Efforts to Absolve Trump of Blame Begin


President Donald Trump holds an event to announce his nominee, Judge Amy Coney Barrett, to fill the Supreme Court seat left vacant at the White House in Washington, D.C., September 26, 2020. (Carlos Barria/Reuters)

For Spectator USA, Daniel McCarthy asks “Has Ben Sasse won it for Joe Biden?” Almost certainly not.

As McCarthy himself acknowledges in the piece, it is far more likely that Joe Biden accrues 270+ electoral votes by winning Wisconsin and at least one of Michigan, Pennsylvania, or Georgia than by taking the Badger State, North Carolina, and getting to exactly 270 by way of Nebraska’s second congressional district. Moreover, this is a silly question to pose for a number of other reasons.

First, how likely is it that Sasse’s leaked critical comments of the president were what swung the second congressional district toward Biden? Trump only barely eked out a win there in 2016, and most observers believed it would go blue this year as a result of higher turnout and the president’s continued erosion with urban and suburban voters. A few stray comments from Sasse — comments the vast majority of voters are probably unaware of — were far less likely to lose Trump the district than, say, the president’s own behavior over the last four years.

“Republican infighting matters” laments McCarthy. That is true, but why is it that a single congressional district in Nebraska is McCarthy’s example of choice? Arizona and its eleven electoral votes are far more important, and the president has likely lost there at least in part because of his decision to continue tormenting the family of John McCain — the war hero turned popular GOP senator — even after his death. And that’s just the cruelest and most visceral example of Trump picking fights in his own party to the detriment of himself and down-ballot Republicans.

McCarthy also implies that congressional Republicans, and perhaps Sasse, may have wished for Biden to win to preserve their own pre-Trump ideology and prevent a populist takeover. This is an improbable hypothesis. Truth be told, Trump’s populist takeover has been less about substance than style. Under the president’s leadership, what did GOP congressional majorities pursue? Tax cuts and criminal-justice reform. His greatest selling point in his reelection campaign was remaking the judiciary — a longtime conservative goal.

It is McCarthy’s belief that “vanity, mediocrity, and complacency in the congressional party has threatened to derail Trump’s reelection.” It is not the “the congressional party,” but the president who was all too happy to make the election a referendum on himself despite his unpopularity, failed to articulate a vision for his second term, and displayed no message discipline down the stretch of the campaign. If Trump loses — and he may not — be very skeptical of pieces such as McCarthy’s that absolve Trump of blame.

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