Let’s take a step back for a second and remember all the great things President Trump did for America. First off, he carried the Tea Party torch to victory—something the Republican establishment never did for Main Street. Election 2022 was decided by the golden rule (he who has the gold makes the rules). The establishment Dems spent money to beat Trump candidates, and Republicans withheld it.
Here’s some anecdotal evidence. In faraway Rhode Island, a John Fetterman TV ad attacked Dr. Oz over their election in Pennsylvania. It was well scripted, and if you weren’t paying attention, you had no idea about Fetterman’s health problems. Even three states away, Fetterman was outspending Oz and winning the narrative.
Leadership on the Republican side needs new blood. Clearly, McConnell isn’t even listening to the base. This was a tough election year for Republicans to defend in the Senate. The numbers get a whole lot better in 2024 and 2026. But if there’s no money, there will be no chance to make America Great Again.
One of last Tuesday’s few new GOP winners, JD Vance, the Senator-elect from Ohio, recently explained some of his ideas about how the GOP can do better in the future in The American Conservative. He wrote:
Let’s start with an obvious caveat: there is a lot we don’t know. Precinct level data is still outstanding in most states, and exit polls are notoriously finicky. Votes are still being counted out west. We’re still ignorant about a lot. But any effort to blame Trump—or McConnell for that matter—ignores a major structural advantage for Democrats: money. Money is how candidates fund the all-important advertising that reaches swing voters, and it’s how candidates fund turnout operations. And in every marquee national race, Republicans got crushed financially.
The reason is ActBlue. ActBlue is the Democrats’ national fundraising platform, where 21 million individual donors shovel small donations into every marquee national race. ActBlue is why my opponent ran nonstop ads about how much he “agreed with Trump” during the summer. It is why John Fetterman was able to raise $75 million for his election.
Republican small dollar fundraising efforts are paltry by comparison, and Republican fundraising efforts suffer from high consultant and “list building” fees—where Republicans pay a lot to acquire small-dollar donors. This is why incumbents have such massive advantages: much of the small-dollar fundraising my own campaign did went to fundraising and list-building expenses. If and when I run for reelection, almost all of it will go directly to my campaign. Democrats don’t have this problem. They raise more money from more donors, with lower overhead.
Outside groups, like SLF, try to close this gap. But it is a losing proposition. Under federal elections law, campaigns pay way less for advertising than outside “Super PACs.” In some states, $10 million from an outside group is less efficient than $2 million spent by a campaign. So long as Republicans lose so badly in the small dollar fundraising game, Democrats will have a massive structural advantage.
Importantly, because ActBlue diverts resources to competitive races, this structural advantage can be magnified. Let’s look at how this played out specifically. At first blush, Ron DeSantis and Brian Kemp are similar figures: they both won close elections in 2018, and both cruised to reelection in 2022. They are both popular, effective governors from the South. But one won by over 20, and one by 8 (still an impressive margin). What explains this? Money. Look at the fundraising totals: Ron DeSantis outraised Charlie Crist about 7:1. Kemp was actually outraised, albeit barely, by Stacey Abrams. Money, of course, is not dispositive—Kemp won convincingly—but it has a major effect.
In both cases, incumbency provided a major advantage, in part because it’s easier to raise money when you’ve already won. But incumbency is also powerful in and of itself. Just look to Iowa, where incumbent governor Kim Reynolds cruised to reelection by a 20 point-margin, while newcomer Republican A.G. candidate Brenna Bird won by less than one point against twenty-eight-year incumbent Democrat Tom Miller.
This brings us to the Senate. In competitive states, every non-incumbent candidate was swamped with cash by national Democrats. This is true for Trump-aligned candidates (like me), anti-Trump candidates (like Joe O’Dea in Colorado), and those who straddled both camps. The house tells a similar story. Every person blaming Donald Trump, or bad candidates endorsed by Trump, ought to show a single national marquee race where a non-incumbent beat a well-funded opponent. The few exceptions—New York among them—don’t tell an easy anti-Trump story.
In Ohio, for example, Republican candidates ran against extremely well-funded Democrat opposition. Some of them were MAGA. Some establishment. Almost all of them lost. The only exception was Max Miller in Northeast Ohio, one of Trump’s early endorsements.
There is a related structural problem, which is that higher propensity voters (suburban whites, especially) are just more and more Democratic. Meanwhile, a lot of the Trump base just doesn’t turn out in midterm elections. Again, this is not unique to Trump: these voters have always had substandard turnout numbers. But 20 years ago, when most of them voted for Democrats, that meant Republicans had a structural advantage in midterms. Now, the shoe is on the other foot. This problem is exacerbated by Democrats’ strong advantages in states that have expanded vote by mail.
In the short term, as illustrated last week, those advantages serve as a reminder of the need for voting reform in this country, modeled on success in states like Ohio at running clean, fair elections: establishing fair but appropriately narrow windows to return ballots; implementing signature verification; conducting all pre-election work necessary to facilitate rapid tabulation of early votes when polls close; and implementing national photo ID requirements to ensure elections are secure.
In the long term, the way to solve this is to build a turnout machine, not gripe at the former president. But building a turnout machine without organized labor and amid declining church attendance is no small thing. Our party has one major asset, contra conventional wisdom, to rally these voters: President Donald Trump. Now, more than ever, our party needs President Trump’s leadership to turn these voters out and suffers for his absence from the stage.
E.J. Smith - Your Survival Guy
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