Abbreviated Pundit Roundup: The Dems win the Senate!

WASHINGTON, DC - AUGUST 9: (L-R) U.S. President Joe Biden reacts as Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY)  speaks before Biden signs the CHIPS and Science Act of 2022 during a ceremony on the South Lawn of the White House on August 9, 2022 in Washington, DC. The centerpiece of the legislation is $52 billion in funding aimed at boosting U.S semiconductor chip manufacturing and continued scientific research in the field to better compete with Chinas increasing dominance in the sector. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

We begin today with Harry Enten of CNN looking at the ways in which the Democrats maintaining control of the U.S. Senate have already made the 2022 midterm election one for the record books.

…I went back through the record books. Since 1922, there have been three previous instances of the president’s party gaining (or losing no) Senate seats and losing fewer than 10 House seats in the president’s first midterm.

All of them – 1934, 1962 and 2002 – are thought to be monumental achievements for the president’s party and major exceptions to rule, which suggests the party controlling the White House usually loses seats in a midterm.

Democrats’ performance this year has funneled down to the state level as well. We already know, based on projected races, that this will be the first time since 1934 that the president’s party had a net gain of governorships in a president’s first midterm. (1986 is the only other post-1934 midterm, regardless of when it fell in a presidency, when the president’s party had a net gain of governorships, though Ronald Reagan’s GOP had massive losses in the Senate that year.)

The shocking thing about this year (assuming the current trends hold) is that Biden is quite unpopular. His approval rating was 44% in the exit polls. His favorable rating was 41%.

“Americans soundly rejected the anti-democratic, authoritarian, nasty, divisive direction the MAGA Republicans wanted to take our country in…” ~ @SenSchumer

— Leah McElrath 🏳️‍🌈 (@leahmcelrath) November 13, 2022

E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post maintains that we should not simply look at the win by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis but also the gubernatorial wins by Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer and Pennsylvania Governor-Elect Josh Shapiro.

Like DeSantis, both Democrats won landslides in states that Trump carried in 2016. Both had coattails for down-ballot Democrats. Both linked progressive objectives, staunch support for the labor movement, a moderate tone and pragmatism about governing. Both showed how to isolate far-right culture warriors and broaden what you might call the live-and-let-live coalition.

Their success reflects the inverse failure of the right-wing Republicans to reach beyond their strongholds. The anti-extremist vibe was felt in the near-universal rejection of election deniers in contests for secretary of state, and the inroads Democrats made in state legislatures. And it was especially obvious in two states where moderate Republicanism had thrived during the Trump years.

By nominating Trumpist candidates, Republicans instantly threw away two governorships held by outgoing middle-of-the-road Republicans Charlie Baker in Massachusetts and Larry Hogan in Maryland. Maura Healey, Baker’s Democratic successor, and Wes Moore, the Democrat who will take over from Hogan, swept to victory by winning back the moderates and independents who had been quite happy to balance power in their very Democratic states with a Republican chief executive. These voters could not abide putting Trump apologists in charge.

New poll reveals, Latinos heavily lean Democrat and Florida Latino voters remain the outlier.

— Latino Victory (@latinovictoryus) November 12, 2022

Jamelle Bouie of The New York Times writes that Donald Trump is far from done with the Republican elites now prepared to dump him.

A unified party establishment is a powerful thing, and there’s real reason to think that Republican elites could muscle Trump out of his position if they committed to the aggressive, scorched-earth tactics it would take.

But there’s an issue. The idea that Republican elites could simply swap Trump for another candidate without incurring any serious damage rests on two assumptions: First, that Trump’s supporters are more committed to the Republican Party than they are to him, and second, that Trump himself will give up the fight if he isn’t able to win the party’s nomination.

I think these assumptions show a fundamental misunderstanding of the world Republican elites brought into being when they finally bent the knee to Trump in the summer and fall of 2016. Trump isn’t simply a popular (with Republicans) politician with an unusually enthusiastic group of supporters. No, he leads a cult of personality, in which he is an almost messianic figure, practically sent by God himself to purge the United States of liberals (and other assorted enemies) and restore the nation to greatness. He is practically worshiped by a large and politically influential group of Americans, who describe him as “anointed.”

In a similar vein, Christian Vanderbrouk of The Bulwark asks: can you really have Trumpism without Trump.

Could a rebranded MAGA movement continue by just replacing the frontman? Is it still Journey without Steve Perry, or the Grateful Dead without Jerry Garcia? In a way, yes. MAGA could Jefferson Starship itself indefinitely as long as the crowds keep vibing. But without the original magic the venues tend to shrink, the fans get old, and it all starts to seem a little pathetic.

How much of a burden can you place on a single scapegoat? Over the last seven years we were told time and again that Trump was a symptom of a larger phenomenon. Is that no longer the case? […]

Where does Trump end and the far-right begin? If you dump Trump but keep the people who built him up and protected him every step of the way, did you really change anything?

Blaming Trump is easy. Organizing a realignment of the GOP coalition to improve its standing with younger voters—by purging the party of its openly racist and seditionist elements, for example—is more of a challenge.

Camille Squires writes for Bolt magazine about the various ballot measures that will improve voting access throughout the country.

The biggest expansion of ballot access on Tuesday comes with the passage of Michigan’s Proposal 2, a catchall measure that amends the state constitution to make voting easier while also protecting against efforts to curtail voting rights launched in the aftermath of the 2020 presidential election.

The proposal, backed by a coalition of Michigan organizations that support expanding voting rights, will establish nine days of early in-person voting, create new mandates for townships to set up ballot drop boxes, and supply state-funded postage to vote by mail. It passed handily with 60 percent of the vote. […]

Ranked-choice measures appear to have passed in Ojaj, California; Fort Collins, Colorado; Evanston, Illinois; Portland, Maine; Portland, Oregon; and Multnomah County, Oregon (which includes Portland). In Washington State, Clark and San Juan counties rejected ranked-choice voting, and the fate of a similar measure in Seattle was inconclusive as of publication.

But all eyes were in Nevada, a critical swing state voting on whether to adopt ranked-choice voting for state and congressional races; Alaska and Maine are the only states that already do this. Ballot Question 3 leads by 3 percentage points as of publication, with remaining ballots likely to lean in its favor. (Update: The Nevada Independent called the referendum in favor of Question 3 on Nov. 11.)

Moving to foreign affairs, the editors of the Russian independent media outlet Meduza make an assessment of what the withdrawal of Russian troops from Kherson means.

The news that Russia will retreat from Kherson didn’t come without warning: General Sergey Surovikin hinted at the possibility of a “difficult decision” back in October. Not long before that, the Kremlin’s local puppet authorities announced measures to evacuate civilians from the Dnipro River’s right bank, where the city of Kherson lies. To explain the evacuation, Surovikin cited the difficulty of transporting supplies over the Antonivka Road Bridge, which was damaged by Ukrainian shelling in August and thus unusable. In fact, the decision to leave Kherson had likely already been made at the time of Surovikin’s October statement; soon after it, Russian troops began transporting local civilians, valuables, documents, and supplies out of the city, as well as building fortifications along the river’s left bank.

Russia’s withdrawal is not a direct response to any recent changes at the front; for the last month, the only fighting on the Dnipro’s right bank has been local. Russian media outlets have frequently referred to a “Ukrainian offensive” (and have offered images of small convoys of destroyed Ukrainian armored vehicles as “proof”), but Ukrainian sources deny that characterization. For whatever reason, the Ukrainian army has not seen any major successes in the area for about a month now. But major successes are fully within Ukraine’s reach: it has a numerical advantage that could very well be enough to overcome Russia’s forces. And because of Russia’s supply difficulties, there’s currently little it could do to increase its own numbers.

Thus the actual reason for Russia’s retreat is its lack of prospects in the case of a real Ukrainian offensive. Defending the city against a Ukrainian offensive would require a high number of combat-ready troops, but these troops would have limited resources due to supply issues. As a result, Russia has concluded that they’ll be more effective elsewhere.

Finally today, Chris Buckley and David E, Sanger of The New York Times gives a preview of President Biden’s first-ever meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Just weeks after President Biden and his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, laid out competing visions of how the United States and China are vying for military, technological and political pre-eminence, their first face-to-face meeting as top leaders will test whether they can halt a downward spiral that has taken relations to the lowest level since President Nixon began the opening to Beijing half a century ago.

Their scheduled meeting Monday in Indonesia will take place months after China brandished its military potential to choke off Taiwan, and the United States imposed a series of export controls devised to hobble China’s ability to produce the most advanced computer chips — necessary for its newest military equipment and crucial to competing in sectors like artificial intelligence and quantum computing.

Compounding the tension is Beijing’s partnership with Moscow, which has remained steadfast even after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Yet that relationship, denounced by the Biden administration, is so opaque that U.S. officials disagree on its true nature.

Have a good day, everyone!

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