Rumors that the Democratic Party is paying Donald Trump to run for the presidency yet again cannot be confirmed.
But a person can understand the suspicions (that I just made up). Democrats pour tons of resources into efforts to get out their vote, but nothing works quite like The Donald. There are many intertwined reasons for their much better than expected performance in the mid-terms — abortion, a backlash against election denial — but a key ingredient was Trump’s heightened profile in the closing days of the campaign. Voters were reminded of what they hated about the guy. He drove Democrats to the polls and independents away from Republican candidates, especially those most closely embraced by Trump.
As Thomas B. Edsall reported in his New York Times column this morning:
Nationally, independent voters were split 49-47 in favor of Democrats, according to exit polls, which are still adjusting their data. In Arizona, they supported Mark Kelly, the Democratic Senate candidate, 55-39; in New Hampshire, it was Maggie Hassan at 54-43; and in Pennsylvania, independents, who make up a quarter of the state’s electorate, supported John Fetterman over Mehmet Oz 58-38, a striking 20-point difference.
Edsall also points out that Democrats won governors’ races — including here in Wisconsin — when they were running against Republicans who tied themselves to Trump. On the other hand, in Georgia, Republican Brian Kemp easily won after standing up to Trump when he claimed election fraud in his state.
Edsall thinks that there’s data to make a case that independents, and even a not insignificant group of Republican voters, were voting to reject the norm breaking and election denial that is a Trump trademark. And he’s not alone. Conservative news outlets, like the Wall Street Journal and Fox News, have been harshly critical of Trump’s role in Republicans’ poor showing and they’re calling for the party to move on.
So, it’s possible that not only has the fever of crazy right-wing nationalism been broken, but Trump’s refusal to just go away might fuel even more Democratic victories in two years.
But here’s the thing: Democrats cannot count on this. Remember how inconceivable it was that Trump could win back in 2016? And don’t forget that Trump got more total votes four years later and that only 44,000 votes in three states kept him from winning again in the Electoral College. Last week’s election represents progress, not total victory.
Democrats should be cheered, but they need to play the next two years very carefully. Abortion and a return to norms are good issues for them, but the economy is always hanging around the center of voters’ concerns and getting too far out on social issues could come back to bite them.