itself. While I was not 100 percent confident that Collins would win, I thought pundits and polls underestimated her chances. The Republican Party still has at least one member of Congress from New England, hurrah!
Prior Challenged: Voters are No Longer Scared of Socialism
Since I started becoming politically engaged, I’ve been seeing polls about how socialism is becoming more popular among Americans, while capitalism is becoming less popular. In fact, the sense that capitalism is losing popularity is a major reason I’ve decided to go into politics (or politics-adjacent work) for the foreseeable future rather than the private sector. It’s also one of the many reasons I thought Trump was a disaster: I feared (and still fear) that having such a corrupt individual as the spokesperson for capitalism would do significant damage to that cause that I view as central to America’s continued prosperity.
Furthermore, I also thought that accusing Joe Biden, the biggest old-school generic Democrat that has been in politics for 47 years, who represented a state that used to be a fief of a chemical company and is now known as a corporate incorporation destination for Fortune 500 companies of all kinds, would be laughable. However, it seems like these attacks were effective in Florida (going back to point 1) in particular.
To me, this news is a pleasant surprise, and hopefully the Democrats will find it in their political self-interest to further distance themselves from their socialist wing. I find the go-to response from the AOC wing (that if even Joe Biden gets hurt by accusations of being a socialist, it would make little difference if they nominated a self-described socialist like Bernie Sanders) very weak. A more plausible interpretation in my opinion is “if even Joe Biden can get hurt from these attacks, they’d be devastating against Bernie Sanders,” given that there’s, you know, plenty of actual evidence of Sanders’ radical sympathies.
Outstanding Question: How Important is Trump and Trumpism for Republicans Going Forward?
There’s some evidence that generic Republicanism is more popular than Trump. Republican Senate and House candidates have outperformed Trump by around 2 points, according to Patrick Ruffini of Echelon Insights.
I have to say, I’m tempted to smugly declare this outcome an incontrovertible rebuke to the changes to orthodoxy Trump brought, and proof that the electorally savvy move is to return to Romney-Ryanism as soon as possible.
Of course, if the inverse happened and Trump outperformed downballot Republicans instead, the national conservatism crowd would never shut up about that being proof that the GOP must reject the zombie Reaganites and the dead consensus, yadda yadda yadda. Hence my temptation to crow and rub it in their faces.
After doing my Trumpian apophasis, I don’t think it’s that convincing. It might be evidence that Romney-Ryanism is actually worth going back to, but it could also be the case that most R straight-ticket voters prefer the Trumpism at the top of the ticket and are voting Republican because of it, and a significant chunk would not without it, while there is a small, marginal contingent of people who don’t like Trumpism but do like Romney-Ryanism (i.e. me).
(The tone of the second-to-last paragraph aside, I do respect a lot of the people involved in the nitty-gritty economic arguments of the national conservatism project, even though I usually disagree with their policy conclusions. There’s plenty of serious thinking going on there about problems conservatives have ignored that I think is valuable. I just thought I’d gently rib them about the confidence they sometimes express on the subject of the political unviability of normie Republicanism.)
Anyways, those are some of my first impressions of the 2020 election. I hope you agree, because I think I’m right. But maybe not!