Tom with the BTRTN November 2022 Month in Review.
November was dominated, of course, by the midterms, which were notable, even historic, for many reasons. Technically speaking, they are not over yet, because two races remain unresolved, California’s 13th House District, where the GOP candidate is ahead by 599 votes (in an election where over 130,000 ballots have been cast) with 96% of the vote in, and, of course, the runoff Senate election in Georgia on December 6.But that is hardly enough uncertainty to prevent us from drawing conclusions about the midterms; indeed, countless others have already picked over them, even well before House or Senate control was decided, with the ruthless savagery of lions, hyenas and vultures devouring a wildebeest corpse in the Serengeti. So, here is our Top Ten list of winners and losers, in a year where some entities rightly appear on both lists.
· Joe Biden and the Democrats, the reality. Clear winners, you think? Well, except for the minor matter of losing the House, which will have – there is no other way to say it – a devastating impact on Biden’s agenda in the remaining two years of his first term. It may still be possible to pass meaningful legislation in a few areas where common ground might be found, but it’s all over for the “progressive, but realistic” agenda that Biden artfully executed when he held the trifecta in his first two years. Now Biden can look forward to excruciatingly painful negotiations over budgets and debt ceilings, while hoping the GOP overreaches in the myriad investigations it will launch in the House.
· Joe Biden and the Democrats, the perception. Ah, this is where Biden and the Democrats were winners. Against the backdrop of history, and the media/pundit expectation of a “red wave,” the Democrats wildly over-performed expectations by holding the Senate and losing what appears to be only nine net seats in the House (eight, if the Dems can take California’s 13th). By this scorecard, Biden’s performance was the best by a first-term president since 2002, when George W. Bush, on the heels of a fine start in dealing with 9/11, managed to actually pick up a net of eight seats in the House and two in the Senate. Biden did not do well enough to hold the House, but there was clearly a hop in his step over the outcome, thanks to the off-track pre-election red wave hype.
· Kevin McCarthy. It’s hard to keep track of where McCarthy sits in the midterms drama. He would seem to be a winner in that the GOP took the House, setting him up to achieve his lifelong dream of becoming Speaker. But between his outrageously awful prediction of the GOP picking up 60 seats (a prediction he made, to be fair, in happier-looking times for the GOP) and the rocky road that lies ahead for him to actually achieve the Speakership, he sure doesn’t look like one. Plus, even if he achieves that goal – for which he sold what passes for his soul to an orange-haired devil – he will likely end up envying the poor wildebeest, who at least suffered his fate quickly. McCarthy, on the other hand, will be doomed to being tortured, for at least two years, by the mob known as the Freedom Caucus, the small but, by virtue of the slim GOP majority, highly-empowered, deeply conservative faction of the GOP. They are comprised of the dregs of the party, featuring such luminaries as Marjorie Taylor Greene, Ron Gosar and the barely re-elected Lauren Boebert. McCarthy needs almost every single one of them for any vote (including his own fate as Speaker, on January 3). But if he leans too far to the right, the moderate GOP representatives (yes, there are some) who need sane GOP behavior to survive in their own swing districts, will inflict their own pain on McCarthy. They, too, possess the need-every-vote leverage of a small voting bloc.
· The media/pundits. Our first unambiguous losers. “Media” and “pundits” are two big terms, and they cover a great many individuals, and surely some of them must have been right about the midterms. But, in general, the dominant, if not sole narrative heading into the midterms was the Eve of Democratic Destruction, a slaughter that would result in the loss of the Senate and House, the latter accompanied by a loss of 30 to 50 Dems seats. “Red Wave Coming” is simply a more interesting headline than “Close Race Coming,” and hysteria is somehow more fascinating than the truth (and it certainly might have helped get out the blue vote). If only the media and the pundits had ignored the midterms’ history and instead listened to the real winners of the night…
· The pollsters and the aggregator/predictors. The villains of 2016 (when Hillary lost instead of won) and 2020 (when the Dems lost seats in the House instead of gaining them) were on their game in 2022, emerging as clear winners. The polls – when aggregated, at the very least – never, ever signaled anything approaching a “red wave.” Most of the aggregators (except for far-right Real Clear Politics, which blew it completely) saw the midterms exactly as they ended up being, generally a toss-up for the Senate and a modest loss of House seats for the Democrats. Some, like Nate Silver of fivethirtyeight.com, shaded it a bit too red, but others, like us, BTRTN, came about as close as one can come to nailing it. (And for that story, read this: http://www.borntorunthenumbers.com/2022/12/btrtn-how-we-nailed-midterms-with-near.html)
· The Election Deniers. When the history books are written, the lead paragraph on the 2022 midterms will likely focus on the demise of the Big Lie. Unfortunately, the death of the deniers did not come out of some long overdue collective sense of moral outrage among Republicans, but rather, ironically, from the reality of the ballot box itself – pushing the Big Lie was proven to be a losing strategy. The GOP nominated a bunch of deniers, 291 by one count, and while many won, most of the consequential ones – the ones who could directly influence election apparatus -- lost. These included gubernatorial candidates in New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Arizona and Michigan; secretaries of state in Arizona, Michigan and Nevada; and state Attorney’s General in Arizona and Michigan. One measure of the poison of “election denial” in the post-midterm conversation is that Donald Trump barely even mentioned the Big Lie in the speech he gave to launch his 2024 campaign. Speaking of which….
· Donald Trump. Trump was easily the Biggest Loser of the night. The man who said the GOP would get “tired of winning” under his leadership instead has become synonymous with losing – the House and Senate in 2018, the presidency in 2020, and blowing a very favorable map and political environment in 2022. The latter occurred in some measure because Trump insisted on making the Big Lie the Big Issue for the GOP, and his inept hand-picked candidates failed abysmally, losing eminently winnable races in Pennsylvania and Arizona, and perhaps Georgia. But it was a bad night for Trump not only for his indelible fingerprints on GOP disasters, but also because of the rising star of…
· Ron DeSantis. The Florida governor had a sensational night, the kind of trajectory changing event that ends up filling a chapter in a future presidential biography. DeSantis won by 19 points, a reelection effort that boggles the mind, considering he first won the governorship in 2018 by a mere 0.4 percentage points (and the two prior Florida gubernatorial races were each decided by less than two points). DeSantis’s win was the largest in 40 years in Florida, and he carried the entire Florida slate to great heights, including Marco Rubio’s 16-point win over Val Demings in the Senate and three flips in the House. But most importantly, DeSantis set himself up as THE Trump-alternative in 2024 – in the words of the Murdoch-run New York Post (punning Jon Landau on Bruce Springsteen), he became Ron DeFuture. But as good a night as it was for DeSantis, it was just that bad for…
· Sean Patrick Maloney and the New York Democrats. The coattails of Governor Kathy Hochul, author of an exceedingly underwhelming 6-point win over Lee Zeldin, were shallow indeed. Maloney, head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, and responsible for doling out funds to Democratic incumbents and challengers across the country, hardly expected to be shoveling millions of the largesse into his own House campaign, which he ultimately lost by a single point. Three other New York Democratic House incumbents in purple districts also lost, meaning that the Democrats would have held the House if they’d managed to hold New York plus California’s 13th.
· Pro-choice advocates. This win is another mixed bag. Democratic turnout was clearly juiced by the abortion rights issue, and election night saw five victories on abortion rights ballot initiatives (three wins enshrining “pro” initiatives in California, Vermont and Michigan, and two rejections of “anti” initiatives on Montana and Kentucky). But the impetus for all of this Election Day motivation was, of course, the Dobbs decision in June that overturned Roe and denied abortion access to tens of millions of women as a consequence. Election Night was a dramatic statement on behalf of women’s reproductive health rights, but the net for the year was still a seismic loss.
Thus election night – or should we say election month – was far more of a mixed bag than was universally reported. An unexpectedly strong performance by the Democrats cannot overcome the fact that they lost the House, in a year when they lost Roe, and the GOP may have finally shucked off Trump in favor of a formidable rising star. The battle begins anew, and it starts in Georgia next week.
Trump’s announcement was perhaps ill-advised and certainly ill-timed, coming on the heels of a disastrous night for Trump and with the Georgia run-off looming. His speech was scripted and relatively disciplined, for Trump. But it surely lacked the fire that his base craves, and at a time when Trump is clearly losing independents and less-crazed Republicans, you have to wonder where the path to a Trump victory lies. The pundits were pointing to a potentially large GOP field working in Trump’s favor, splintering the anti-Trump vote, but that analysis ignores the coalescing around DeSantis. That group will not likely splinter unless DeSantis goes the way of Scott Walker circa 2015, another wonder boy GOP Governor, which seems unlikely.
But Trump’s own base may shrink as well. Did Trump really think that taking a dinner with Ye (formerly known as Kanye West) and Nick Fuentes was the best way to light a fire under the multitudes? If his launch announcement was “ill-advised,” then what in the world would you call a dinner with a known white supremacist, Holocaust denier and anti-Semite? (And Ye is also an anti-Semite.) The Great Trump Revulsion may actually be underway. Trump has claimed that he did not know West’s guest, but all that means is ridiculously bad staff work (note: there is no staff anymore) topped by sheer stupidity. And since he surely knows who Fuentes is by now, where is the apology? Major donors (including primo enabler Steven Schwartzman) are fed up and sprinting for the exits; Bibi Netanyahu and Trump’s own ambassador to Israel have denounced Trump; and even Governor Kristi Noem of South Dakota – a panting Trump-VP aspirer – rather shockingly refused to endorse Trump after his announcement. A special counsel has been named by the DOJ to investigate both January 6 and the Mar-A-Lago DocuGate, a Georgia indictment may be imminent, and Alvin Bragg has reopened the Stormy Daniels case in New York. Those Mar-A-Lago walls are closing in, for good, one can only hope.
It certainly did not help Trump that Oath Keeper leader Stewart Rhodes and a henchman were convicted of sedition at the end of the month. Perhaps a small part of the faithful will now understand the treasonous behavior motivating the January 6 crowd, and Trump’s role as, at the very least, the inspiration for and enabler of the sedition at work that day. Of course, even if it cannot be established that Trump was part of the direct January 6 planning, there is already ample evidence that he orchestrated the entire plot to overthrow the election, starting well before the election itself, and thereby displayed seditious behavior of his own accord.
The month was also notable for protests in both Iran and China, as totalitarian regimes were challenged by extremely brave citizens who spotlighted overly extreme Covid policies in China and sickeningly brutal behavior toward women in Iran. The triggering incidents were surreally grisly. In China, ten people died in an apartment fire, as the fire department was unable to traverse overzealous lockdown barricades. In Iran, it was the death of 22-year old Mahsa Amini, who was arrested by the morality police for allegedly wearing her habib too loosely -- and subsequently died in police custody.
The U.S. suffered its own array of senseless tragedies in November which, while not at the hands of the governing administration, certainly can be linked with far too permissive gun laws and far too widespread gun availability. The carnage of American lives at the hands of killers in mass shootings continued unrelentingly with 14 deaths across three brutal events, one in a Walmart in Virginia, another on a bus, also in Virginia and a third in a nightclub in Colorado. But to better understand the forces at work on this horrific issue, read our piece from last week, which became our most widely read piece in the ten years of our existence:
The data show little change for Biden and the Democrats in November. Biden’s approval rating remains in the low 40% range, and his issue ratings showed only marginal changes at most. The “Bidenometer,” our aggregate record of economic performance, continued to improve, from 37 to 41 (more on the Bidenometer below).
The Bidenometer is a BTRTN proprietary economic measure that was designed to provide an objective answer to the legendary economically-driven question at the heart of the 1980 Reagan campaign: “Are you better off than you were four years ago?” We reset the Bidenometer at this Inaugural to zero, so that we better demonstrate whether the economy performs better (a positive number) or worse (a negative number) under Biden than what he inherited from the Trump Administration.
The Bidenometer measure is comprised of five indicative data points: the unemployment rate, Consumer Confidence, the price of gasoline, the Dow-Jones Industrial Average and the U.S. GDP. The measure is calculated by averaging the percentage change in each measure from the inaugural to the present time.
The +41 for November, 2022 means that, on average, the five measures are 41% higher than they were when Biden was inaugurated (see the chart below). With a Bidenometer of +41, the economy is performing markedly better under Biden compared to its condition when Trump left office. Unemployment is much lower, consumer confidence is higher, the Dow is higher and the GDP is stronger. On the flip side, gas prices have soared (as has overall inflation, of which gas prices are a primary component).
Using January 20, 2021 as a baseline measure of zero, under Clinton the measure ended at +55. It declined from +55 to only +8 under Bush, who presided over the Great Recession at the end of his term, then rose from +8 to +33 under Obama’s recovery. Under Trump, it fell again, from +33 to 0, driven by the shock of COVID-19 and Trump’s mismanagement of it. Now we have seen it move upward to +41 under Biden.
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Notes on methodology:
BTRTN calculates our monthly approval ratings using an average of the four pollsters who conduct daily or weekly approval rating polls: Gallup Rasmussen, Reuters/Ipsos and You Gov/Economist. This provides consistent and accurate trending information and does not muddy the waters by including infrequent pollsters. The outcome tends to mirror the RCP average but, we believe, our method gives more precise trending.
For the generic ballot (which is not polled in this post-election time period), we take an average of the only two pollsters who conduct weekly generic ballot polls, Reuters/Ipsos and You Gov/Economist, again for trending consistency.
The Bidenometer aggregates a set of economic indicators and compares the resulting index to that same set of aggregated indicators at the time of the Biden Inaugural on January 20, 2021, on an average percentage change basis. The basic idea is to demonstrate whether the country is better off economically now versus when Trump left office. The indicators are the unemployment rate, the Dow-Jones Industrial Average, the Consumer Confidence Index, the price of gasoline and the GDP.