Jonah's Off Target Again

In his latest anti-Trump tear, National Review editor Jonah Goldberg warns that “the GOP can’t afford to chase away its own.” The GOP’s own, for Goldberg, means “middle-class suburbanites,” whom he depicts as the base of his party. These suburbanites, who are supposedly the heart and soul of the Republican Party, share Jonah’s ostentatious revulsion for Trump, which is now on display 24/7. The recent (for the Republicans) disastrous election in Virginia, in which Democrats swept to victory in statewide elections, is a godsend for Jonah and others at NR, who enjoy flailing away at the Donald. Goldberg identifies “conservatives” with Republican regulars, such as John McCain, Mitt Romney, Luther Strange, and Ben Sasse. Since Trump doesn’t fit into this restricted club of moderates, Jonah views him as an unwelcome visitor from Mars.

There are at least two problems with this analysis. One, although suburbanites who live around large cities have added to the Republican vote in the past, one has to qualify this generalization by noting the obvious (which Goldberg doesn’t bother to do). Suburbanite Republicans have been overwhelmingly white Christians, and mostly Protestant. But as other groups, e.g., Indian investment bankers, Chinese computer experts, and Jewish psychologists, settle in longtime Republican burbs, these areas are coming to reflect the voting preferences of the new settlers, who are overwhelmingly Democrats. This happened conspicuously in the congressional race in suburban Atlanta, where the Republicans barely held on to a seat that they used to win easily. This Georgia district once represented by Newt Gingrich is ethnically more diverse than it was ten or even five years ago; and one effect of this demographic change has been to lower dramatically the percentage of the aggregate vote going to the GOP.  A very centrist Republican Karen Handel beat her liberal Democratic opponent Jon Ossoff, who didn’t even live in the district, by a mere four points, after a hard uphill battle.

Two, from what I can tell, Goldberg is a socially liberal Republican and an urbanite who doesn’t fancy the working-class and rural white constituencies that voted for Trump. He’d like to be in a party that features people like him, that is, well-heeled, agnostic urban dwellers who are well-disposed toward gay marriage and other progressive causes. But the fact that the GOP under Trump is moving away from Jonah’s preferred base does not mean that it’s headed for disaster. Like others in the urban media elite, this commentator regards a party base that he wouldn’t care to pal around with as one whose votes he doesn’t seem to value. Goldberg’s close friend and collaborator at National Review,  Kevin Williamson, can barely contain his contempt for the working class, especially for those destitute workers who voted for Trump.  Needless to say, the impeccably PC Williamson lets it be known that he is taking to task only destitute Caucasian workers.

Three, Jonah is correct that Trump’s sinking popularity, which now stands at about a 38% approval rate, contributed to the defeat that the Republicans suffered in Virginia. As a result of this fiasco, the GOP failed to obtain the governorship and lost control of the state assembly and many county offices. The Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ralph Northam trounced his Republican candidate Ed Gillespie by over 300,000 votes and amassed 600,000 more votes than the Democratic gubernatorial candidate did in 2009. But Jonah may be overly focused on NR’s bête noire in the White House when he explains what happened on election night.

 The Democrats, Goldberg tells us, increased their control this month of what was already a blue state, one in which the governors and United States senators have been Democratic for years. Democrats in Virginia now outnumber and outvote Republicans; and the majorities they typically receive in Northern Virginia, in areas professionally and psychologically attached to the Washington bureaucracy, Hampden Row, and Richmond, with its heavy black concentration, would suffice to put Democratic politicians in statewide and national offices. Virginia Democrats didn’t need Trump’s tweeting to achieve a sweep in this year’s state elections. Everything being equal, Democrats win in the Old Dominion State the way Republicans do in Utah, Idaho, and Kentucky. Targeting Trump helped increase the Democratic turnout in overwhelmingly Democratic areas. But it seems overblown to view Trump as the main cause for these defeats, as Goldberg does in this statement: “The Virginia election looks like the first of many defeats in elections to come, as the GOP seeks to sell off chunks of its coalition like assets in yet another Trump bankruptcy.”  

Perhaps most unsettling about the Virginia election is the way the DNC, the media, and our educational system mobilized the public against Republican candidates, by decrying Republican “racism” and homophobia and by playing identitarian politics. Given the cultural and demographic changes that have taken place over the last thirty years, these tactics work swimmingly. And they can be used not only against Trump and the populist Right. They have also been turned against wimpy centrist Republicans of the type Jonah approves of. Democratic operators went after the wishy-washy centrist Ed Gillespie whom they indicated wanted, among other things, to mow down minority children in a car adorned with a Trump sign and a Confederate Battle Flag. This may have increased the voter turnout in minority neighborhoods, without costing the Democrats the loss of a single vote. And this may be the future of American electoral politics. Of course nominating candidates who are more to Jonah’s liking won’t prevent this from happening. Former president George W. Bush is still mumbling in disbelief that black Democrats accused him of being a racist.  And this from a former chief executive who runs around scolding Trump for inciting “nativism.”