WTL Conversations S2E16 [Video]: Will Republicans and White Evangelicals Take this Losing Moment to Break with Trump?
Midterm Takeaways + My Post-Election Conversation with MSNBC's Joy Reid and The Bulwark's Tim Miller
Dear #WhiteToo Long readers,
It’s been a surprising, roller coaster week. The much-predicted Red Wave never materialized. And Tuesday was generally a much better day than I had feared for democracy and religious pluralism—and a much worse day for election deniers and Christian nationalism.
In today’s post, I’m sharing two things: 1) My post-election conversation with Joy Reid from MSNBC and Tim Miller from The Bulwark; and 2) Some brief key takeaways from the midterms.
Thanks so much for watching/reading.
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My post-election conversation with MSNBC’s Joy Reid and The Bulwark’s Tim Miller [8 minutes]
Click the image below or here to watch my MSNBC appearance last night. In the wake of the losses by many Trump-backed candidates, we talk about whether Republicans and white Evangelicals will take this losing moment to break with Trump.
My Key (Early) Takeaways from the 2022 Midterms
First, a reminder that the midterm elections are not over. At the time of this writing, two full days after the polls closed, we still do not know which political party will control the House or the Senate. Given the Georgia runoff between Raphael Warnock (D) and Herschel Walker (R), we may not know until mid-December who controls the Senate. And while it looks probable that Republicans will gain control of the House by a slim margin, there is actually one narrow path by which Democrats might yet hold on.
So, much remains in flux. With that caveat, here are some takeaways/thoughts as I’ve prepared for media interviews and looked at the data this week.
The midterm results were also a reminder that an overwhelming majority of Americans do not favor extreme policies like bans on abortion. Even in a red state like Kentucky, voters rejected an anti-abortion amendment. That result clears the way for the possibility of abortion access to be restored in that state, which has one of the most restrictive abortion bans in the country.
PRRI’s pre-election American Values Survey and the national exit polls reveal that nearly seven in ten Americans and six in ten midterm voters say abortion should be legal in all or most cases. That is the mainstream view on abortion.
Only about 1 in 10 Americans and midterm voters believe that abortion should be illegal in ALL cases. Most notably, support for complete bans on abortion has fallen dramatically, even among Republicans and white evangelical Protestants, since the Supreme Court abolished half a century of precedent by overturning Roe v. Wade in June:
Among Republicans, the percentage saying abortion should be illegal in ALL cases has dropped from 23% in 2020 to 11% in late 2022.
Similarly, among white evangelical Protestants, the percentage saying abortion should be illegal in ALL cases has dropped from 33% in 2020 to 18% in late 2022.
I plan to write more about this in the future. But here is one way of understanding these dramatic declines in support for extreme abortion policies. For decades, the security of Roe v. Wade allowed abortion to function for conservatives as a kind of morality play. But post-Dobbs, the issue has moved from the realm of abstract morality to the concrete world of policy, a place with consequences that can harm vulnerable, real people. For many, the shift in the legal landscape has forced a reconsideration of whether the personal emotional rewards that flow from a self-righteous embrace of a black and white morality are commensurate with the consequences (even if unintended) of a policy that lacks a connection with or compassion toward the lived circumstances of real people.
Trump was clearly a drag on GOP success in the midterms. In Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin—key states that saw significant Democratic victories—between 25% and 30% of voters specifically said they cast their vote in opposition to Trump.
Even before the losses among Trump-backed candidates piled up this week, PRRI’s pre-election American Values Survey revealed serious weaknesses in support for a future Trump candidacy:
Among Republicans and Republican-leaning independents, only 47% said they would prefer Trump be the 2024 nominee for President, down dramatically from 73% in 2019.
Similarly, among Republican-leaning white evangelical Protestants, only 49% said they would prefer Trump be the 2024 nominee for President, down dramatically from 79% in 2019.
Even 43% of Republican-leaning Americans who most trust Fox News say they’d prefer someone other than Trump as the GOP’s 2024 nominee.
Moreover, among the 45% of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents who reject “the Big Lie” that the 2020 election was stolen from Trump, more than 8 in 10 (82%) say they would prefer a candidate other than Trump.
Trump vs. DeSantis
While Trump’s candidates took a drubbing, Ron DeSantis had the finest week of his political career. He won reelection by a remarkable 1.5 million votes (20 percentage points), including a double-digit win in Miami-Dade County, which Joe Biden won by 7 points and Hillary Clinton won by 30 points.
It’s too early to know just how well DeSantis might do head to head against Trump. Before the midterms, 30% of voters did not know enough about him to offer an opinion. Given his standout victory this week, those numbers have certainly shrunk.
If we re-percentage the favorability numbers for DeSantis and look only at those who offered an opinion, they are nearly identical to Trump’s among key conservative group:
All Americans: Trump 34%; DeSantis 38%
Republicans and independents who lean Republican: Trump 67%; DeSantis 70%
White evangelical Protestants: Trump 63%; DeSantis 65%
One important place where DeSantis seems to have an advantage over Trump is among Americans who most trust Fox News: Trump 78%; DeSantis 85%. That’s notable given the post-election willingness of Fox News and other Rupert Murdoch owned media outlets to criticize Trump.
But, But, But… We have seen this movie before.
If the argument is that party leaders and conservative media are abandoning Trump for political expediency—that his preferred candidates lost—this is the flimsiest of reasons to predict Trump’s future with rank and file conservative voters. While party strategists or corporate titans foreground strategic concerns like this, most voters do not.
Remember the early 2016 primaries? Most pundits saw Trump as unelectable, particularly by the base of so-called “values voters” and white evangelicals. There were other GOP candidates that seemed, on paper, more likely to appeal to them. On Super Tuesday in 2016, Republican and white evangelical voters had clear alternatives in Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, and Mike Huckabee, who by virtually any measure better reflected their values. Yet, when the dust settled, Trump won from Mississippi to Michigan. Remember the Access Hollywood tape? Impeachment? The January 6th Insurrection?
Finally, it is worth noting that few of the current crop of conservative or Republican Trump critics voiced concerns on principled grounds. It remains troubling for the future of the country that GOP party leaders didn’t take any number of principled off-ramps to protect the country, and their own party, from Trump. And if the political winds shift in the long run up to 2024, as they most certainly will, we will likely find these opportunistic critics falling back to their roles as silent enablers of Trump.