The Post-MAGA Political World
I don’t typically like to spend too much time in the spin cycle on news events. But I decided to share a few thoughts from last night’s election.
The Anti-Abortion Movement is Dead in the Water
I’ve said multiple times, including Monday before the election in my podcast, that the majority of the voting public probably wants abortion to be legal at some level. The results from last night make that clear. Kentucky rejected a constitutional amendment that would have simply said the state constitution does not confer a right to abortion. Kentucky is a very conservative state, so this is very telling.
The degree of purported anti-abortion support among GOP legislators has been vastly inflated in the past. Republicans could run as “pro-life” knowing that Roe vs. Wade meant they’d never have to do anything about it, or that their votes would be purely symbolic. Now that Roe vs. Wade is gone, and public votes have gone pro-abortion, I think we’ll see them scurry away from this position.
These votes also give the green light to state supreme courts, even in deep red states, to invent state constitutional rights to abortion. That might happen in Indiana, for example. Judges are very much part of the managerial class, and thus share managerial values. Indiana’s judges are much more liberal than the average citizen of the state believes. The courts may well not do this, but they really no longer have to fear having their rulings overturned by amendments.
This is just more evidence that we live in what I called the negative world. Conservative Christians need to understand that the majority of the public simply does not agree with their social positions. This is one reason that the culture war approach is obsolete. This is going to be a painful adjustment for a lot of people who are used to thinking of themselves as a “moral majority.”
Remember, I was telling you about this cultural change here as far back as 2017. That’s another big reason to subscribe. I’m providing leading edge cultural diagnostics that you simply can’t get anywhere else.
It’s true that many unpopular views held only by a minority nevertheless get crammed down our throats. But those views are backed by powerful institutions, which conservative social views most definitely are not.
As much as possible I strive to provide analysis that is accurate, fair, and independent. I call them like I see them and say what I think actually is true, not what I wish were true or what would be convenient for some faction or group. My bet is that there are enough of you who want that to make this viable. The reality is that the majority of the public holds a lot of socially liberal views, even in red states.
Competence and Results Matter
Republicans underperformed expectations - with the big exception of Florida. There Gov. Ron DeSantis ran well head of his previous election and Donald Trump’s presidential runs. He even flipped Miami-Dade County to red. It’s the one place their really was a red wave.
I think this election shows that the MAGA movement in America is out of gas. Paul Gottfried once said that conservatism was basically a journalism project. That is, it was mostly a collection of op-ed writers, not serious academics, policy people, or a real political movement.
Similarly, one way to describe MAGA is as a social media influencer movement. It’s been long on e-celebrities and rhetoricians, short on serious, competent people who can produce results. The most MAGA/Trumpy candidates in this election underperformed in competitive races. JD Vance won his Senate race in Ohio, for example, but badly trailed the performance of Republican Ron DeWine in his gubernatorial campaign.
DeSantis is an interesting case study in post-MAGA politics. He recognized the unpopularity of the consensus status quo. And he took strong actions against that consensus that were publicly popular while largely avoiding ones that were not. For example, child transgenderization is not popular. On the other hand, most people want abortion to be legal. So he only signed a 15-week abortion ban, which seems in line with public opinion.
In retrospect, he was also the best performing governor of any major state leader during the pandemic. I believe Florida’s death rates were in the middle of the pack. But his decision to mostly keep the schools open is now the conventional wisdom about what should have been done everywhere. And by keeping business largely open as well, he positioned Florida to profit enormously from the shifting landscape. Big time venture capital and high finance - even the very progressive, ESG promoting BlackRock - have streamed into South Florida. This took enormous courage, and DeSantis was vilified by the media for two years over it. Even today they refuse to give him credit even when adopting his positions.
He also seems to have handled the recent hurricane relatively well. And although it is perhaps not something he personally did, Florida seems to have the gold standard for running elections, with its results available very quickly. That’s a big change from 2000. So he appears competent.
DeSantis lacks the natural charisma of many politicians. It’s not clear how he or his approach will play outside of Florida. But he’s shown that an aggressive Republicanism that stakes out popular post-MAGA positions, and which demonstrates courageous leadership and the competent ability to actually get things done can be not just popular but extremely popular. This demonstrates the divergent fortunes of traditional religious conservatism and a possible post-Christian, post-MAGA Republican Party.
I don’t personally support everything DeSantis has done. In fact, I even criticized him here for vetoing a bill that would have established a presumption of joint custody in case of divorce and ban lifetime alimony. He may also lose his mojo at some point. But for today, he’s the real deal. And his approach shows a political way forward for the GOP. Right now I don’t see the GOP being very interested in this, however.
Also, he’s only 44 years old - Generation X. As I noted, it’s only today that Generation X is finally stepping into battle. Whether or not Generation X really gets a chance to lead nationally, we are playing a key role in disrupting the gerontocratic leadership of our society that needs to make way for a new generation.
Those are just a few initial thoughts. Keep in mind, however, how many crazy events we’ve seen in the last 5-6 years. Odds are we’ll see a few more in the future too. So we can’t read too much into today’s events and trends. And we can’t invest too much of ourselves in politics. One day the real apocalypse will come, but it won’t be over the results of an election.
Cover photo credit: Hudson Institute, CC BY 2.0
I'm going to disagree with dead in the water. I will agree that there was a Dobbs backlash. But much of this wasn't on opposition to abortion itself; abortion supporters ran campaigns saying things like prolife laws don't have exceptions for the life of the mother—even though they all do. These battles are being fought on ground that actually isn't being contested, and not at all on their real position: unlimited abortions. This is very different from, say, the marriage issue, where simply saying marriage is between a man and woman is instant negative territory.
But the reality is that they can continue having Warren Buffett and Mike Bloomberg fly in $40 million dollars to swamp voters with ads. So, how to address that reality will be difficult, because prolifers don't have an army of billionaires to fly in cash for state referenda. There will have to be a change in strategy in swing states. But in red states, ending Roe v. Wade has not led to a catastrophic backlash, and those groups can very much declare total victory in some cases.
It will be a long, messy road, but I am optimistic once our demographic realities hit hard. Even China is willing to backtrack on abortion policy once reality sets in (though obviously not for the right reasons).
I expect you'll ruffle some feathers with this one. But I largely agree. I'd also guess that, although no politician says this out loud anymore, a lot of people still hold the "safe, legal, rare" view that abortion is generally wrong, but they're not too bothered by women making that choice for themselves.
The Democrats made what turned out to be a persuasive rhetorical case around things like miscarriages turned wrong, because it reached even women who would never consider abortion for themselves. The idea of the healthcare system failing you is very real and very scary, and the idea of other women deciding to quietly kill their own children behind closed doors is pretty abstract, so why, they reasoned, should you risk one to prevent the other?
Maybe it has always been this way, but I'll speculate that the pro-life cause is even more abstract in an atomized society in which we share ever-fewer bonds with our neighbors or countrymen, so those abortions one town over might as well be happening in Zambia. People have a far stronger emotional reaction to issues that are either personal, or that can successfully be framed as out-group vs. in-group. Unborn children, unfortunately, seldom find themselves in anyone's in-group besides their own family. And "abortion-seeking mothers" aren't a clear out-group to many people, either.