Ronald Brownstein: After 2022, What's Next?

November 11, 2022 (Episode 228)

After the 2022 Midterms, What’s Next?

Taped November, 10 2022

BILL KRISTOL: Hi, I’m Bill Kristol. Welcome back to CONVERSATIONS. I’m very pleased, very pleased, to be joined here two days after election day in 2022, November 10th, by Ron Brownstein. We’ve done Conversations after the elections of 2018 and 2020, and did two before that incidentally, all of which people should go back and listen to, because they’re all very revealing about American politics. But right after 2018, I think it was the weekend after, you predicted a Biden Harris ticket in 2020, that was good.


KRISTOL: We probably should have stopped  —

BROWNSTEIN: Logic led there. The primaries don’t always follow logic, but in this case they sort of did.

KRISTOL: Anyway, Ron Brownstein is Senior Editor at The Atlantic, Senior Political Analyst at CNN, one of the leading, in my view, analysts and most thoughtful and interesting analysts of American politics, but also American history, popular music. Rock Me on the Water, his very well received book about the ’70s in LA, is for sale at bookstores everywhere. If bookstores existed, it would be for sale. They would be for sale.

BROWNSTEIN: Somewhere in cyber space you can reach out and grab it.

KRISTOL: So get that book. And Ron, thanks for joining me and —

BROWNSTEIN: It’s always good to be with you.

KRISTOL: And let’s have a wide-ranging conversation. We don’t have the answers to everything, but I think we can put a lot of questions and issues on the table. But what happened on Tuesday? Where are we now, more broadly? We’ll get to that. And then, where are we going?

But what happened Tuesday? Someone comes down from Mars or has been away for two years and says, “Hey, what happened in this midterm election?”

BROWNSTEIN: So in one sense, what happened Tuesday is what has been happening in midterm elections for quite some time. Assuming Republicans win the House, this will be the fifth consecutive time that a president went into a midterm with a unified control of government and had the voters revoke it. So it happened to Trump in 2018, Obama in 2010, W. Bush in 2006, Clinton in ’94; no president since Jimmy Carter in 1978 has defended unified control of government through a midterm.

And in one sense, the macro story that we are living through since the late ’60s is the inability of either party to establish a durable advantage over the other, to an extent that we have not seen before in American history over a 50 year period. No one’s had unified control of government for more than four consecutive years, since 1968. And we’ve never gone 50 years where that’s been true. So in one sense, a shift toward the Republicans, a shift away from the party holding unified control is exactly what we’ve been experiencing in American politics for at least the last 40 years.

But the nature of this shift was far different, as you know, than anyone expected. If you look at the exit polls, and you look at the 75% of people who said the economy was bad or poor, roughly 55% disapproved of Joe Biden’s job performance. The electorate was more Republican, tilted a little more Republican, than it has been in the past. As one Republican consultant said to me today, every indicator on the dashboard was pointing toward a red wave, and we didn’t get a red wave.

And I believe the reason we didn’t is because this is what I have called a double negative election. You have that negative verdict on Biden’s performance; no way arguing around that. It’s 55% saying they disapprove of his job, and as I said, three-quarters say the economy is doing badly. But those negative verdicts on the part and what Democrats have done with power, were bounded and limited by equal concern about what Republicans would do with power if given to them.

I think 60%, roughly 60% in the exit poll, said they had an unfavorable opinion of Trump; a clear majority wanted to keep abortion legal. And what Democrats were able to do was mobilize enough of their voters, and hold far more Independents than you would expect, given the negative verdict on Biden, by focusing their attention on issues like abortion, gun issues, and the threat to democracy that Trump and his movement present. And so you got an election that was much closer to a standoff than to the rout that you would expect in a midterm where the President was in such a weakened position.

KRISTOL: Yeah, that’s a great summary. Someone said to me here last night, or this afternoon, that he thought — said, “History and gravity— gravity, like gravity that pulls you down — argued for Republicans doing well, and they would have, except it was counteracted.” He said, he had a good formulation, “History and gravity were counteracted by Trump and by the Dobb’s decision.”


KRISTOL: How much of it do you think was Trump in particular? And secondly, abortion in particular? How much of it was a broader Trumpism, extremism, guns, a lot of stuff?

BROWNSTEIN: It’s really — It’s indistinguishable. It’s one fabric. And basically, as Tom Bonier put it, who was a Democratic data guy, as well as my friend Nia-Malika Henderson on CNN, I think they both belled the cat when they said that abortion was more than literally abortion. That it was important by itself. But to the voters for whom it mattered, it became a symbol of a Republican party that has become too extreme for them, particularly on social issues in the Trump era.

And what we saw in every Senate race, I mean every Senate race, where it was Democrats winning, up to two-thirds or more, usually three quarters, sometimes — Gretchen Whitmer won over 80% of voters who said that abortion should remain legal in most or all cases. And I think that you can’t untangle that from concerns about what the Trump movement means for American democracy.

As usual, this is largely a national story, though with one important divide I’d like to get to in a minute. This is essentially a national story. The Democratic coalition, the anti-Trump coalition that turned out in 2018 and 2020, frayed around the edges largely because of inflation; Democrats did not do as well as they did in ’18 and ’20 among the groups at the core of that coalition. But they did well enough to hold down the losses and prevent this from becoming what it was expected to be. You see the fundamental cohesion of a coalition centered on young people, people of color, college educated whites, secular voters, and women, especially, across all of those categories, enough of that hold together. It frayed, it didn’t rip. Or, it eroded, it didn’t crumble. And that allowed them to put together a lot of surprises, even while the other things were still there.

It wasn’t like discontent with Biden or unease about inflation went away, Republicans won some things. But the ability of Democrats to mobilize their coalition around these other issues in blue and purple states allowed them, as we’re saying, to avoid the worst, and almost certainly they’re going to hold the Senate and the House could be astonishingly close, maybe decided by a pair of court decisions. The New York Democratic-dominated highest court overturned a Democratic gerrymander, and the Florida Republican-dominated state supreme court upheld an even more egregious gerrymander by DeSantis. And that might be the difference.

KRISTOL: So in a way, if you step back and look at it, it is remarkable. You said the Democratic coalition altogether, but in general, things didn’t change that much, in a sense. And this year will probably end up being plus 0.4% or something in the Republican side. For the whole national House vote, it was Democratic plus 2.5% in 2020. So it was a little erosion as you’d expect, because in an off year against the party in power, but not so much.

I think, and this is a question now, on the groups that you focus so much on: college educated, college educated women as opposed to men, different Latinos and Blacks and so forth. There’s no huge change, is there?

BROWNSTEIN: It’s pretty consistent —

KRISTOL: It looks sort of like — Each team’s, each side’s coalition looks very much like it did in 2020 and 2018, right?

BROWNSTEIN: Again, there are a lot of people think the exit polls are not the end all be all. And eventually we will get other data from Pew and Catalyst that is also well-respected. But at least in the exit poll, so where you’re comparing apples to apples, if you look vs 2020 or 2018, there’s a consistent drop in the Democratic share among essentially every group in their coalition of about seven, eight, sometimes 10 points. So they took a hit in terms of discontent over Biden and discontent over inflation. But they took a hit, they didn’t collapse. And as I said,  —

KRISTOL: But the relative share — Each party looks the same —


KRISTOL:  — socioeconomically, racially, ethnically, educationally, as it did two and four years ago.

BROWNSTEIN: The idea of a vast realignment among Black and Latino voters that Republicans, and even some Democrats were touting, I mean, it didn’t really happen. As I said, there’s no group, I don’t think there’s any group we can identify where Republicans did not improve at least somewhat over ’18 and ’20. But of course, Democrats won the popular vote in both of those years by a lot. They had some margin to give. And there are two ways to look at what happened.

From my point of view, if you’re talking about college educated women or Latinos or Black voters, certainly young voters, Democrats, as I say, eroded from ’18 and ’20, but they maintain substantial support. And my initial instinct is that if this is as far as you can get with 9% inflation and 55% disapproval of the sitting President, it may be hard to hold the level of support that the Republicans have. If this is as far as the tide extends, even with these powerful forces behind it — It’s easy to imagine those numbers would roll back at 3% inflation, or a stock market that isn’t walloping the 401ks of college educated people, or high interest rates that aren’t frustrating young people trying to buy a house.

Again, the Democratic coalition frayed under the pressure of all of those forces, but it largely held together. And to me, that says that if those forces recede, the coalition expands again. There is a coherent three elections in a row now, really four in 2016, but certainly the last three more — there is a coherent coalition that is adamantly opposed to the vision of America that Trump represents.

KRISTOL: The counter argument would be a little bit that the Republicans paid a huge price for the Trumpiest of the Trump candidates. If they can just dial that back some and not have Mastriano in Pennsylvania. The fact is, Florida, Ohio and Iowa, three of the swing states in 2000, 2004, and as late as of course 2012, won by Obama in the case of Florida and Ohio, are now — an excellent senate campaign by Ryan in Ohio, and he still —

BROWNSTEIN: They’re gone. They’re gone  —

KRISTOL: That state just looks like it’s going to be Republican plus eight forever. Chuck Grassley’s 89 years old, that looks like that’s going to be Republican plus eight forever. And DeSantis runs up huge majorities in Florida.

Now, other states have moved somewhat in a Democratic direction, but Arizona, which is one of the sunbelt Democratic stars, suddenly is in a neck and neck race. Kari Lake for governor? I know you can make a case that on the margin — Both sides have things to point to that suggest, well, it’s a 50/50 or 51/49 or 50/48 nation. So of course, both sides have things to point to where if only a few bad aspects of their narrative, as you say in the Democratic case, inflation, interest rates, or the Republican case, excessive Trumpiness, got taken off the table, they could do better. Or no? Or is it not quite as —

BROWNSTEIN: No, it’s a good point. If you’re thinking about it in terms of just the total number of people in each coalition, the fact that the Democrats have won the popular vote in seven of the last presidential elections, which no party has ever done since the formation of the modern party system, suggests that it is a larger coalition in a presidential year when everybody votes. But obviously that isn’t always relevant to who wins the Electoral College, much less who controls the Senate and the House.

If we’re thinking about swing states and the Electoral College, there are 20 states now that have voted Democratic in at least the past four consecutive elections, and 20 states that have voted Republican in at least the past four presidential elections. That is a higher level of consistency, Bill, that means 80% of the states have voted the same way in every election since 2008. That’s a higher level of consistency than even in the four elections that Roosevelt won.

So we have more states, a higher share of the states are locked. The only thing I could find that was like this was the three elections of the 1920s that the Republicans won. So we have an extraordinary level of 20 states on each side that are largely locked down with one exception. There are only 10 states that have voted for either side, voted for both sides, in the past four elections. And as you note, several of them really aren’t swing states anymore.

KRISTOL: Well, just on those 20 on each side, I’m going to, I don’t — One or two exceptions, but the huge majority of those 20 in each case have governors from the party they voted for president, and two senators for the party from which —

BROWNSTEIN: Yeah. Democrats have 39 of the 40 senators in the 20 states they won, at least the last four times. And Republicans have 38 of the 40 in the states they won the last four times. But let me go back and finish, just because it goes to your point.

So there are only 10 states that have switched at any point since 2008, and several of them really aren’t swing states anymore. They were swing states under Obama and have fallen off, and that includes Florida, Ohio, and Iowa. And North Carolina is kind of a swing state, but really at the edge.

If we’re talking about states that are genuine swing states at this point, we’re talking about the five that switched from Trump in ’16 to Biden in ’20 and made him president. That’s Arizona and Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, plus Nevada, maybe North Carolina sort of. I’m not sure I’m missing anything.

KRISTOL: New Hampshire, maybe on the other side. I mean —

BROWNSTEIN: New Hampshire maybe, but not, I mean —

KRISTOL: Who knows?

BROWNSTEIN: Hassan’s going to win by 10 points. And electing a governor is obviously something different.

So if you look at the landscape, as you say, it’s pretty clear from, again, it was clear before, but now there’s no question: Iowa and Ohio and Florida are really off the board for Democrats in ’24. They are part of the Republican coalition.

However, I would say if you look at the magnitude of the wins for Democrats in Michigan and Pennsylvania, I think there’s an unequivocal signal that Trump, or a very Trumpy candidate, is going to have a very hard time in those states. I mean, Gretchen — We’re talking about, again, 75% or more of people saying that the economy is poor, fair or poor, and a Democratic governor is going to win by 10 points.

KRISTOL: But a governor running for reelection in a state where abortion is literally on the ballot is a little different from the congressional races.


KRISTOL: So Pennsylvania was complicated to begin, crazy —

BROWNSTEIN: Democrats won the Senate race in Pennsylvania, too. They won House races in those states. But what I was going to say was, I think — And if I’m thinking about the states that seem truly up for grabs equally between the two sides, maybe if there’s not even a lean, let’s give Michigan and Pennsylvania a Democratic lean.

KRISTOL: Yeah, I think that’s right.

BROWNSTEIN: We’re not putting it in a camp. But if I’m thinking about the states that are completely on the knife’s edge, we’re talking Arizona, Georgia, Nevada, and Wisconsin. I mean, that’s it.

KRISTOL: Right. It’s amazing. And so from my point of view, I guess what strikes me as an anti-Trump Republican or ex-Republican is, shouldn’t more people have been appalled by — You can say the Democratic, and you’re right, the Democratic majority is a little bit larger nationally, certainly in presidential years, and younger, and there’s upside there. And the Republicans might have a tiny uphill, might be a little bit uphill.

On the other hand, the stickiness of the Republican —

BROWNSTEIN: Unbelievable.

KRISTOL:  — coalition is pretty amazing in a Trumpy world.

BROWNSTEIN: It is. And —

KRISTOL: And even in a post-Roe world, where all the polling shows better than 60/40 against the court decision and for relatively liberal abortion rights. And they still, including in states like Iowa, I would guess. And, so.

BROWNSTEIN: This is that little bookmark that I wanted to get back to. What’s striking is that it’s pretty clear that in blue and purple states, Democrats were able to mobilize a very energetic coalition, even amid the headwinds of economic discontent, around the idea that we have to mobilize to stop Republicans from banning abortion or rolling back other rights in the states, in Michigan and Pennsylvania.

However, in the states where the Republican social conservative regime has actually been imposed since 2021, there was virtually no backlash. There was no ripple. Texas completely banned abortion. Florida, 15-week ban on abortion. Georgia, the six week ban on abortion. Iowa — Ohio, a very severe ban on abortion. And in all of those — Tennessee, the whole menu of abortion and LGBTQ stuff and classroom, “Don’t say gay.” The menu that the red states have been pursuing include voting, abortion, transgender issues, limits on classroom speech, the “Don’t say gay” limit on how you talk about sexual orientation. In the states that were actually doing this, the red states, there was no backlash. Abbott won going away, DeSantis won going away. Democrats didn’t even have a serious candidate in Tennessee. Kemp won by more than he did last time.

And in a preview of what I’m writing next week, even in Georgia and Texas and Florida in the exit poll, a majority of voters said they wanted abortion to be legal in all or most cases, according to the exit poll. It was a lower percentage than in Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin. But among those who said abortion should be legal, a much higher percentage of them voted for Republican governors who had moved to ban abortion.

KRISTOL: So DeSantis has accepted, for example, a 15-week ban —

BROWNSTEIN: Yeah, but Abbott —

KRISTOL:  — which is much more liberal. I mean —

BROWNSTEIN: Abbott has a complete ban. DeWine and Kemp have six-week bans, and they won a substantial portion of people who said abortion should be legal. And it goes to your point about the stickiness. In red states, among conservative voters, even if they disagree with this, they were not getting off the team. They were not getting off the reservation.

Whereas I think in blue states and purple states, there was a real unequivocal signal of, “Don’t bring this here.” And I don’t want to — I don’t know, people might find this analogy hysterical, but it reminds me a little bit of the 1850s, where it’s not like slavery was unpopular in the South. But in the places that it had not extended to yet, it was fiercely resisted.

And that’s kind of like what I feel — I feel like we’re watching very divergent systems, social systems develop between the red and blue states. And in this election, there was an opportunity for the red state voters to say, we don’t want this. It’s going too far. We don’t want people carrying guns without permits, we don’t want six-week abortion bans, we don’t want you telling teachers they can’t talk about race or making it easier to ban books, and they didn’t. That did not happen in the red states. But in the blue states and the purple states, the fear of that being imposed I think was very real and very powerful.

KRISTOL: How much did candidates matter? Mitch McConnell famously spoke about “candidate quality,” and in a couple of cases it surely did in the most extreme. But again, to your point though, at the end of the day, if someone had told you, you had taken vacation for six months, you had no idea who the nominees were in any of these states, and you had to predict the winners in the Senate races and even in the House races, and you were told that it was going to be a level playing field, not a wave election, you would’ve predicted almost every state correctly, right? I mean everyone thought Ryan ran a great campaign in Ohio, and then he loses by eight points. Maybe at some level, does it matter to be a smart centrist Democrat who reaches out to Republicans, as opposed to some looking like you’re out of touch?

BROWNSTEIN: Much like they say Lee Zeldin helped Republican House candidates in New York. Ryan clearly helped Democratic House candidates in Ohio where they had a bunch of wins, including some big ones —

KRISTOL: And Shapiro in Pennsylvania, obviously.

BROWNSTEIN: Yeah, same thing. Look, I think obviously the individual foibles and failures of the candidates mattered, but they were not a random assemblage of people who got nominated. They got nominated because they embraced Trump and Trumpism, and Trump at that point had enough juice in the Republican coalition to force them, have them win primaries. I mean yeah, if you had Robson, the more mainstream candidate in Arizona against Katie Hobbs, who’s a pretty weak candidate, I can’t imagine it would be as close. And would David McCormick have beaten John Fetterman? You can’t guarantee it, but he probably would’ve run better than Mehmet Oz.

But it’s not like the part, I mean it’s not like it was just like flipping a coin and you —

KRISTOL: Right, right.

BROWNSTEIN: You ended up with Oz because of the reshaping of the Republican coalition under Trump to make it more Trumpy. I mean, I think more of the college educated, suburban, socially moderate, economically conservative voters who might have once thought of themselves as Republicans are probably wavering, at least north of the Mason Dixon line, and are thus less likely to be a force in the primaries. The Republican Party got these candidates not on a whim, they got them because Trump put his stamp on them and enough Republican voters said, that’s good enough for me.

KRISTOL: No, that’s so important. I mean in Arizona in fact, the incumbent Republican governor who was popular, Doug Ducey endorsed I think Robson, right? Kari Lake was endorsed by Trump, and so yeah. You can’t, so that gets really to the core question going forward which is, one of the questions, there are many. So yeah, it’s a mistake to talk about the Republican Party ex-Trump, because what does that mean now? He’s a huge part of it, and he’ll be a huge part of it even if he’s not the nominee or if he blows it up on his way out, which we can get to in a minute.

One last question, just on the current coalitions, because I think it’s so — You’ve made the point, I think it’s a very important one, that we talk about states, because that’s how votes get cast for the Senate and governors and so forth, and so those are the governing entities. But of course what the real distinction is more socioeconomic and education and race and all kinds of other things, and metro areas in red states look more like blue states.

And one thing I think we’ve seen, do you think I’m right about this? The, let’s call them the Trumpy areas in blue states, seem to be becoming Trumpier. I kind of feel like there were parts of New York state that were held back from becoming like central Pennsylvania or Ohio, let’s make a better comparison, because they were in New York somehow, and they were sort of residually still more liberal. But they are now voting like their similarly situated socioeconomic educational achievement districts in Ohio, upstate New York and so forth. And I feel, so I think in a way, the geo, geographical, socioeconomic, educational sorting that you’ve written about so much and been so perceptive about, that’s continuing, right? It’s not reversing, it’s not even, I think it might not even be stalling. It may even be just get getting more and more. Talk about that a bit.

BROWNSTEIN: The Trump Coalition is a powerful coalition. It’s stronger than I thought it would be. It’s a little bigger than I thought it would be, and there’s no question that what you’re describing is true. I mean, we saw it in the Glenn Youngkin race. In the previous governor’s race like when Ed Gillespie in 2017 got into the seventies in these rural counties in Virginia, you were like, whoa. And then Youngkin got into the eighties. It does not seem to be, there does not seem to be a bottom for Democrats. I was reading a tweet stream, thread from a woman who was running I think for state legislature in Missouri, describe — and in a rural area, and describing her experience going door to door as a Democrat. And it was astounding what people were saying to her.


BROWNSTEIN: So yeah, I think that, as I said. First of all, to me one of lessons of 2022 is that these, with the exception of Georgia and Arizona, these red states are getting redder. I mean the Texas thing, the metros are maybe are clearly moving toward Democrats, but the rural thing is real. The Latino thing, it didn’t really expand, but it’s solid at 40% for them. The Trump Coalition is a powerful coalition, and the Democratic coalition is very powerful. And so we’re kind of in this point where we have these two roughly even in size, but utterly antithetical in who they represent, what they value, and their vision of America. And trying to keep them both in the same country is just getting more and more difficult.

KRISTOL: Isn’t that interesting. And in the same state in some cases. Because presumably, you will see more mayors rebelling against governors and local officials and so forth, right?

BROWNSTEIN: Consistently Republican-controlled state legislatures and governors overriding democratic, limiting the powers of Democratic mayors and county executives. I mean if you’re in Austin or Houston and you look at the size of Abbott’s victory after they imposed, am I right, it’s a total ban on abortion in Texas, not even six weeks, it’s a total ban. And he still wins over 60% of white women. How do you go forward from that? I mean, there’s no way to look at this and not say that, basically red states are saying, we’re okay with this, what you’re doing.

And whereas in Michigan and Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, and I’m betting if we had exit polls in Colorado and Washington, and even to kind of meet — Arizona is kind of halfway between, you see the blue states very much saying no. I mean Bill, given the ubiquity or the consistency of the negative views on the economy and the negative views on Biden, there is no other explanation for Democrat relative success in some of these states, than a resistance to Trump and the Trumpism. There’s nothing else. What else would it be?

KRISTOL: Well I think Dobbs is a little special, I take your point that it’s part of a fabric. Also it literally though is overturning a 49 year decision by 5-4, I mean it was a little bigger part of the fabric than critical race theory or you know what I mean?

BROWNSTEIN: Right. Abortion becomes the kind of focal point of it all. But the thing that to me is so striking, is that the views on the economy were as negative in the states where Democrats did well, as they were in the states that they did poorly. And that suggests that this other complex of issues headlined by abortion, crystallized by abortion, symbolized by abortion, really — You look at, Whitmer won, according to the exit polls, 66% of college white women. She won 96% of black women. She won over 80% of voters who said abortion should be legal all or most of the time. and that was roughly what Shapiro got in Pennsylvania. And that is a majority in these states. I’m unaware of a state in the exit poll where a majority said abortion should be illegal in all or most circumstances.

As I said, the difference is first of all, the size of the group was smaller who said it should be legal in the red states. And even more importantly, fewer of those legal abortion voters voted against the Republican governors who sign laws to restrict it.

If you think about where we are for 2024, you have to project out two scenarios. One in which the economy gets better, and one in which it doesn’t. If it doesn’t, Democrats will be under a lot of strain. If it does, I would suspect their vote share will drift back up among all of the key groups in their coalition, because you won’t have that headwind pushing, and you will still have a Republican social cultural democracy agenda that frightens them.

KRISTOL: So that’s a key question about the Republican party, and it’s partly Trump-specific and partly would go to whether DeSantis and Youngkin would have the same burdens. And I think a lot of it is abortion specific in the sense that I think DeSantis, abortion barely came up in Florida. I don’t know, DeSantis just kind of was able to say, we have a law in the books, I’m for that law. And he never quite told pro-life voters that the law is 15 weeks, which allows 95% of abortions. And he never quite told pro-choice voters that in some theoretical way, he wasn’t adverse to making that 15 week limit lower. You know what I mean? He was able to get away with that. Could you do that at a national level is one question.

But you’ve talked before about the fact that in the past, a presidential — if I get this right — presidential approval was a very good predictor of vote in off-year elections in a state.


KRISTOL: And that this is the first time you’ve seen that, it was less so this — That you had a lot of Biden, you’ve got some numbers on the side. Biden disapprovers voting Democratic nonetheless.

BROWNSTEIN: So in 2018, Republicans lost all 10 Senate races in states where Trump’s approval was at 48 or below. In 2010, Democrats lost 13 out of 15 states in the Senate where Obama’s approval was at 47 or below. In 2006, Olympia Snowe was the only winner in 20 states where Bush’s approval was at 45 or below. And here we have Democrats winning multiple states where Biden is closer to 40 than 45. I mean they won Pennsylvania, governor’s a little different, but not that different. All of these states, his approval is in the low 40s. Arizona and Nevada.

KRISTOL: So there’s a decoupling from Biden.

BROWNSTEIN: There’s a decoupling. Democrats won somewhere, multiple Democrats won between 12 and 15% of voters who disapproved of Biden. Maggie Hassan won 20% of voters who disapproved of Biden in New Hampshire. In 2018, just to give one example, there was no Republican senate candidate who won more than 8% of voters who disapproved of Trump. And of course people that really focused on the national exit poll as well, where the voters who said they somewhat disapproved of Biden actually broke slightly, or about even, they may have broken slightly for the Democrats. The voters who somewhat disapproved of Trump in 2018 voted two to one for the other party. The voters who somewhat disapproved of Obama in 2010 voted two to one for the other party. In 2006, I think it was three to two.

So the idea that these somewhat disapproving voters of Biden still voted Democratic, is really a departure from what we have seen in this, really since the nineties, of a tightening correlation between how voters feel about the President and how they vote in House and Senate races.

And again, what can explain that? You can’t explain it by saying these voters are more economically optimistic than anybody else; they weren’t. The only thing that explains it is that Democrats succeeded in focusing, at least some of them, on the question of not only what Democrats have done, but what Republicans would do. And that allowed them to kind of, again, not avoid any losses, but really to create a much more even playing field that you would expect from the underlying economic attitudes and the attitudes about the President.

KRISTOL: So if you’re a Republican strategist, I think listening to this you say, look, this isn’t that complicated. We need to not renominate Trump. It may be difficult, but it’s not complicated. We need to not renominate Trump, we need to go federalist on abortion so we don’t scare people in Michigan. You get to have your liberal abortion laws and amendments to your constitution, and other states will do other things. We need to lay off a little bit on the cultural grievances, though enough of it to keep the base happy. But a lot of that’s federal and local, state and local, and so we can sort of avoid it. So as a national matter, if we just get this Trump baggage off our back, we finally ride this coalition to an actual, not just electoral college squeaker like in 2016, but an actual victory. Is that semi-accurate as a theory, and B, could it happen in practice?

BROWNSTEIN: That is the best theory, right? That is the theory.

KRISTOL: It can’t happen with Trump as the nominee, can it?

BROWNSTEIN: Yeah. But even if Trump isn’t the nominee. Here’s a question, and it’s as much a question for you as for me. Can someone win the nomination without signaling they would sign a national ban on abortion?

KRISTOL: Yeah, that is a big question, I think. I would say it would be risky, but if I were Ron DeSantis and wanted to be president, not just Republican nominee, I would explicitly say it. I’m not sure Trump wouldn’t then agree, because Trump is not deep down in his heart living and dying on the pro-life issue. But it would be a risky moment to try to kind of Clinton ’92 almost moment, to shift the party and make it —

BROWNSTEIN: It’s going to be a debate moment.

KRISTOL: A debate moment.

BROWNSTEIN: Fox is going to be, everybody  —

KRISTOL: Mike Pence will attack you.

BROWNSTEIN:  — who would sign a national ban on abortion, raise your hand. And then they’ll say, well, 15 weeks, rape, incest. Celinda Lake has been, who is one of Biden’s pollsters, has made the point that she believes that’s essentially irrelevant in, maybe relevant in red states, but in blue states it’s essentially irrelevant. Like if —

KRISTOL: Once you hear the word ban, you hear —

BROWNSTEIN: Once you hear the word ban, that’s it. And so if you are a strategist for DeSantis or Youngkin or someone, and by the way I want to make a point about Youngkin. You would have to look at what happened yesterday in Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and say, there’s no other reason for us to not win these states, other than voters viewed us as extremists, particularly on abortion. And to do exactly what you said. You have laid out what makes sense. I just don’t know if they can get there.

And I do think what I was saying before, I won’t put them entirely on one side, but I think if you have a Republican nominee who is running on any kind of national ban on abortion, I think yesterday tells me they are highly unlikely to win Michigan and Pennsylvania. Georgia, Arizona, Wisconsin, Nevada might be more still within reach. But I think it’s pretty clear you are not going to win Michigan or Pennsylvania if you’re saying we’re going to ban abortion in your state under any — 15 weeks with all sorts of exceptions, I don’t think you can win. And I don’t know if you can get the nomination without promising that, now that it’s at least possible to do because of the Supreme Court.

KRISTOL: What about Trump himself? How big of a factor is he? How much do you buy the line that he’s weakened in intra-Republican politics by what happened Tuesday with the Trumpiest candidates underperforming, I think it’s fair to say, Mastriano, et cetera. And DeSantis’ huge victory in what was a swing state in, quite recently, in Florida and so forth.

BROWNSTEIN: So a couple points on Trump. First, I think to what you kind of alluded to. There were Trump-chosen, hand-selected, he put the T on their head, in all five states that switched from Trump ’16 to Biden ’20. Arizona, governor and senate; Georgia, senate; Wisconsin, governor; Michigan, governor; Pennsylvania, governor and senator. And out of that whole list, the only ones who have a chance to win probably at this point are Kari Lake in Arizona, and maybe Herschel Walker in Georgia, and none of them are guaranteed.

A rational party would look at that and say, that’s a pretty clear signal that if we come back with Trump himself, or even someone really in the mold of Trump, these states are going to be hard.

Now, the problem Republicans have is that their nomination rules are very different than the Democratic nomination rules for the President. And they really favor the candidate who has the largest block of the party. And it’s worth taking a second to explain this. Republicans have much more winner-take-all features in their nominating process. Where if you finish first in a CD [congressional district], even if you only get 35% of the votes, you get all the delegates from that CD. Or if you finish first in a state, you get bonus delegates. I don’t know if they have any left, they used to have more states if you finish first in the state you get all the delegates in the state. I don’t think they do that, but they have bonuses. Trump was the presumptive nominee in 2016, before he had reached 50% in any state. People forget that. He didn’t reach 50% in any state until New York at the end of April, at which point he was already the presumptive nominee.

At that point, he had only won about 40% of the total vote, and he had pulled away from the field. So the question is, Trump is weaker than he was when he left office. And he’s weaker today than he was a week ago. But is there anyone who has as big a piece? Like is his share of the Republican primary electorate still somewhere in the 40 to 45% range? If it is, it gets really hard to beat him.

And this is where Youngkin comes in, okay. Because if Youngkin runs, he’s not going to be the nominee. I mean the party, I don’t — This may be, you know, you can play this back at me in two years, but I think it’s highly unlikely Youngkin would be the nominee. What Youngkin can do, however, is siphon off a lot of the college educated voters who are least likely to support Trump, and lead them into an absolute dead end where they can’t be part of an actual winning coalition to beat him.

People forget that in 2016, even in 2016 when he won the nomination so convincingly, he only won about 35% of college educated Republicans. He won like 55, 58% of the non-college Republicans. The college Republicans did not want him even then. The problem was, as you know painfully, they just kind off went everywhere. A little bit to Kasich, a little bit to Rubio, a little bit to Cruz.

And Youngkin could win a lot of them, but I don’t see him winning enough of the non-college and evangelical to ever be the nominee. And so what he could do is simply divert a critical part of the anti-Trump coalition into a dead end candidacy that would leave Trump’s 55%, which he’s still getting in polls by the way, he’s still getting 55% of non-college Republicans. That could be a winning hand if you’re trying to beat him. And Youngkin is siphoning off a big piece of the rest.

KRISTOL: I guess the question is, can Ron DeSantis, A, clear the field? Not immediately, they’ll want to test it, but by November of 2023 it’s going to be DeSantis or someone else and Trump, but the field gets narrowed to two or three. A. B, can that candidate say, “Look, we just got to win. Trump, good presidency, a lot of good policies, but the election denial stuff’s a killer. And the baggage of other kinds of baggage from his years in office and post and the lawsuits and so forth and indictments is a killer. And I’m here. I’m not some horrible anti-Trump or Liz Cheney. I’m not some person who thinks you’re a deplorable for having voted for Trump. I voted for Trump twice. I like former President Trump. We just can’t go down that road again”? I guess that’s the question, right? Is that the message, assuming Trump runs?

BROWNSTEIN: Like your analysis of the general election, I could imagine that working. I can imagine that working. But there are problems with it. One, as I said, is that the core of the anti-Trump — The Republican primary is now roughly 50/50 college and non-college. And the college side is definitely the core of the anti-Trump resistance in the party to Trump. And can anybody consolidate that better than we saw in 2016?

And then the second thing I’d point out is that the rules benefit whoever has the biggest piece. So that is a real challenge. If he can hold his non-college side, he may have the biggest piece in a lot of places.

The third problem is, we’ll call it the Mike Tyson rule. “Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the face.” The famous Mike Tyson quote.Running against Trump cannot be fun. He is shameless and uncontained, unbounded, and no one handled it very well in 2016. He reduced Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, and Ted Cruz to little puddles. Rubio and Cruz still seem broken by the experience. It was like something out of Game of Thrones. And I don’t know how anyone can stand up to that. I don’t know until you see it, how they will stand up to that. Is DeSantis capable of going toe-to-toe with Trump for a year?

KRISTOL: That’s a key question for people to focus on though. And as you said, I think it’s important to make that point about the actual toe-to-toe character, but not just a theoretical, “Here’s my sketch of the idea of Ron DeSantis. Here’s my sketch of the idea of Donald Trump and hey, the idea of Ron DeSantis could do better.” That’s not how voters are going to process it.

BROWNSTEIN: Yes. And of course you also have the question of whether Trump would sabotage someone who beats him.


BROWNSTEIN: You laid out the principle argument that would be implicit in any movement against Trump for the nomination, which is not, you can’t run and say he was a bad president or he is a threat to American democracy because only about 20 to 25% of Republicans believe he is in any way a threat to democracy. You have to be positive toward him, but essentially imply that he can’t win. Well, what if he’s basically holding the whole party hostage and he basically turns it around and say, “If you don’t nominate me, you can’t win because I’m taking my marbles and going home, or I’m running a third-party candidate, or I’m going to go out and trash you as a heretic.” He could turn that around.

KRISTOL: I think it’s an important point. Andy and I were talking about this earlier. Trumpism is a problem, from my point of view, it’s a serious problem in terms of American democracy. It’s a problem electorally to some degree as we were just saying in these states. But Trump personally is a problem that people haven’t — They acknowledge it in passing. But then if you’re in the game of political strategy, you want to get beyond that. So you start talking about Youngkin and DeSantis and the different issues. You don’t think about concretely in the real world, what is Donald Trump going to be like for the next 20 months?

BROWNSTEIN: And by the way, we should probably say the situation isn’t exactly sunshine and roses on the other side either.

KRISTOL: Well, let’s talk about that. So what do you think, Biden, again?

BROWNSTEIN: Well, I think…

KRISTOL: And what do you think the effect of Tuesday is?

BROWNSTEIN: Well first, the Tuesday effect is the dog that doesn’t bark. Because if they had a really bad midterm, there would be an instant eruption of people saying Biden has to step aside. And we’re not going to get that. We’re not going to get nearly as organized a push against him as we would have seen if it had been a really bad election for Democrats.

But you can’t ignore that in the exit polls, 55% disapproved of his job performance and two-thirds of people said he should not run. I got the numbers, I don’t remember them exactly. The numbers are even higher among independents. I think it’s closer to three quarters of independents. Now, all of this may prove irrelevant as…

KRISTOL: That’s two-thirds of all voters though, not of Democrats?

BROWNSTEIN: Two-thirds of all voters and maybe three-quarters…

KRISTOL: But it must be therefore some chunk of Democrats who think Biden shouldn’t run, right?

BROWNSTEIN: Yes. If we weren’t on camera, I would get my phone and I could actually tell you the number.

KRISTOL: People can look it up.

BROWNSTEIN: No, it hasn’t been published so I would be giving you the Kristol inside exclusive on how many Democrats said Biden shouldn’t run again.

KRISTOL: Once we put the conversation up online, you can tweet it out as a supplement.

BROWNSTEIN: I will tweet it out. But, there are two big buts here. One, as Biden said yesterday, “So what? I don’t really care.” He said that. And I do think people in the White House believe, overwhelmingly believe that Biden considers it his final mission in American politics to prevent Donald Trump from destroying American democracy, which he believes that he would do. And I think as long as he considers it a possibility that Trump will run, it is going to be very hard to convince him not to run.

A very senior official explained to me that the way I just formulated it is wrong. It’s backwards. It’s not that he’s going to run if Trump runs, it’s that he has decided to run because he believes Trump will already run. And if Trump doesn’t run, maybe then he’ll reconsider it. The stipulation is that I’m running unless something changes. It’s not that I’m waiting to see what Trump does.

Now, another reason for Biden to run, and I was talking about this with a Democrat yesterday, was, what happens if he doesn’t? Clearly there is no wide belief in the party that Harris can win. But she is the first woman of color, a vice president, and there would be substantial support for her in the primary. And bypassing a Black woman to nominate probably a white candidate is a very messy prospect for Democrats. You could look at yesterday, and I look at yesterday or Tuesday and Gretchen Whitmer seems like a pretty telling…

KRISTOL: Can we just have a Whitmer  Shapiro ticket and just go home.

BROWNSTEIN: Well, I don’t think we could have Whitmer Shapiro. I think having two white governors from —

KRISTOL: But I’m saying something like it. Can we have candidates who actually have won swing states by big margins and just —

BROWNSTEIN: If you didn’t have to worry about losing the Senate seat, there are many Democrats who feel like — Whitmer Warnock would be a great ticket. But how do you get there? How do you get there?

Even if Biden doesn’t run, can you get past the first female woman of color vice president? And even if you get past her, you got Buttigieg and Warren. You were talking about the on-paper versus the reality of dealing with Trump. There are a lot of Democrats who desperately want what Biden said to be true in Michigan right before the pandemic shut it down. “I am the bridge to the next generation. Look at these people behind me,” and that included Whitmer and Corey Booker. That’s not a bad ticket I suppose, no. But how do you get there in practice?

KRISTOL: And I think it’s less — Personally, I think Harris [inaudible]. She’s vice president, she’s entitled to run. She will run. Some Blacks will support her, some Blacks won’t support her as happened in 2020 obviously. But it’s more almost just the messiness of okay then we’ve got 12 candidates. And some of them are very impressive, I would make the case, it’s quite a strong bench by historical standards in American politics that if you walked into a room and had a conversation with Whitmer, Shapiro, Buttigieg, Warnock, just go through a whole bunch of, Jared Polis, there’d be some pretty impressive governors, some pretty impressive members of Congress. Mitchel Andrew can show up having been mayor of New Orleans, having. But yeah, how do you get from here to there once — How do you not have —

BROWNSTEIN: How do you get to there? Yeah. I do think that the desire — There was a dramatic age break in the results everywhere yesterday. Democrats did much better among people 18 to 44 than among 45 plus. And it may seem incredible, but the oldest millennials are now 41. The oldest millennials will be 43 in the 2024 election. So that is the base of the party.

And the idea that you have a party that is essentially centered on young, diverse secular America, Metro, info-age America is led by a bunch of octogenarians in every sphere is crazy. It would be electrifying, I think for the actual Democratic coalition, if you could get to a younger nominee ticket that would excite people and reflects the changing America. And Harris does that. I don’t know, could she be the vice president again if Biden doesn’t run? But how do you get there? How do you get there?

KRISTOL: A lot will happen, so that might help get us there or not. A.B. Stoddard made this point on a conversation about three months ago. People are underestimating how crazy 2023 can be. When we’re in the election business, we of course think from ’22 to ’24, we know there are primaries so we think about the beginning of ’24. And then we think about presidential candidates.

What will happen if Republicans have a very narrow margin in the House, which looks like the most likely outcome now? But really now three, four seats, something like that, the margin. The degree of difficulty of managing that, the craziness that voters will see from the Marjorie Taylor Greene’s of the world, who I don’t think will be restrained. Trump butting in every time McCarthy tries to do something, or just to get publicity, or if he doesn’t like something McCarthy’s doing or he encourages Jim Jordan, “Why haven’t the hearings of Hunter Biden begun yet? Come on Jim Jordan. I want them now.” And Jim Jordan will hop to it I guess. That side of it.

On the other hand, hearings about Hunter Biden could be embarrassing. I don’t know. I just wonder, Trump could get indicted, there could be demonstrations against Trump being indicted and the House could impeach Merrick Garland. I just think people are not focused on what we’re going to go through here.

BROWNSTEIN: And I apologize for coming back to this because I’m working it out and writing it now and so it’s top of mind. But the idea of Republican extremism and Trumpism as a threat to fundamental principles of American democracy and civil rights and civil liberties is really powerful in blue states and blueish states. It does not seem to be at all nearly as much of a turnoff for any portion of the Republican coalition in the red states. Maybe suburban Atlanta, I’m putting that in a purple state, they stayed off the bus for Walker. They would not follow him.

But in the blue states and in the purple States, again, I keep coming back to this, what else can explain Democrats doing reasonably well amid this economic discontent? And so what you’re positing is an entire year of showing those voters over and over again what it would mean to give Republicans power.

Because again, I think the pivot in this election was that midterms normally are their referendum, what has the party in power done with that power. That did not disappear, that was a factor, but this was bounded and limited by the Democrat success at introducing the second question: what would Republicans do with power? And the 2023 cavalcade is going to really put that in relief.

KRISTOL: It will be fair to say in 2024, if we’ve gone through a 2023, something like this, it will be popular in red states perhaps, and even in reddish parts of blue states, which matters for the House because they get elected by district, not by state, so they won’t be playing a price necessarily. Elise Stefanik’s not going to get unseated even though she’s from New York, if she’s at the head of the Hunter Biden prosecution parade or something, or the Merrick Garland impeachment parade.

One thing about ’24, I was just thinking about it, that hasn’t been focused on, is Democrats will be able to say truthfully in ’24, if you elect a Republican president — they’re not going to lose the House presumably if they win the presidency back, and the Senate map is such that they have a very good chance of, even if it’s a 51/49 Senate going into ’24, putting the Senate — so you really are risking unified Republican governance and are you willing —

It’s one thing to have that in a pre-Dobbs world where Trump can insincerely talk about rights of life and he can make judicial appointments which will have an effect ultimately, but short, medium term, it has no effect on anything. And in a pre- a lot of things world, that stuff was just beginning a lot of the cultural war stuff, or not beginning, but hadn’t been intensified yet. It was more random comments of Trump, not actual lists of books being being banned. I do think it’s interesting how much — Maybe that just rallies blue America.

BROWNSTEIN: That’s right.

KRISTOL: Which is good. Which is important.

BROWNSTEIN: That’s what I believe. I think the message of Tuesday is that you can mobilize the blue states plus Michigan and Pennsylvania and maybe Wisconsin, you can mobilize them out of opposition to what a Trump vision of America would mean for that state. And you can mobilize them around preventing Republicans from getting the power to impose that vision.

KRISTOL: If Democrats don’t present candidates who really look themselves excessively problematic. And there was a gap between Evers and even Mandela Barnes who’s not personally objectionable like Walker or anything, but just has more left-wing baggage.

BROWNSTEIN: And also we’re not in a recession. Although I wouldn’t say that. I don’t know how much higher economic discontent can be than 75%. So I’m not even sure, if the economy stayed bad, I’m not sure Biden couldn’t beat Trump. He might not be [inaudible]. But I don’t rule it out. Biden could beat Trump with a 45% approval rating. That could happen.

KRISTOL: Unless the Biden age thing becomes enough of a disqualifier to actually shake swing voters in a way that I could argue your Whitmer, Warnock ticket, or your Shapiro someone ticket or something —

BROWNSTEIN: I’m crawling out on a limb here. I think if Trump is the nominee, it almost doesn’t matter. The only issue for the coalition that came out to oppose him in each of the past three elections will be stopping him from being president. And there could be an eggplant at the top of the ticket. And you would have a battle of the bulge in which, I’m not saying it’s guaranteed that he would lose, I’m saying for that coalition, nothing else is likely to matter. Nothing. The inflation level, the stock market, it’s not going to matter as much as whether you want to let him have power and potentially change the character of American democracy forever.

And for his coalition, the opportunity to do that is going to be very enticing. But the more I think about it, I just can’t imagine, I don’t think there is a higher level of economic discontent than 75, 80%. There could be.

KRISTOL: But only a 3.5% unemployment. So there was objective facts that sort of made the discontent slightly abstract that —

BROWNSTEIN: But inflation is real.

KRISTOL: But inflation is real. I agree.

BROWNSTEIN: If JP Morgan is right and we have 3.2% inflation with 5% unemployment a year from now, Biden’s approval almost certainly is going to be a few points higher than it is today and the Democratic situation will look a little better.

As I was saying before, one way to think about what happened on Tuesday is yes, the Democrats lost ground in every group they rely on compared to ’18 and ’20. They held together enough of it to avoid a shellacking, but they did lose ground with everybody. So do you look at that and say, “Well, there’s some secular trend that is moving these people more toward Republicans”? Or do you say, “Even with 9% inflation, this was as far as the tide got. This was as far as they got”? And if it’s 3% inflation, the tide is likely to roll back out a few yards.

KRISTOL: And it’s only a few yards either way. That’s what’s so striking. You [mentioned] the Democratic legislator running in Missouri. And this was finding out just saying the word Democrat and suddenly they’re not interested. Missouri was once something of a swing state, in part.

BROWNSTEIN: I went to Cheryl Crow’s hometown with Claire McCaskill once when she was running against Jim Talent. I’ve been to the Cheryl Crow aquatic Center.


BROWNSTEIN: Yeah, how about that? And I talked about it with her once.

KRISTOL: Wow, okay. Now we’re really name dropping and stuff.

BROWNSTEIN: Little celebrity name dropping.

KRISTOL: That’s good.

BROWNSTEIN: I do have this whole other side thinking about how culture and politics intertwine.

KRISTOL: And of course in the era of Trump, we shouldn’t minimize the importance of celebrities.

But I think it’s a very interesting question. I don’t know if you know, how much Trump, if he runs, assuming he probably will, whether or not he’s the nominee, I would almost say, but especially if he’s the nominee, of course, how much of the next years of American politics, the central figure is Donald Trump? For all the drama and people like us who care a lot about the House and the Democratic candidates and the president of the United States, Joe Biden and these interesting younger, Josh Shapiro. Wow, look at that, a Democratic governor of Pennsylvania who’s winning by 16 points or whatever he won by. And the DeSantis on the other side. The dominance of Trump, the centrality of Trump is amazing actually.

BROWNSTEIN: It is. Look, there is a coherent, durable coalition that has shown it will come out to vote to prevent Trump from imposing his vision on America. Now, whether that is enough to win always, is a question.

Obviously in 2016 there were more people who voted against him than for him, but it wasn’t enough to win because of the [inaudible]. I’m not guaranteeing that he is going to lose if he runs in 2024. What I’m saying though is that there is a coherent coalition that is dead set against — People describe it, Democrats call it the anti-MAGA majority. And that will come out in 2024, even if we’re in Carter level stagflation, because there are enough voters.

What last night made clear was that there are a lot of voters, there are a lot of voters that view that as an existential threat that go beyond anything that’s happening in the immediate kind of biosphere of their lives. Again, not guaranteeing that it is a winning hand, but I think it is almost independent of where Biden is and where the economy is. Now, obviously, you get people who are not really part of that discussion on board if the economy is better. So it gets a little bigger, but there is a core that could win even in a bad economy. Not guaranteed, but it could.

KRISTOL: Yeah, and I suppose the sort of flip side of that is that Trump is so well identified as a person with issues, that he can’t really do what a candidate — moderate. He can’t sort of, “That election denial stuff, I don’t quite mean that.” Now, whether another Republican could, and we discussed that earlier, is I think a very interesting question. Just presume if he shed some of that election denial, anti-democratic stuff, could have an awful lot of stuff that you wouldn’t like, frankly, I wouldn’t like, of culture war and grievance politics. But that would be a little less scary to people. A little federalism on abortion, and suddenly things change enough for one or two or three percent in key states.

BROWNSTEIN: With Biden at 81, Biden would be 81 on election day, almost 82. Yeah, I mean, there’s a slice of this anti-Trump coalition that is really not that enthused about Democrats.


BROWNSTEIN: People focus on how self-identified Republicans are sticking with the MAGA candidates, and that’s true. But there’s no way Democrats are running even among Independents or winning Independents in states like Arizona and New Hampshire in this climate unless there are some people who used to think of themselves as Republicans, who are voting Democratic. I mean, Mark Kelly won Independents by a substantial margin in the exit poll. And those are people who might call themselves Independent, but a lot of them are functionally Republicans in the past. So if you gave them a better alternative, we saw that with Kemp.

KRISTOL: Yeah, in Georgia.

BROWNSTEIN: I’m guessing Kemp won Independents, and Walker lost them. And if you look —

KRISTOL: And it’s so dramatic that Kemp is not on the list of people spoken about for president, when he’s a successful Republican governor in a swing state who upheld the 2020 election. So he is not an election denier, but is otherwise very conservative. But somehow, he’s not — Having taken on Trump in 2020, same with Pence, incidentally, that for me is very revealing. Now, if one of them could take off, that sort of is maybe where the party can be, because Kemp and Pence in sort of different ways are the Trump policies without the election denial and too much conspiratorialism and craziness. Pence has an issue. Pence is so pro-life, that would be a complication. But Kemp and Pence are not in the top tier. I mean, DeSantis swamps them in the polls because he plays the grievance politics presumably.

BROWNSTEIN: Right. I mean, Kemp has implemented —

KRISTOL: And never took on Trump. That’s the key, right?


KRISTOL: Both Pence and Kemp said to Trump, “Sorry. No, can do,” When it came to overturning the 2020 election. It’s amazing that’s so central, really? Isn’t that kind of crazy? I guess that is sort of —

BROWNSTEIN: But it’s just a props for loyalty to Trump, deference to Trump.


BROWNSTEIN: That’s what it is. And the idea that many non-college and non-urban and evangelical voters think that he is their voice against the elites and he’s given them a voice that they haven’t had, a megaphone they haven’t had, that isn’t aimed just to Democrats, that’s also aimed at Republicans. So he would have, I think, enormous success at essentially saying — he could have enormous success at saying, “These candidates are trying to put you back in the shadows in the corner, and I am your champion. And all of these people look down on you, and they just want to go back to their boardrooms. And I’m the one out here fighting for you”. Look, his hold on non-college Republicans is going to be seriously dislodged. And I will point out again that even in 2016, 2/3, only less than two thirds of college Republicans did not want him. And that didn’t work to stop him.


BROWNSTEIN: So someone has to figure out a way to both consolidate a little more of the college Republicans and cut in a little more deeply to his hold on the non-college Republicans than anybody had managed to do in 2016. And maybe DeSantis can do that. Maybe he can compete on both sides. As you say, he has the grievance politics that may pull away some of those blue collar Republicans. But he also seems to be a little more acceptable to the boardroom Republicans.

But we’ll see. I mean, I can imagine it, sitting here playing it out, we can both imagine it. But then you got the Mike Tyson rule. I mean, everybody’s got a plan until they get punched in the face. And so you and I sitting here on Zoom are not going to actually have to go out and do it day after day.

KRISTOL: Yeah. No, that’s so important. We need to get back together in a few months and see where we stand. And an awful lot’s going to happen, right? I mean, we’ll see, do they really take the House? Is it close enough? Someone pointed out today on Twitter, very obvious but intelligent, good point, if it’s literally 219 to, what would the math be here, 218, 219, 214, 216 or 220, 215. I mean, people retire, people have illnesses. President Biden appoints some Republican, finds one decent, one Republican wants a good job somewhere, gives him a job and he leaves the House and it’s an open seat. I don’t know. It’s not obvious. That could be so crazy and so chaotic.

BROWNSTEIN: Absolutely [inaudible] Trump. The only impeachment Republican was the guy in Washington.

KRISTOL: Yeah, Dan Newhouse, I think who won, is still there.


KRISTOL: We’ll leave that aside, but just generally —

BROWNSTEIN: If Kinzinger was still there, if Kinzinger had not retired and he was the last vote, you make him an ambassador, and suddenly Nancy Pelosi’s speaker again.


BROWNSTEIN:  But I don’t know if they can find that.

KRISTOL: I’m making the point that we sort got used to the glass —

BROWNSTEIN: I want to go back. Your point is really important because assuming they do get a House majority, 2023 is going to be broadcast to this coalition in blue and purple states, exactly what they have to look forward to if Republicans get unified control. And I just think that could be very difficult in at least some of them. I mean, I think DeSantis could win back Arizona or Georgia. I do think that. I don’t think he could win. I would be surprised if he could win back Michigan and Pennsylvania in the shadow of unified Republican control based on what we saw Tuesday.

I’m really crawling out on a limb here, but I feel like — I just keep going back to this point. People are so unhappy with the economy and they still elected Democrats by pretty big margins in those states, which says to me that they really don’t want the kind of Trump/red state regime being imposed on them. And if you have a 2023 that is constantly broadcasting what that might look like, I think that’ll make it very hard, at least in those two states with Arizona, Georgia, Nevada, and Wisconsin on the other hand being really just total tipping point.

Democrats, by the way, I think I calculated this morning, if you take out Nevada and give them the other 19 states, they’ve won four straight times, add Michigan and Pennsylvania, Democrats are, it’s 260 to 235 at that point.

KRISTOL: For the Democrats, so they only need one more state. Yeah, yeah.

BROWNSTEIN: They need one more state. They would need one out of Wisconsin, Georgia, and Arizona. I hesitate to even say North Carolina because they’re not going to win North Carolina before they win one of those.

KRISTOL: Right, right. Interesting. Well, we’re already speculating about the 2024 electoral college, so we probably have a few things to get to before then. But anything we haven’t covered here that people should be just looking for over the next few months and years? I come back to the centrality of Trump. I mean, does he get indicted? Does he run? Who runs against him?


KRISTOL: That seems awfully important.

BROWNSTEIN: Yes, he gets indicted. Yes, he runs. Someone’s going to indict him. He’s going to get indicted by Georgia or the Justice Department. And of course, the Justice Department might indict him twice for classified and for obstruction of the 2020 count. And in some ways that makes him harder to beat, I think.

KRISTOL: Yeah, in a Republican primary. What is Ron DeSantis going to say the day Donald Trump gets indicted for keeping classified documents in Mar-a-Lago? He’s not going to say, “The Justice Department might have a good case here.” And I don’t think he’s even going to say, “Let’s withhold judgment and let the court process work.” I think he’s going to say, don’t you think, every Republican’s going to be under massive pressure to say, “this is an outrage”?

BROWNSTEIN: Yeah, no. They have chosen to put themselves under his thumb. They’ve had infinite opportunities to pursue an off-ramp in which — just to pursue an off-ramp. And each time they have basically said, they made the calculation that it’s too risky, too big a risk of alienating his voters. “We like his superpower of turning out those voters. We don’t want to give that up.” And they won’t do it, and so here they are.

KRISTOL: So you predicted Biden/Harris in 2018, so I can’t resist this midterm. You can duck it if you want, obviously. Andy and I were joking earlier, if you did a matrix, there are four possible ways, leaving aside third parties, 2024 could be. Biden versus Trump, non-Biden versus Trump, non-Trump versus Biden and non- Trump versus non-Biden, right? There aren’t infinite possibilities for how this can work out. I take it from our conversation that the most likely of those four you think is Biden versus Trump.

BROWNSTEIN: Yeah, yeah.

KRISTOL: By a considerably large margin.

BROWNSTEIN: Which would be 160 years of candidate, by the way.

KRISTOL: And Biden will be Harris, so we’ll have three of the four will be a repeat of, I mean, 2020.

BROWNSTEIN: If Lake wins, I mean, she would seem to be —

KRISTOL: So Biden/Harris, Trump/Lake, that’s the Brownstein. That’s the official…

BROWNSTEIN: If I had to.

KRISTOL:  Brownstein / Kristol Conversations midterm projection.

BROWNSTEIN: But you’re making a persuasive case that Trump can be beat. I mean, I don’t know who DeSantis — DeSantis is the only one who’s going to beat him, if anybody.

KRISTOL: Unless some weird — I don’t know. Who knows?

BROWNSTEIN: The DeSantis vice president would be a senator, right?

KRISTOL: I guess. I don’t know. Stefanik or something, I don’t know.

BROWNSTEIN: Yeah, it would be someone from Congress.

KRISTOL: I would think, but who knows? Maybe these old rules are totally off the —  as we’re speaking on Thursday afternoon the 10th, we don’t know what’s happening in the Arizona Governor’s race, which looks dead even. I think that’s kind of a final point that we should let you go and let people go. I mean, I think Lake winning helps take the edge off the disastrous night for the Trump narrative. Lake losing really means all the Trump blessed — almost all except JD Vance, I guess — Trump blessed candidates in swing states have lost.


KRISTOL: If Lake wins, then Trump gets a little bit of, “See when they were really good candidates like me, whom I blessed, they did fine and Arizona was the place they said we couldn’t win,” and et cetera, et cetera. The place that they stole from him in 2020. “That’s what that audit showed” and stuff. So Lake is a weirdly big figure.

BROWNSTEIN: [inaudible] silver lining. And her winning would be. I mean, look, she’s running against a weak candidate with 90% inflation, and she might eek it out by a tiny margin. It’s incredible that that’s happening. And it’s only happening because there’s so many Republicans willing to vote for someone who is an open election denier who wants to defy federal law on immigration and all that. But again, it doesn’t say to me that Arizona is Republican leaning in ’24. It says it’s just right —

KRISTOL: Yeah, it’s smack in the middle.

BROWNSTEIN: Again, I assume the underlying climate for Democrats will be better in ’24 than it was in ’22, that the tide will roll back a little bit unless Biden is so obviously incapable of running that people recoil against that. And I suppose that’s like a circuit breaker. It’s like it’s self correcting. If he’s obviously incapable of running, he won’t be the nominee.

KRISTOL: Yeah, so that would be then. And then the Democrats will either produce a excellent nominee against Trump or have a terrible primary process that gets everyone both annoyed at each other and alienates swing voters. I don’t know. It’s hard to know how that —

BROWNSTEIN: I mean, think the best thing they could do, clearly the best thing they could do would be Biden and Harris to both step aside and nominate one of these governors. That would be the best thing they could do. I’m not sure they can get there even if Biden and Harris step aside. I mean, I think it might be hard. You and I might say Gretchen Whitmer and Wes Moore and Gavin Newsom and people like that are really potentially very compelling general election candidates. It’s going to be hard to get past Buttigieg and Warren.


BROWNSTEIN: Even if Biden and Harris step aside, they would be pretty formidable.

KRISTOL: They could be good candidates too. Who knows? Buttigieg could be, I think. But I don’t know. Who knows?

BROWNSTEIN: Yeah, Buttigieg, Buttigieg —

KRISTOL: Generational change.


KRISTOL: Big gamble.

BROWNSTEIN: It’s a big gamble. I mean, he’s a gay guy and he’s never held an executive — He’s never been — Now, I guess, he’s Transportation Secretary and the mayor, but he doesn’t have a lot of global experience. And I actually think people would pay — I mean, I think he could hold up against and I think he could pass the Mike Tyson test, actually.


BROWNSTEIN: I think he could really do well in the actual give and take with Trump every day. And I don’t know how Whitmer would do or Newsom. I mean, don’t rule out Newsom. Newsom is the one who has most directly stepped into the void that Biden doesn’t really want to. And he did. He does at times, but he doesn’t really want to confront the extent of the aggressive moves in the red states. And Newsom found a market opening and filled it.

KRISTOL: And that will happen I’m sure repeatedly over the next months and year, really. Politics is not a static thing. And so people should discount some of what we’re saying. It’s a snapshot of, and I think a good snapshot.

BROWNSTEIN: We should say before we go, I mean, the fact that Abbott, Kemp, DeSantis, Reynolds, et cetera, Lee in Tennessee all got reelected is not exactly going to discourage them from going further on all of these fronts.

KRISTOL: Right, right.

BROWNSTEIN: You can see quite a bit more in the coming year, particularly on education and speech and parents and stuff like that.

KRISTOL: Yeah, a lot of stuff’s going to happen on different states and both sides. You never know also, which particular thing catches on nationally and so forth. Ron, thank you very much for joining me today on the Thursday after election day for really an interesting, not recap so much as where we are and where we’re going and where we might be going.


KRISTOL: So hopefully, we’ll destroy the parts of this later on that don’t come true and keep the other parts somehow. [Laughter].

BROWNSTEIN: Can we call it a precap?

KRISTOL: This is a precap, yeah. This was a precap. But no, I do think, look, it’s been very interesting and stimulating. And just in this conversation alone, just two or three things occurred to me that I hadn’t really thought as much about before, so this was, for me, very useful.

BROWNSTEIN: Same here.

KRISTOL: Thank you. Thank you for doing it. And thank you all for joining us on CONVERSATIONS.