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Assessing the Midterm Election Results and the Future of Liberalism

Assessing the Midterm Election Results and the Future of Liberalism

Andy Craig and Shikha Dalmia join Aaron Ross Powell to make sense of it all

Below is a transcript of the conversation, lightly edited for clarity:

Aaron Ross Powell: Welcome to Reactionary Minds, a project of The UnPopulist. I'm Aaron Ross Powell. We're recording this on the afternoon of Wednesday, November 9th, the day after the 2022 midterm elections. The results were rather unexpected, especially in light of the dominant narrative these last several weeks of an inevitable red wave.

To talk about the electoral outcomes, what we should make of them, and what they mean looking ahead, I'm joined by Andy Craig, director of election policy at the Rainey Center and an adjunct scholar at the Cato Institute, and Shikha Dalmia, editor of The UnPopulist and Fellow at the Mercatus Center's Program on Pluralism and Civil Exchange.

What did we witness last night?

Andy Craig: Democracy in action. [laughs] It was certainly a beats-expectations kind of night for the Democrats. We don't know yet for sure who actually won each chamber, but it was not the kind of Republican blowout [that was expected]. It was definitely an underperformance for the party out of power during a midterm. I think most indications are, this is probably the best an incumbent President's party has done in a midterm since 2002, which was right after 9/11 and that whole bump.

Shikha Dalmia: I would say the good sense of the American people in whom I had been losing faith a little bit, I have to admit. After I saw the cult of a prime minister in India, didn't think it could happen in America, then Trump got elected and seemed invincible. Then he lost last time but that didn't seem to stop his momentum. I was beginning to despair that there was just nothing that could quell him and the forces of MAGAism that he's unleashed.

Lo and behold, the American people delivered this time. I'm just happy my faith in the American good sense has been renewed for now.

Aaron: At about nine o'clock or ten o'clock my time last night, I tweeted out that this is the most optimistic I have felt in a long time. I admit that going into this, especially with the narratives that we had heard about the Republican, about a red wave, and so on, over the last few weeks, I was prepared for a pretty miserable Wednesday morning.

I want to say I am not a fan of Democrats in general and their policies. Democrats getting into office, they will try to do all sorts of bad and harmful policies that will make us worse off in all sorts of ways, but as I had remarked several times in the lead-up to this, it really did feel like democracy was on the ballot to some extent. Given the number of people in the GOP who had been clear that they rejected the notion of free and fair elections, unless they, of course, were the winners of them. The number of particularly local candidates and gubernatorial candidates who had said, "I wouldn't have certified the results in 2020," those were real threats.

It felt to me like this was at least a sign that maybe we are headed back in the direction of what PJ O'Rourke called “wrong within normal parameters.” I want to ask you, Andy, specifically about, there were a lot of worries going into this about essentially election malfeasance or at least election denialism, both in terms of what might happen in the vote counting and so on, but also the people who might get elected or put into the power to do something about it the next time around. How did that play out?

Andy: For the most part, not only was it overall a disappointing night for Republicans, but, in particular, the ones who were the main objects of concern about that sort of thing. The candidates for Governor and Secretary of State who threatened to not certify the presidential election results next time. They appear to have mostly lost. We're still waiting on Arizona to be called, but it doesn't look like Kari Lake won in Arizona. Doug Mastriano lost in Pennsylvania, Tudor Dixon lost in Michigan. On the flip side of it, in Georgia, a little bit of credit where credit is due here for some good Republicans on this front: The fact that Kemp and Brad Raffensperger, the Secretary of State there, both survived their primaries and then both won the general election pretty handily in a year when it looks like they probably lost the Senate race there.

The one that's probably still the most concerning to watch out for is the Nevada Secretary of State race. That's the one where the Republican is a pretty kooky election denier type, and he is currently ahead, but there's a lot of mail-in votes still to count. That's still too early to call but that looks—out of all these dozen or so governor and Secretary of State races nationwide, there's very few where somebody like that appears to have won.

Shikha: No, I agree. The election denying was a big concern of mine. What was heartening was that at least the people who had made that their signature issue or in some ways a high-profile issue have either lost or are going to lose, Arizona being the exception, perhaps, we have to wait and see. I'm not sure, on the whole, election denying really hurt the candidates.

I actually have some numbers here from the Washington Post, which said that there were 291 election deniers that it had identified. As of Wednesday morning, 165 of them had actually won or were being projected to win. In the House itself, there are 143 Republicans who are deniers who've actually won. Very broadly, it seems like voters will overlook a certain level of kookiness so long as it's not your main thing, so long as it's part of some other agenda, which is less than ideal.

I wish they were a little bit more that but, I guess, at this stage, I'll take whatever I can get.

Aaron: Let me ask two possible ways that we might interpret what Andy said, and then what you just said, Shikha, and square them. One is, you mentioned a lot of House seats are won by people who have been election deniers. Andy talked about gubernatorial races and then also it looks like some Senate races and then some Secretary of State and other things, and that those are all statewide elections versus the district by district of the House seats.

Is that a distinguishing feature here that the districts can have, I guess, a stronger partisan lean and be more either forgiving of kookery on their partisan side or have bought more into it than you're likely to find at the state, or one would hope, eventually, the national level?

Andy: That's definitely right that these House districts are much less competitive in the general election. The vast majority of House districts, the major party nominee, for whichever party, is going to win. That includes, in the House, the hundred or asomething incumbents who voted against certifying last time, and several new people who've come in. That is still definitely a minority of the House.

Even if Republicans take the House majority, it's going to be very narrow. There's clearly not going to be a majority in either chamber willing to do the objection to the electoral count that was happening last time. There might still be 150 or even 200 of them but its not going to be a next potential crisis. It's not good that there are that many of them, but it's not to the point where they're in power to do something.

Likewise, the governor races and the Secretary of State races, there was a particular concern over those as a choke point. Where if you have the governor refusing to certify, it can cause a whole lot of problems, some of which will be addressed by the Electoral Count Act Reform. It's certainly true in general that just the statewide races are more competitive. There's more of those where it's a genuine toss-up on which party can win. Whereas our system of single-member districts for House is, aside from election denialism and all this sort of thing, just in general, it's a terribly uncompetitive system and the vast majority of races are decided in the primary.

Shikha: Right.  I agree. At least in those races where the election deniers could make real mischief, gubernatorial or Secretary of States, the outcome has been good. I wish I could give the American people credit for having this much acuity and prioritizing free and fair elections over other issues in races where there's some real damage to be done versus House races where there is some potential but not a whole lot of damage and that they were making that distinction.

Like I said, I'll take what I can get right now, and this is a good outcome. Yes, the House members who've been elected are not going to prioritize this issue going forward, given that there isn't going to be energy coming from the top encouraging them to be election deniers. Even though their record is not great, hopefully, they will calm down on this issue.

Aaron: A lot of this conversation is part of the time-honored tradition of, immediately after election narrative construction, where you get a set of results which are just binaries, this person won or this person lost and you try to construct these elaborate explanations for it that are always tied into—every advocacy group is always, "It was our issue that was a thing that did it."

I'm hearing a lot of these. We've talked about the role that election denial plays. One possible narrative of that is that the American voters rejected people who, maybe just at the statewide office, but rejected people who they saw as threats to democracy.

It could also be that, generally speaking, hardcore election denial and conspiracy stuff goes along with just being crazy and not a very good candidate, as well. It wasn't specifically the election stuff they were rejecting, it was just that Herschel Walker seemed wildly unfit for office regardless of his actual beliefs even. There are other factors too, one of the big ones was the Dobbs decision, and abortion, because we saw in, I think, every instance where abortion rights were on the ballot, the voters chose to maintain or not destroy, or make more robust rights to choosing whether to continue a pregnancy.

On that one, what role do we think that abortion specifically played in either motivating Democrats to the polls, or in just convincing voters who might have otherwise leaned Republican that a Republican majority could say, take the holding in Dobbs and make it the legal standard across the nation was a significant threat?

Shikha: I completely agree with you that voters aren't that fixated on every element of a candidate's agenda. They, overall, assess the quality of the candidate, and, as Mitch McConnell said, the quality of the candidates was an issue this time. In that quality, one element is election denying. It just so happens that a lot of election deniers also are low-quality candidates in other respects and they become particularly low-quality when they draw attention to that aspect of their character and make the denialism—or extreme mannerlessness—their signature issue.

As for abortion, yes, I am very pleasantly surprised. As you said, there were actually five states in which there were abortion initiatives, three of them pro-abortion, and two of them so anti-abortion. The three pro-abortion which were in California, Michigan, and Vermont, where the ballot actually enshrined the constitutional right to an abortion in the state, they all won. The one in Kentucky lost as well as the one in Montana. Montana was a little bit weird because they wanted this intervention to prolong the life of an infant after it was born. It wasn't strictly speaking abortion. It's still interesting that voters wouldn't even go for that kind of intervention in the medical decisions of parents and doctors. This was very heartening, especially at a time when inflation concerns were high, that a lot of Americans prioritized a fundamental issue of rights over bread-and-butter issues.

Andy: That's right. The backlash to Dobbs is definitely one of the things that was going on. We also saw, earlier this year, in Kansas, an anti-abortion ballot initiative failed. Obviously, Kansas, Kentucky, Montana, these are conservative states, and even in these states, the anti-abortion position is having a terrible time at the ballot. There's a lot of pro-choice Republicans out there, and that didn't used to matter.

They used to be able to say, "It doesn't matter, the court's taking that issue off the table." Now it does matter, and that's certainly one of the things that's been hurting Republicans, particularly among suburban moderates, among college-educated White women, those sorts of demographics that tend to not be otherwise very on the left, but they are pro-choice. That's been one of the things.

When it comes to how much voters were worried about this defending democracy stuff in general versus all these other issues, it was certainly the case that it was a major part of the Democrats closing message. You had Biden give a couple of big speeches about democracy. I think what's also happened is it wasn't necessarily specifically that voters were focusing in on “will this candidate certify the 2024 election results or anything.” It was Trump's unpopularity dragging down candidates who were seen as the Trumpiest. If you look at Arizona, where Blake Masters website had Trump everywhere: “I'm the true MAGA candidate and all the rest of this.” That flopped in purple states.

Same with Doug Mastriano in Pennsylvania. More broadly than this just being voters worrying about election administration, it's that Trump and Trumpism are still very unpopular, particularly in swing states, and it's been interesting. We'll see how much this persists. We've heard this before, but the degree to which Republicans are openly blaming Trump. His endorsement in the primary put a lot of these weak, bad candidates over the top into the general election, where they lost.

On the other hand, it's not the first time Trump has cost Republicans’ majorities in Congress, he cost them the Senate majority in 2020. He lost the House in '18, and, of course, he lost the White House. We'll see how much that matters, particularly, as it's expected, he's going to announce he's running for president again here in the next couple of weeks. I think that's definitely part of the dynamic here. In a year when generic Republican should have done well, Trump Republicans dragged the whole party down.

Aaron: What do we make of Florida? Because Florida seems—we've been talking about good news so far but Florida's an instance where, arguably, one of the most illiberal governors and maybe most illiberal people in the GOP, certainly on the cultural side of things, won handily and managed to flip. He flipped Miami-Dade, which has not always been a bastion of super right-wing conservatism, and he's now being talked about in the betting markets that have him as the front-runner for the nomination, which I'm skeptical of if Trump decides to run, but that seems like a fairly distressing result for those of us who care about not turning America into Viktor Orbán's Hungary.

Should we worry about that? What should we take away from the fact that he did so well in Florida?

Shikha: Actually, I tweeted this morning that this wasn't a loss for right-wing reactionary authoritarians, it was a loss for low-character right-wing authoritarians who are just undisciplined in their messaging, and won't even nominally play by the rules. I think DeSantis is very smart. He's every bit an authoritarian and a statist as Trump is. He's the man who's been banning CRT from schools. He's banned cruise ships from requiring their customers to be vaccinated and a whole slew of really heavy-handed stuff and yet he won by, I think, close to 20 points.

This podcast is called Reactionary Minds. And if you look at the races where there were real reactionaries—ideological reactionaries—as opposed to just political vandals, who would those be? It would be DeSantis, it would be Vance, I would even put Mike Lee in that category. Mike Lee used to be a wonkish Republican and a [moderate] social conservative. And then he saw his moment with Trump and made a switcheroo to a pretty extreme social conservatism, and all these candidates have done really well.

I am glad that we are not talking about basic issues of democracy anymore. On the other hand, I am still quite concerned about the fate of liberalism going forward.

Andy: I agree with that. There's a few different things going on in Florida. One of them is definitely that, Ron DeSantis is no Herschel Walker. DeSantis is like Shikha said, he's smart, he's a disciplined politician. He knows how to run a campaign. He knows how to stay on message. In that sense, even though he's very ideologically illiberal and Trumpian in a lot of ways, he's not the guy that's always out there shooting off his mouth and saying something that's a big massive scandal.

He thinks about what he says. The other thing is there is an underlying trend where Florida has been trending more Republican. Part of that is the Cuban American community in Miami, which is certainly the dominant chunk of the vote there and there are historical and other reasons why they tend to be more Republican-leaning. That has accelerated in a way that bucks the trend of a lot of what's going on elsewhere in the country with other kinds of Latino voters.

The last thing I'd say about Florida is that the Democrats picked a really awful candidate. Charlie Crist was a weak choice to run. He's a perennial loser. He was not a very popular governor. He switched parties multiple times. I'm not keyed-in enough to Florida politics to know if they had a better option or who exactly he was running against in the primary but a lot of people wrote that race off as soon as Charlie Crist became the nominee.

Even though DeSantis ran up to a score in a little surprising way, I don't think there was ever any real doubt that he was going to win that race and win it pretty handily. That's what I think happened there and I wouldn't necessarily, all of those things, a lot of those are not generalizable to national situations. A lot of it's very Florida-specific things.

Shikha: Then you also have J.D. Vance, who is a national conservative at this stage and actually quite a darling of some of my former national conservative friends. Now I understand that the Republican party dropped a lot of money in that race last minute, $30 million. Though I think the difference between him and Tim Ryan was six points and he didn't even seem to pay a political price for the fact that he’s this complete hypocrite.

He used to be a Trump hater and then became a Trump lover. Because he was touting a rather conservative agenda which is some combination of pro-working class and social conservatism, it seems to have worked for him and I guess Mike Lee. Now Lee was is another weird race with Evan McMullin in Utah. Democrats bowed out to let Evan McMullin get the moderate Republican vote along with the Democratic vote. He ran as an independent and that strategy didn't seem to have worked. Now, Utah too is a weird state but I don't know. These are three pretty core elections and the real reactionaries, the ideological reactionaries, they seem to have done all pretty well.

Andy: That's definitely right. I think, looking at the Senate, Vance is the biggest win for the illiberal national conservatives to get a new one of their champions in. It is the case that Ohio and certainly Utah are very hard states for a Republican to lose as a baseline. It's the case that people thought Vance's race might be winnable for Ryan. Ryan did overperform a little bit.

He did a little bit better than you would expect a generic Democrat to do in Ohio these days, but obviously, it was not enough to make up the difference once Vance won. The other interesting thing about Vance I would mention is that he very narrowly eked out a plurality in the primary too. There was a very hard contested primary of him versus Josh Mandel. They were both trying to out-Trump each other.

From our perspective, we should see Vance as even necessarily worse than Mandel. Mandel was pretty awful too. That was also an interesting dynamic there that if you're in a red state and you manage to—you have a three-way primary and you get 38% in the primary—that's ultimately a pretty small chunk of the electorate that's putting somebody on the path to win the general election, more likely than not.

Aaron: One worry I have about DeSantis's victory and Vance and so on is it seems like the Republicans set out a strategy of intentionally stirring up anti-trans, anti-gay hatred. This anti-CRT thing was part of this as well, of like—I think over the last year or so has been one of the ugliest strains in American politics and has caused tremendous suffering if you know people who are gay in a lot of these states, or particularly trans in these states, they are fearing for their safety, their health, sometimes their lives, because harassment against them has increased a lot. It's really, really awful and it was intentionally fanned up.

My worry, and I'm curious if the two of you think I'm perhaps overreacting, is DeSantis was the flag bearer of this to a great extent. Vance certainly did a lot of this. We saw Greg Abbott reelected handily, and he was doing some really awful anti-trans stuff in Texas. Is the GOP going to take as a lesson from these particular successes that, heading into the next election cycle, they should double down on that particularly virulent scapegoating of these oppressed and vulnerable minorities?

Shikha: Look, the culture wars are not over. I don't think the lesson that the GOP is going to take away from this is that deescalating the culture wars is what's going to put them on the road to political success. You mentioned gay rights and the trans issues, immigration worked really well for DeSantis. He pulled this stunt where he got asylum seekers in Texas onto a plane and sent them to Martha's Vineyard. That played really well with the Republican crowd in Florida.

I think the lesson that Republicans are going to take away from this is that a hardline culture war message works. They just have to be disciplined about it and set aside like the personal egoistic drama that Trump brought to this scene. If you have a culture warrior on the right who is a principled culture warrior and he's not in business for himself but the greater cause and the restoration of tradition and traditional values and families and working-class people, I think that is a message that's going to continue to be tested and have great resonance among Republicans.

Andy: I think we definitely saw that these sorts of culture war issues, particularly leading into the trans stuff and to the degree that's also stirred up a lot of anti-gay stuff. It's not a loser, particularly, in a lot of these states, the more liberal position on particularly trans issues, but just, for lack of a better term, what they call "wokeness," it's an effective line of attack for Republicans, and has been.

When they run candidates like DeSantis, who don't have the personal baggage of being crazy, or ill-spoken or whatever, it can be very effective. Talking about the potential of a post-Trump GOP and looking to DeSantis as the avatar of that, that's one of the things that's been very concerning to me. Trump, for everything awful about him, it was genuinely true that one of his silver-lining features is that he explicitly rejected the Bush-era anti-gay stuff.

They made a big deal of having Peter Thiel speak at the RNC. It was pretty plain that Trump personally does not much care about these issues. He wasn't interested in fighting against gay marriage and that sort of thing.

It seemed like that stuff had been put to rest for a few years, and now DeSantis is very much bringing it back in a way that's concerning for how much this is going to be a feature of Republican politics in the years to come.

Shikha: Let me just also point out, for the conservative grassroots, there are two issues that have ignited the culture wars. One was Roe v Wade, which launched the culture wars, and then what kept it going was really the Obergefell ruling. I have talked to so many of them and they are still seething about that. Partly, it's just they're cultural conservatives, but, partly, I think they're genuinely afraid.

The baking-cakes-for-gay thing really resonates with them. They don't merely see it as a cultural lifestyle issue for gays, they see it as a personal lifestyle issue for themselves, where they may not be allowed to continue to exercise their religion in the way they prefer. That's hugely mobilizing for the right. I think DeSantis is going to put together these three issues: it'll be anti-gay, anti-abortion, and anti-immigration. He'll do it in a coherent, disciplined fashion. This is, by no means, over from the standpoint of liberalism.

Aaron: What does this all mean for Trump? As I said at the beginning, the betting markets and a lot of the punditry on Twitter are talking as if what happened last night moved DeSantis into the frontrunner. Trump did seem too, there's a lot of Republicans who have been saying, yet again, that he seems to be an anchor weighing them down, that the races that he intervened in didn't go their way, that they wish he would just go away and stop hurting their turnout and their vote ratios and so on.

How much does he still control the party after the shellacking that the most Trumpist candidates seem to get last night?

Andy: I think this is something that appeals more to pundits than is grounded in reality. I have always been, and I still am, pretty bearish on the idea that DeSantis could beat Trump for the 2024 nomination. It's true that Trump's standing has clearly been hurt. There's a lot of Republicans who are mad at him for the reasons, particularly Republican leadership positions.

At the same time, we've heard this all before. This is not the first time Trump has done this. Trump cost them the Senate in 2020. Trump lost them the House in 2018. Trump lost the White House. Then there was January 6th. Every time after all these, we've heard this noise about how Republican leaders, the Mitch McConnells and Kevin McCarthys, and the kind of pundit class are frustrated with him, but he still has that base of support of 50% to 60%, at least, of Republican primary voters, and that's not beatable. As long as he doesn't lose that, that's still a lot of Republicans out there who do want to move on past Trump, who do want an alternative, but when you're looking ahead to the 2024 primary, Trump would still have to lose a lot of ground in ways that he hasn't for any of the past examples of similar outrages and hurting the GOP. I still think Trump is far and away the likeliest 2024 nominee.

Shikha: I'm not so sure about that. Actually, Michael, what's his name? Mike Cernovich, this alt-right broadcaster, he tweeted today that both Trump and Trump-endorsed candidates are just finished going forward. You can almost feel it in the air that Trump who was riding high has been deflated now. I ran this piece at The Unpopulist today by Robert Tracinski [

] where he's taking the view that democracy was on the ballot and democracy won.

It's a great piece, but one of the points that he makes is that, in politics, nothing succeeds like success and nothing fails like failure. To the extent that Trump was winning and seemed to be an effective kingmaker in the Republican party, I think Republicans were willing to put up with him. Going forward, you are going to see him just being ignored and sidelined in the party. I don't think anybody will take him head on. I think he'll just be a marginalized figure.

Andy: I think that's right that he's definitely in a weaker position now and it hurt him. There's more open frustration with Trump coming from more voices that would not have been saying that previously. People like Cernovich. It will be hard to see. Over the next few weeks, we'll see the polls. It's expected Trump is going to announce. We'll see if DeSantis even runs against him, which is something that's been up in the air, and there's been some discussion about whether he is or not.

If DeSantis doesn't run, it's very hard to see anybody else who's positioned in a way that they could actually stop Trump from getting the nomination. It could be in a weird position where, even if Trump wins his own race in the primary, he is a more marginalized figure and is playing less of a king-maker role in these primaries, that the Republican down ticket feels less tied to him and less obligated to kowtow to him.

I think that's a healthy development even if we do get into the position where he's the nominee again, that there will be more distance between him and a lot of down-ticket Republicans.

Shikha: I agree with that. I would actually not be unhappy if Trump runs one more time and loses decisively because I think Republicans still need to get this out of their system. I don't think they get the message after just one or two election losses. I think they need to be repeatedly shellacked in the elections for them to really understand that a Trump-like demagogic strongman figure is not a winning ticket.

My fear is that, unless that happens, you are going to have more copycats who are going to try and emulate his style, but in a different way, just testing different flavors of that formula. If he were to run again and be decisively refuted, I think that would be a good thing. The other thing is, I'm not sure that, if DeSantis is the nominee, that's in some ways on one hand he'll play by the electoral rules and he will not be an election denier or call an insurrection.

On the other hand, I think he may be a little more effective in getting his reactionary agenda through. I really do worry about that.

Aaron: That's my big worry about him. He certainly is no more liberal than Trump and has proven that he's more effective at actually governing and getting done what he wants to get done. Andy, you mentioned Trump as not a king-maker. That made me think of one of the interesting things that, and more minor things that came out of last night was, during the primaries, there was a lot of fretting about Democratic money groups spending money promoting basically the nuttiest candidates on the right with the strategy that, if we can get the nuttiest people to win the primary, they'll be easier to defeat in the actual election. There was a whole lot of worry among political commentators and analysts about this strategy because it was basically a version of the strategy they used in 2016 with Trump himself was, "We want to get him to be the nominee because he's nuts and he's unfit and we can clean his clock in the general election." Obviously, it didn't play out that way to catastrophic effects for the country.

I believe that it worked every time, this time around. That every time there was a candidate, a crazy MAGA candidate who was supported by Democratic money, they ended up losing in the actual election. What should we make of that both as a sign of where things might go two years from now, but also as an assessment of this strategy, and I guess, the relative wisdom of trying it again, next time around?

Andy: That's right. We did see one example that was emblematic of the whole thing was in Peter Meijer's seat, what used to be Justin Amash's seat in Michigan, Grand Rapids in the Michigan's Third District, and Democrats did exactly this. In that case, I think the evidence is pretty clear, they actually did successfully put the crazy Trumpy Republican over the line in a closely fought primary. Then the Democrats won that seat in the general election.

There's a degree to which I think it's right to criticize them as this is a civically unvirtuous thing to do. Political parties are cynical, self-interested machines that want to win. It's very hard to tell a party they shouldn't do this. I also wouldn't overstate the degree to which it worked in that I'm not sure how many of these—to begin with, there wasn't a ton of these races, there was maybe a dozen or so of these high-profile incidents nationwide. A lot of these are races the Democrats would have won anyway in the general election.

A lot of them, it's dubious if they actually made the difference in these primary elections. I think Meijer's district has probably the strongest case of an example where it did make the outcome where Meijer lost the primary because of this interference, and he would have had a much better shot at holding the seat in the general election. There's some Democrats like Jamie Raskin, who've come back and said, "Yes, it's true," but that somebody like Meijer was obviously not an election denier. He'd voted to impeach Trump, et cetera. He still would have been a vote for Kevin McCarthy to be Speaker of the House.

In a position where the House GOP as a whole is still pretty bad, a majority of them did vote to overturn the last election, even if a substantial minority didn't. It's a difficult question. It's a genuinely unclear thing. Is it more important for the Republicans as a whole to lose, even if that means their marginal seats are the relatively good Republicans who are losing? I wish they hadn't done it. I'm a fan of Peter Meijer, I wish he was sticking around. Some of these others, similar story.

At the end of the day, I think this probably only affected a couple of House seats. I don't look at any of the Senate races or any of the governor races and think that the Democrats doing this thing was decisive. Just because the margins in the primary and then the margins in the general election, from the partisan baseline, were not close enough that I think it actually made the difference.

Shikha: I'm heartsick that Democrats used a strategy like this. They can get away with it a few times but if this becomes their modus operandi, I think they will be rightly viewed with the same disgust by voters that the Republicans are viewed right now. Then we will really be screwed. We’ll have two really terrible, immoral, and in their own way, illiberal parties.

I'm not a moralist as such. Politics is a dirty game, but I think if you're going to play such dirty tactics, it at least ought to be your last resort. I'm not sure they needed to play this in Michigan, for instance. This is the first time that the Democrats have actually flipped the House from Republicans in 40 years. Even though I like Peter Meijer, just like Andy, I think they could have won this race without floating a man like John Gibbs. They didn't have to sully themselves by such tactics. In this election, they have got such bad press for this, and rightly so, even though it wasn't a strategy that was generally used and it was used in only a handful of cases, but still—I really wish they wouldn't do this. I think, in the long run, it backfires against them and it backfires against the country and so don't do it guys, or do it really, really, really minimally.

Andy: I do think also one important point you hit on, Aaron, which is, it didn't blow up in their face this time, but maybe you got a couple of House seats this time, but the same strategy also made Trump president. It did blow up in their face in 2016 and so it is a very dangerous thing, particularly if we're looking forward to future presidential primaries. I think it's absolutely the case and we have the internal discussions and the Hillary campaign where they talked about how they were doing this and the Democratic leaning media did this in 2015 and 2016, where, let's just spend all the time talking about Trump—talking up Trump—boosting him to this status as the highest profile presumed Republican candidate.

I don't know if it ultimately made the difference in terms of Trump winning the primary, but it certainly didn't help. Then obviously we know what happened in November of that year. When we look at the track record of this thing, that it helped produce Trump, there is a much bigger de-merit against it than maybe it flipped a couple of House seats this time.

Aaron: Then looking forward to 2024, obviously liberalism is still under significant threat for a lot of the reasons that we have talked about over the last 40 or so minutes. How big are our worries and, as three people who are committed to defending liberalism, what can we be doing to, I guess, get ready for 2024? I'll start with you, Andy, on, specifically, the election issues, because as you said, a lot of election deniers lost, but then you mentioned the Nevada Secretary of State. What do the threats now look like to the peaceful and fair counting of votes and transfer of power?

Andy: One good thing that we have seen, if you're looking for a good defending liberal democracy bipartisan moment, we do still have that happening and it's with the Electoral Count Act reform, which is, fingers-crossed, from everything we hear, looking very good to pass here in the lame duck session with strong bipartisan majorities, Mitch McConnell is supporting it.

It came out of the Senate Rules Committee on a 14 to 1 vote. Ted Cruz was the only Republican who voted against it in committee. This legislation will do a lot of nuts-and-bolts technical things to shore up what happened in 2020 and what was tried in 2020, including this scenario of the rogue officials at the state level trying to do something crazy and not certifying the presidential electors or something like that.

It creates better judicial mechanisms to handle those things. It makes it harder for Congress to do something crazy in terms of rejecting electoral votes. That will, I think, shore things up in terms of not the broader political problem of having so many candidates who are willing to endorse this overturning election stuff, but the procedure and the laws and the constitutional architecture will be strengthened.

The other thing on the election reform front that is good, we talked about a little bit about how Democrats are not the perfect alternative, and, certainly, they're not always shying away from illiberalism themselves in a lot of ways. One way I've talked about it is that the GOP has gotten worse faster, but that both parties, I think, are trending in a more illiberal direction, in ways that are very problematic. There is still a lot of left-populist illiberal tendencies. When I look long-term, this runaway illiberalizing polarization, I think electoral reform is key to that. Getting things like ranked choice, getting things like proportional representation. On that front, it's looking very good. Nevada had a ballot initiative on to amend their state constitution to adopt basically the same system as Alaska is now using, the top four ranked choice. It's actually top five in Nevada. That has passed.

It has to pass again in 2024 because it's a state constitutional amendment that has to go up twice, but it looks like it passed this time, so that was a big win. Portland, Oregon, it did something very interesting that's not getting a lot of attention. They actually adopted a system of proportional representation, which no city in the US has done since 1947.

I think this has a lot of benefit potentially when you look at state legislatures and maybe even ultimately Congress one day of having systems of multi-member districts with proportional representation. What that does is you get the least polarized, more moderate voters represented in a way they're currently not. You get those rural moderate Democrats in rural areas, you get those socially liberal Republicans who live in the cities who don't currently get any seat at the table because they're not a majority within the district.

If you get this proportional representation, it does increase the number of people who have somebody they voted for who's actually in office. It builds that buy-in that's necessary for a democratic system and it's very healthy. I'm very excited about that and that's one of the main things I'm going to be working on over the next few years is going into the state level, trying to build the coalitions and craft these plans for electoral reform that can get implemented, and, hopefully, long-term, get us out of this because two-party death spiral.

Shikha: Much as I am very pleased about today's results, the last six years years have been a huge stress test for our system and it has really sort of exposed a lot of the weak points in our electoral process, in our parliamentary process. One of the good things to come out of it, as Andy was saying, is this discussion about reforming this system and coup-proofing it in a sense. The Electoral Count Act, I think, is on a good track, and I think Andy is pretty optimistic that the reforms will pass.

Things like proportional representation and rank choice voting have only been tried in a handful of states and they really need to gain steam and momentum. My fear is that after this election with the extreme election-denying candidates now quelled, we may lose some of this momentum.

That's on the electoral reform front. Then on the intellectual front, the last six years, what Trump did was create a whole lot of space for some really right-wing ideas to emerge. We are at a stage where they've been workshopping some pretty specific things that they want to do, whether it is the integralists or whether they are the national conservatives, or whether they are the big tech, red pilled, Peter Thiel-type billionaires.

They have got a very different agenda from the pre-Trump days. This election may give us this false sense of comfort that this is all over now. Awe may lose some of the momentum that we had gained to tackle and counter these ideologies, leaving them unaddressed to win again, to keep growing and reasserting themselves.

Aaron: Thank you for listening to Reactionary Minds, a project of The UnPopulist. If you want to learn more about the rise of liberalism and the need to defend a free society, check out

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