From Charlie Sykes (in my inbox this morning; he says it’s OK to share):
Here’s the headline from Harry Enten’s CNN’s analysis: “Why GOP leaders are playing it smart when it comes to Trump.”
Since it’s Monday, let’s talk about the word “smart” for a moment.
Enten looks at some early polls and concludes that “the statistics reveal that Republicans may be playing it right when it comes to Trump.” The cancellation of Liz Cheney may look messy, but the base likes it, and the GOP is doing well on generic matchups. As Enten notes: “Republicans are in no worse position than they were in the 2020 election. In fact, they’re actually polling better now on the generic ballot than they were heading into the last election by about 3 to 4 points because polling across the board underestimated Republicans.”
“The best case scenario for Republicans,” he writes, “is to turn out his voters, while trying to keep Trump out of the limelight.
“Right now, it could be argued they’re doing exactly that.”
So coups, conspiracy theories, cultic loyalty, and purges turn out to be acts of heartbreaking political genius after all?
I respect Enten’s work, so this is worth some thinking about, if only as a reflection of the internal ethos of the swamp.
We can easily recognize this logic: Success — measured by polls, or profits, or high grades — is “smart” if you don’t dwell too much on other metrics. A company may pollute the environment, cut corners on quality, and game its taxes. but is “smart” if it leads to profits. The kid on the playground who gets in his secret punches, but then gets a gold star from his teacher is “smart.” A sports team that cheats to win the World Series and gets to keep the ring — “smart.”
And a politician who gaslights and lies, but still polls well, can expect the muted applause of cynical punditry. Getting away with it is all that matters, because #winning.
Enten is right: this is what Republicans are telling themselves. And even though it may be cynical and amoral, that does not mean that their analysis is totally wrong.
As Bill Kristol pointed out in the Bulwark last week, there are reasons to be worried. Polls suggest that Republicans are coming home, and are now more engaged than their Democratic counterparts.
Over the weekend, the pollsters at the Democracy Corps sounded a similar alarm, warning that their surveys make it “painfully clear Donald Trump, Lindsey Graham, and Kevin McCarthy know their party.”
“The Trump loyalists who strongly approve of him are two-thirds of those who identify as, ‘Republican.’,” they write. “And they are joined by the Trump-aligned to form a breathtaking, three quarters of the party in the electoral battleground states and districts that will decide who leads the country.”
We were also surprised by how much Donald Trump’s loyalist party is totally consolidated at this early point in its 2022 voting and how engaged it is. Yes, they have pulled back from historic presidential year levels: the percent scoring 10, the highest level of interest in the election, has fallen from 84 to 68 percent. But Democrats’ engagement fell from 85 percent to 57 per-cent. Republicans are following their political theater much more closely than are Democrats — producing an 11-point gap.