Kai Wright: Blue walls, Red Ripples. The old electoral metaphors have rarely felt as unsatisfying to me as they do right now. We're working on our upcoming episode and in it, we're going to basically exit poll listeners. I want to hear from all of you right now, what exactly motivated your vote, Abortion rights, democracy, something totally different and maybe super personal are local and whatever motivated you, how are you feeling now as we settle into this new political order? You can just leave a voice note for us right on our website.
Go to notesfromamerica.org and you'll see a record button. Just go to that and let it rip. In the meantime, I'm going to share a conversation I had the morning after election day. This is a segment I participated in on the Brian Lehrer Show with Charlie Sykes of The Bulwark and Alexis Grenell from The Nation. We're all processing aloud and maybe there's something here that sparks you as you get ready to leave us that voice note. Take a listen and thanks for participating.
[start of audio playback]
Brian Lehrer: The Brian Lehrer Show on WNYC. Good morning again, everyone. We continue our election coverage now with three guests, Kai Wright host of WNYC's Notes from America with Kai Wright, heard Sunday evenings at six o'clock. Alexis Grenell, a columnist for The Nation and co-founder of Pythia Public, a political consultancy which works mostly with Democrats, and Charlie Sykes, founder, and editor-at-large, and host of a Podcast at The Bulwark, a publication largely of anti-Trump conservatives. He's also an MSNBC contributor and author of the book How The Right Lost Its Mind. Thanks to all of you for coming on. Alexis and Charlie welcome back to WNYC.
Charlie Sykes: Thank you.
Alexis Grenell: Thank you, Brian.
Brian Lehrer: Listeners, the phones remain open for any questions or comments on any election result, local or national, 212-433-WNYC, 212-433-9692, or tweet @BrianLehrer. The employees of Twitter may be getting fired but the algorithm will still let you through as long as you don't make fun of Elon Musk. There have to be some limits on free speech there. Why not that? Alexis, we just heard in the newscast from Governor and now Governor-elect Kathy Hochul a meaningful hole in the Glass ceiling.
Alexis Grenell: Sure. Kathy Hochul's, of course, New York's first female governor. She's also the 46th female governor ever elected in US history, which is significant because we see in the data repeatedly that voters are more comfortable electing women to collaborative bodies like state legislatures where attributes that are historically and typically coded as female-like communication working together are seen as prime qualities.
The adjectives we identify as leadership or with leadership are historically coded as male. Having a woman in an executive authority position is a huge deal. It's very meaningful, especially winning in her own right. Although her victory, frankly, is a lot closer than it should have been.
Brian Lehrer: Do you think it was a lot closer than it should have been to any meaningful degree because of sexism, intentional or unintentional in the electorate?
Alexis Grenell: Gender is absolutely always a factor. It's absurd to pretend it isn't but it's not the prime factor. In this case, I think there are other more salient facts that determined the margin here. The reality is the campaign and the state democratic apparatus was really asleep at the wheel until they woke up at the 11th hour.
With the help, frankly, of the Working Families Party which accounts for about 4% change of the vote for Hochul, which nearly mirrors her 5% margin, they really deserve a huge amount of credit here for getting up off the mat and delivering for Democrats when the party didn't really do much. I think there were other really technical factors that play into her margin but it would be foolish to ignore gender as a factor. It always is. I could talk about this all day, Brian
Brian Lehrer: I'm glad we got at least that far for now. Kai, how much do you see the Hochul victory as part of the national story today of Americans' reluctance to go full MAGA, as many people have put it, and how much do you see it as its own New York thing revolving around crime and abortion rights and other local issues?
Kai Wrights: To me, it reads as a New York thing, quite frankly. Overall, the state, if you to go down the county list there was a lot of trending Republican even where Hochul was winning She's won and by less than Biden won in 2020. I think a lot of that, you talked about this a lot last hour, just has to do with how freaked out a lot of people rightly or wrongly particularly outside of New York City are about crime right now.
I think the national picture it is very difficult to draw. I would be very reluctant to draw any large conclusions about the national picture from this outside of the fact that the Republican Party fielded a lot of really bad candidates and that both in terms of their political skill and in terms of just how far right they were that turned off Republican voters.
I think I would caution the Democratic party from declaring too much about-- I saw a quote somewhere from a Biden strategist today that was like he's definitely running in 2024. This is a Referendum on Biden and I just don't know if that's true. When you start looking at the races, when you start going really race by race, a lot of it really looks like really bad Republican candidates that frankly turned off Republican voters.
Brian Lehrer: Charlie, sounds like you wanted to react to exactly that point.
Charlie Sykes: I think that's a good point. It may not have been a referendum on Joe Biden but it was certainly a Referendum on Donald Trump and what the Republicans are doing. In terms of just the national picture, I guess I would slightly disagree because you're looking at Republicans losing the governorship in Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Maryland, and New York with some very mag candidates very, very low-quality candidates.
You are seeing a pushback against that. I think that several things happen there. Number one, the voters were, I think, alarmed at some of the trends that they're seeing. I think the threats to democracy loomed larger in the minds of many voters than perhaps the collective pundit hive mind was expecting. Quite frankly, in each of those states, not only was Trumpism in the ballot but the abortion issue. I think that there was an underestimation of the enduring impact of the Dobbs's decision in all of those races.
Brian Lehrer: Charlie, do we seem headed for Trump election denial kinds of fights now in the Senate races that are still too close to call? I'm thinking particularly of Nevada and Arizona, Mark Kelly against Blake Masters in Arizona, Catherine Cortez Masto against Adam Laxalt in Nevada, both states where the Democrats are the incumbents trying to hold on.
Charlie Syke: I think it's inevitable, particularly in Arizona where you have Kari Lake who is widely expected to win in one of the worst election deniers in the country. If she falls short, I think it's inevitable that they're going to have election denial 2.0. They've really been practicing this and marinating in conspiracy theories and rejection of legitimate votes now for two years. I think it would be naive to think that they wouldn't deploy it in the midterm elections having deployed it after the 2020 elections.
Brian Lehrer: Kai, you have a comment on that?
Kai Wrights: I think Charlie's absolutely right. Arizona, I think no matter what, even if Kari Lake wins I feel like we're probably going to hear a conversation about whether it was a fair election given that that is so much of her brand. Nevada remains, who knows, but it is trending in the Republican direction. There is no question there's going to be a runoff in Georgia, I guess I couldn't say anything's no question.
It seems like there's going to be a runoff in Georgia and it feels to me like we're headed to yet another place where Georgia is going to be the place deciding the outcome of the Senate. I think all three of those states I would batten down the hatches for the kind of conversation we're going to be having over the next couple of months. I think it's going to be really intense.
Brian Lehrer: We had some connectivity problems with Alexis there for a minute but I think we have her back now. Alexis, are you worried as a New York-based person at all about election denial on the part of Lee Zeldin? He hasn't conceded yet.
Alexis Grenell: That's a real concern, Brian. It's a five-point spread that Governor Hochul has. He could decide to have a tantrum about it, but the reality is the numbers are going to work in her favor in the end. She took the city with 70% plus, and then the absentees, which can be counted even if they come in as late as November 14th are likely going to trend democratic because that's the pattern we've been seeing. Republicans have actively been working against voters' rights to cast their ballot absentee and typically, they've trended Democrats, so it doesn't seem to be much point in throwing that fit, but we'll see.
Brian Lehrer: Let's take a phone call. Michael in Brooklyn. You're on WNYC. Hi, Michael.
Michael: Hi, Brian. I wanted to get to share a little anecdote about a segment I heard on Morning Edition this morning and maybe get some feedback from your guests on it. It was a interest with a Gen Z activist, like political activist who was voting in his first election, and how exciting that was, and mostly the discussion was about how Gen Z voters are sympathetic with and support their Gen Z peers across the country. Even though abortion rights are safe in New York, we want to make sure that they're available to people in other places. Then right before it ended, the reporter asked about support for Biden, and that's an issue that's been bothering me.
I think as a 61-year-old Democrat who goes with memories go back as far as the Nixon years. I think Biden may be one of the best presidents of my lifetime, and yet Gen Z voters seem to not really think that for various reasons, and this young man who's democratic activist voting in his first election said, look, they've passed. He's passed and he went through the whole list. Right now, I'm blanking, but climate change, and negotiating Medicare, et cetera, and I felt like, "Oh, that's exactly right. Thank goodness I'm finally hearing a Gen Z person say that." I'm interested in what your guest might have to say about whether Gen Z might be taking a second look at Biden.
Brian Lehrer: Michael, thank you very much. Alexis, I'm tempted to go right back to you on that since you work in the political consultancy sector, what do you see?
Alexis Grenell: Sure. Gen Z is actually one of us fired-up constituencies. There are people who've been shot at in public schools and formed the basis of so much of the activism around the gun control movement. They're not sleepy and actually, they turned out pretty strongly in this election, relatively speaking. It's good to see their political commitment continuing.
Of course, the base of any elections tends to be people 55 and over because they have a history and habit of voting as compared to somebody who's voting in just their first election, that's not surprising, but they're pretty promising, especially since they're also the real engine behind the climate movement as well. I actually feel pretty optimistic about Gen Z. They're just young and they don't have as much experience voting, but that doesn't foreclose on what they're going to turn into, which could be a very significant force.
Brian Lehrer: Charlie, the-- I'm sorry, did you want to finish the thought, Alexis?
Alexis Grenell: No, that wasn't me.
Brian Lehrer: That was it. Charlie, the exit poll that I saw last night from the TV networks had voters under 30 at just 10% of the electorate yesterday, which would be less than in 2020 as far as who they voted for, I'm looking at the AP vote cast, which has the 18 to 29-year-olds voting 53% for Democrats. The Network Exit poll has them much more for Democrats, 63%. What do you make of young voters in this election?
Charlie Sykes: I've gotten conflicting numbers about all of that, but one of the things I've been trying to figure out is why there appears to have been a polling miss in some of these elections, and I wonder whether there was an over-correction on the part of the pollsters and the pundit class. In 2016, the pollsters underestimated the number of new Republican voters that would come to the polls to vote for Donald Trump. They weren't on the radar screen. I wondered, one of my initial theories was, did they underestimate the number of young voters who were brought to the polls to vote in this particular election for democracy, for climate change, or on the abortion issue?
That's a question that I have because clearly, there had been this sense that republican voters were much more motivated and yet democratic voters turned out in big numbers, and a substantial portion of those have to have been younger voters who might not have-- Let me just back up a bit. Pollsters I don't think have cracked the code of how to poll younger voters necessarily, and that's an open question going forward as we try to figure out what we got right and what we got wrong.
Brian Lehrer: Do you think the polls were wrong leading into this election in exactly the opposite of how they were wrong in 2016 when it looked like Hillary Clinton was going to win, this time we kept hearing Republican wave and that didn't happen even if they squeak by with the majority in Congress?
Charlie Sykes: I think that's a possibility. Not all the polls were wrong. The polls here in my home state of Wisconsin were exactly right. On the other hand, there was this really dramatic shift in the conventional wisdom. I used the term hive mind before. This is something just to remember how the conventional wisdom had just turned hard, that it was going to be this massive red wave, and at a certain point it becomes self-reinforcing and it's just a reminder that we need to be skeptical about anyone that presumes to have real insight into what is about to happen in an era that's as volatile as ours.
Kai Wright: Can I hop in here, Brian, because I think one we do have to be careful about nationalizing these conversations to me, and I think when you start to-- That's one of the exciting things about this election and as you start to drill down, at least on some of these key places, Georgia, Pennsylvania, you see that it took about the Turning it into a red ripple, as if we're using that phrase. Took a both-and strategy took in places like Georgia and Pennsylvania, this massive expansion of the electorate to bring in more Democrats and we saw that, but it also took-- I think Georgia is a really interesting example if you look at Stacey Abrams versus Raphael Warnock and how they fared.
Abrams running for Governor and Warnock in the Senate. When you look at it from county by county, it is very clear that Warnock managed to convince some Republicans to vote for him, and you look at, for instance, Cobb County right outside of Atlanta, a white highly educated trendy swing county, and Abrams won that by four points, but Warnock won it by 17.
He got some Republican votes, and a lot of that is about Herschel Walker was a radical right candidate, so it's a both and. There is an expansion of the electorate that is necessary that includes Gen Z. I would love to see how many young Black voters came out in Georgia. I bet it's huge, and it's an expansion of electorate, but it is also a question of in these suburbs, whether or not the Republican Party can keep its voters.
Brian Lehrer: Well, to that point, Kai, or part of the point you were making, how do you think this election actually went in terms of voting rights? There's been so much said about states that change their laws right to suppress, especially Black Democrats from easily voting, and then about intimidating voters and poll workers to make it even harder, but here we are talking about how Democrats held their own relative to history and relative to expectations and lots of turnout everywhere that mattered. How did voting rights fair as far as you could tell?
Kai Wright: Well, one of the things we know about voting rights and voter suppression is that where it really matters is when there's a low turnout. You can't overwhelm, and this is something that Stacey Abrams says, and I think this is something she's right about. This is something that a lot of those folks in that corner of the politics say is like, "We can overwhelm voter suppression if you have a huge turnout," and so I think the Democratic party aided by the Dobbs decision, there is no question in my mind at least. Was able to have this massive turnout that makes all of those things that are done to suppress the vote have less impact. That doesn't mean that they didn't exist, but they have less impact when you have a massive turnout.
Brian Lehrer: Alexis, you want to keep going on that?
Alexis Grenell: Sure. What's really exciting actually is in Michigan where Proposition two enshrined nine days of early voting and a requirement to fund absentee ballot drop boxes to the Constitution. That one with 59% of the vote, in addition to the abortion rights ballot initiative, which won with 56% of the vote, in addition to flipping the Michigan legislature and all three statewide officeholders getting reelection. I think there's a through line voters. Supported abortion in places as very as Kentucky to Vermont to Michigan, and we're waiting for the Montana results to come in, but they look good, and voter suppression, as Kai says, isn't popular.
Taking a step to enshrine rights into the Constitution is significant, and it's also worth noting that that same effort failed in New York just two years ago because of Republican efforts driven and funded by billionaire Ron Lauder. Again, this is back to the problem with the New York State Democratic Party, which is an absolute shamble. If they can get it together to stick by their own candidates and their own win in a place like Michigan is the [inaudible 00:20:12] [00:20:12]
Brian Lehrer: We continue to have some connectivity problems with Alexis but I'm going to try to follow up because one of the interesting things you just said is the New York Democratic Party is in shambles and you say that even though Hochul won, and it looks like the Democrats will continue to have a super majority, a veto-proof majority or close to it in the state legislature, so why shambles?
Alexis Grenell: The State party is actually run by a chairman, Jay Jacobs who is supposed to be, frankly, out there swinging, beating Republicans that more often spend this time punching left. It's great that the governor won but she didn't win by very much. The fact that the Democratic party didn't really spend resources communicating to voters the way the working families party did is really telling. I'm a triple prime Democratic voter in Brooklyn and I did not receive a piece of mail, a phone call, or a text from the Democrats. I was touched multiple times by the Working Families Party, and like I said before, their margin in Hochul's victory actually mirrors nearly what she won by.
That's significant. It's great that the Democrats and the Senate also succeeded but there's been a real route in Congress, and I'm going to have a piece out a little bit about that whereas the red wave failed to materialize outside in the rest of the country. There very much was a wipeout here in New York State. There are a lot of reasons for that, redistricting chief among them but it's not unrelated to the fact that we don't have a real estate party apparatus. That's, in part, because Andrew Cuomo was the state party and never bothered to invest in it or build anything up.
Brian Lehrer: Carmen in Broom County, New York, you're on WNYC. Hi, Carmen.
Carmen: Hi. Thank you for taking my call. A long-time listener. First-time caller. I've actually been listening to the show for a long time and in that time I've changed, in my views, I've become more conservative. I used to live down in the city. I just wanted to say that it reminded me of the 2018 midterms just in the reverse because there was an expected huge blue wave at that time, and it became like a blue ripple, I think for the more conservative-minded DeSantis winning Broward County, I believe was Broward County, Miami-Dade, Palm Beach. I think that's exhilarating.
I think he's the future of that Republican side and I'm just wondering how you think he might differentiate himself from Trump. Hopefully, he's able to keep his ego in check and I'm also really interested in what you think about the Latino vote because I do think that is the future.
Brian Lehrer: Charlie, I'll go to you first on this in a minute, but Carmen, let me ask you first, what do you think differentiates DeSantis from Trump, if anything, on policy or is it just about their ego and their style?
Carmen: I think he's more polished. I think, well, he's a politician. I mean Trump is many things. I don't think he was a politician and I think that was actually something people liked about him but frankly, I think you have to have that political savvy to appeal to both sides. He just brings out the crazy in everybody and DeSantis, he's got some positions that drive people crazy but he's able to present them in a way that is just more savvy, in my point of view. I also thought that the Dobbs decision, I think, I'm sorry if I get the wrong name.
I think it was Alexis who was saying that the New York Democratic Party is in shambles. I would agree with that just because had it not been for the Dobbs's decision, what happened in the Supreme Court, I don't know how they would've campaigned on things that people would have got out the door to go vote for. I think that especially with the college vote, the college females I think that was decisive for a lot of Democrat [unintelligible 00:24:39].
Brian Lehrer: Carmen, thank you so much, and thanks for our first-time call. Please call us again. Charlie, you want to [unintelligible 00:24:45] in on that especially DeSantis doing well among Latinos and generally, in some more traditionally democratic counties in Florida.
Charlie Sykes: Well, I want to make it clear that I find Ron DeSantis to be deplorable in many ways, so this is just a descriptive analysis of it. Look, today's a new day for Ron DeSantis because despite the disappointing national performance by Republicans, he whooped up in Florida. He just crushed it, winning by nearly 20 points, so he is the rising shining star of the Republican party which is a real threat to Donald Trump.
When you see him on the cover of the New York Post as the future of the Republican Party, the big question now is does he have the guts to take on Donald Trump? There are a lot of people who believe that he has a glass jaw, that when push comes to shove he knows what would happen to take on the megabase. Most Republicans are terrified of going after that base. Yesterday, on election day, Donald Trump's pulling that mafia maneuver saying, I could tell you things about Ron DeSantis that he wouldn't like and basically saying, I got the shiv here in my pocket and I'm going to gut you if you run against me.
Having said that, right now, today, and this may fade, there is tremendous sentiment on the part of the Donald class and elected Republicans that this would be a good time to turn the page. What Ron DeSantis has done is he is basically turned himself into a Trumpist Mini Me, where he plays the same culture war cards, attacks, hurts the same people that the Trump does so is Trump but without the baggage, a little bit more polished.
If Ron DeSantis stepped up, and I don't know that he will and said, it's time to give Donald Trump a gold watch and turn the page that we need someone who can win rather than lose. If you go with me, you get somebody who would serve two terms rather than one term, someone who could actually win in 2024 as opposed to somebody who has lost, I think that would have real traction.
I think that Donald Trump instinctively understands that down in Mar-a-Lago which is why he's been throwing shots at him, calling him Ron De-Sanctimonious because he understands that DeSantis is [unintelligible 00:27:16] so close to him that if he basically says, "Look, you're old, let's move on. Let's turn the page," that this might be the moment Republicans might do that but again, remember what we all thought on January 6th, 2021, that Republicans would turn the page and they chose not to, so today, maybe January 7th, 2.0.
Brian Lehrer: Kai, any thoughts on the demographic breakdowns by race? I'm looking at the Network Exit poll and the AP vote poll results. This is national, so we're nationalizing again but black voters about 82% to 86% for Democrats, Hispanic and Latino voters, high 50s only for Democrats, so little over 40% for Republicans, Asian Americans, similar, 58, 60% for Democrats, 40% for Republicans, I think that's lower than in recent elections. Any thoughts?
Kai Wright: I don't know that there's much to say about it. That's outside of normal. I think the thing I will talk about is the Latino vote piece of it. I don't think we can make any assumptions about Latinos anywhere else in the world outside of Florida based on who voted for Ron DeSantis in Florida, the Latino community there is a very different, Latino community than in Arizona, which is a very different Latino community than in Nevada, than in California, than in New York.
It's a phrase that I think, as we mature in our conversation about that community's vote, we will use less and less, I hope. I think one of the things that's notable, we did a segment on Arizona and Latino voters in Arizona last week and talked to a reporter there who's been following that and one of the things to remember is, Latino voters, if there is anything to say about them in general, is that they are more independent than other groups. They tend to be in the 40 percentiles of independence and I think that relates to it also being a younger vote.
I don't know that there's much to say other than thinking about the demographic breakdown other than that people came out to vote of all ages in all races this year. I do want to follow up on what Charlie was just talking about with DeSantis, and I wonder it's really a question for Charlie, for me, DeSantis is turning the page from Donald Trump but certainly not Trumpism. I do wonder about in this moment, given, to me, when you look at the outcomes here, how stark it is that Trumpism was such baggage for the Republican party in this election.
I guess I'm asking a dumb rhetorical question actually. How that is not yet another opportunity for Republican leadership to say, ah, we've got to find a different way here because there's no reason why. By all accounts, this should have truly been a drubbing for the Republican Party and if it weren't for horrible candidates.
Brian Lehrer: You mean for the Democratic Party?
Kai Wright: For the Democratic Party but if it weren't for these candidates in Georgia, Pennsylvania, Arizona, I mean it just place after place. It's just hard to wrap your head around because they're losing Republican voters.
Brian Lehrer: Charlie?
Charlie Sykes: This is a very, very sophisticated question, Kai, because you're right. The threat of DeSantis is the fact that he is Trumpism, that with him, you maybe get a more competent Trumpist, and therefore, he's, in many ways, as dangerous or more dangerous although I think that Trump poses a unique existential threat. I don't think that Republicans are going to see it the way that you phrased it which is that it's time to move on from Trumpism. I think what they'll look at is the candidates who Donald Trump foisted on them as just being a bunch of crackpots and flakes and grifts and charlatans and they'll rationalize that and they'll say but if you have somebody who is well-spoken, who is Ivy League, who is more competent, we can go with that.
We can go with all of the xenophobia. We're not offended by the fact that he transported migrants to Martha's Vineyard, that didn't bother us at all. The cruelty didn't bother us or the attacks on free speech didn't bother us. What bothers us is the fact that you have the conmen like Dr. Oz or complete [unintelligible 00:31:55] on lunatics like Doug Mastriano. I think that, again, this is kind of the dilemma that the Republican party will stick with Trumpism even though you could certainly make a case that it is Trumpism itself that has been leading them into the wilderness. I'm not sure that they're there yet at all.
Brian Lehrer: We'll continue in a minute. Go ahead, Alexis, continue on that.
Alexis Grenell: Yes, I was just going to say it's interesting as that, of course, I completely agree with that. I also think though the way in which abortion showed up in states like Kentucky and Michigan and Vermont is amazing and an interesting indication because the Republican Party has been anti-abortion for decades. This precedes Trump. The brutality of the Dobbs decision and the fallout from that is really telling. We saw this surge in voter registration, particularly from female voters. To quote my friend Alison Turkos, who's a reproductive rights activist in Vermont, "Everybody loves someone who's had an abortion," that might have been in part the lesson here.
That's not something I think republicans have shown much of a willingness to walk away from although they were squishy at points in the election. Like Tudor Dixon who went down in Michigan basically said, "Wow, there's a ballot initiative you can vote for if you want to support abortion and support me in all other cases." Voters supported the ballot initiative and they rejected her which is, I think, a strategic lesson that we should actually get abortion on the ballot in more states. It could be a bigger problem for Republicans actually.
Charlie Sykes: Huge. Yes. That would be a nightmare for them.
Brian Lehrer: We'll continue in a minute with Alexis Grenell, Charlie Sykes, and Kai Wright, and more of your calls. We have a little breaking news about concessions from incumbent members of Congress in our area to pass along and we continue on WNYC.
Brian Lehrer on WNYC as we continue our election coverage now with three guests, Kai Wright, host of WNYC's Notes from America with Kai Wright heard nationally at 6:00 PM Eastern on Sundays. Alexis Grenell, columnist for The Nation and co-founder of Pythia Public, a political consulting firm, and Charlie Sykes, founder and editor-at-large and host of a podcast at The Bulwark, a publication largely of anti-Trump conservatives.
He's also an MSNBC contributor and author of the book, How The Right Lost Its Mind. Two Concessions to pass along, Democratic Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney of New York and Democratic Congressman Tom Malinowski of New Jersey. We are told that both have now conceded their races to their Republican challengers. Ellen in Marine Park, you're on WNYC. Hi, Ellen.
Ellen: Yes. Hello. Is that me?
Brian Lehrer: Yes.
Ellen: Yes. Hi. In line with what you were just saying, is there any chance that the House, assuming that they, let's say, have a small majority, that their behavior will be any different than it's been, or is everyone going to just revert back to lunacy and will there be revenge hearings and skewing Fauci and impeachment and all of that? Do you think there'll be any moderation at all and will any of the new Republicans vote Democrat in the House?
Brian Lehrer: Charlie, let me go to you on this. Let's say there's a slim house Republican majority, are they going to start impeaching and investigating Joe Biden all over the place?
Charlie Sykes: I just did a podcast where we had a debate about this. I think that the easy answer is, obviously, if they just have a very, very fragile majority that would be extremely ill-advised to do that because Kevin McCarthy would be a very weak speaker but he'd be a very weak speaker because he'll be completely owned by the crazy caucus.
People like Marjorie Taylor Greene and Tom Massie and Louie Gohmert and Paul Gosar and folks like that are going to go to him and say we demand that you impeach Joe Biden, and if you don't impeach Joe Biden, we're going to call a daddy down at Mar-a-Lago and he's going to issue a statement saying that you're a [unintelligible 00:36:32]. What is Kevin McCarthy going to do? If he wants to remain speaker he's going to have to do what the extreme caucus demands that he do.
I don't think that a narrow majority necessarily means that they will be more moderate. The good news is it may mean that he will have to work with Democrats to get spending bills passed or to make sure there's more aid for Ukraine. There might be some moderation there. In terms of Hunter Biden's investigations and impeachments, I think he's going to be held hostage by the most extreme members of that caucus.
Brian Lehrer: I want to come back to one result from Kentucky yesterday that got mentioned briefly a few minutes ago and that was the abortion referendum. Alexis too closely watched referendums on abortion in the country. One was in Michigan that was explicitly to enshrine abortion rights in the state constitution, that one and the one in Kentucky which was to ban abortion rights in the state constitution that lost.
Kentucky is a southern state, obviously Mitch McConnell's home state, it's a pretty evangelical state from what I understand though they do have a Democratic governor. How significant do you think this is for the ongoing abortion debate post-row at the state level that Kentucky enshrined abortion rights or stop the constitution of the state from banning it?
Alexis Grenell: I think it's huge. It shows that Kansas wasn't a one-off. It shows that abortion is an issue that really transcends party. Republicans have dug in on this anti-abortion position but we see in the polling repeatedly that people support abortion. Actually, the majority of this country supports abortion. Now, it's a little more complicated than that. It breaks down sometimes into various caveats that show up as certain restrictions.
The bottom line is that people want the freedom to choose how they plan their families and what they do with their bodies and their lives. That's significant. I do think what we're going to see and we don't have all that data right now, is the surge in enrollment post-Dobbs state by state is really meaningful. Like I said before, it's actually a strategic argument to put abortion on the ballot in more red states, in more places where Republicans run vehemently against choice so that you actually pull more voters out on that issue.
We see in all the exit polling that right after inflation abortion was up there and not by two or three points, they were basically neck-and-neck issues. Democrats got this in certain places and banged on about abortion appropriately. In some places, we had Bernie Sanders running an op-ed and the guardians saying that Democrats should focus more on the economy and stop talking about abortion which is a complete nonsense position to take even though Bernie has a lot of meaningful points to make about how we should talk about the economy and how you should deal with the inflation. Abortion is a winning issue and women showed up.
Brian Lehrer: About Kentucky, in particular and again maybe it's a bellwether for other states, Alexis, though they failed the anti-abortion rights people in getting the ban and trained in the state constitution. I believe that current law in Kentucky has an almost total ban on abortion with the exception only for the life of the mother. After this vote, do you think there'll be pressure in that state to loosen the abortion laws legislatively now that they're not going to tighten them constitutionally?
Alexis Grenell: It's really interesting, Brian, because, of course, Kentucky is pretty Red with the exception of their democratic governor, but I think there's an argument for them putting affirmative ballot initiatives in front of voters, rather than negative ones, like the one that ran in Kentucky. Frankly, opportunities to do more work in those places where voters want choices.
Pat Ryan, who won the special election for New York 19 in June, which then got revised to New York 18, where he just ran and won the general, he ran a proudly pro-abortion campaign in what has was a plus Biden eight and a half District, which is, by definition, a swing district. He talked about it as a freedom issue. He talked about it from his perspective as a vet, saying, I didn't go overseas and fight for our rights just to come out here and tell families what to do with their lives. I think that's really meaningful messaging. Frankly, rather than running away from abortion, Democrats should dig in deeper.
Brain Lehrer: Debra in Jersey City, you're on WNYC. Hi, Debra.
Debra: Hi, Brian, thank you for taking my call. Question I have is, I follow lot of the politics on your station, and you seem to educate voters on different issues, but it seems like the Democrats didn't. The Republicans were complaining about inflation, that the President cause this, and the President caused that, but I didn't hear any Democrats saying, "Well, what is your policy on it? What did you propose?
That really bothered me a lot. Also, as a senior citizen, and an African American woman, they didn't hit back on Social Security and Medicare, which is a big issue for seniors, because I believe that if Congress, you thought January 6 was bad, I believe that Congress tries to mess with Social Security or Medicare, you got to have seen [unintelligible 00:42:26]
Brain Lehrer: [chuckles] Seniors invading the Capitol. Debra, thank you.
Debra: That's what they [unintelligible 00:42:32].
Brain Lehrer: Thank you very much. Well, Kai, the Hochul in New York was criticized for this. I think the Democratic congressional campaigns nationally were criticized for this, kind of ceding the inflation ground to the Republicans by trying to run on other things and deflect attention from inflation, when if you really talk to a Democrat, who's in politics for a living, they'll say, "We really believe in our economic policies. We really think they're better for everybody than the Republicans," but as Debra pointed out, we maybe weren't hearing it that much.
Kai Wright: Yes, I think this is a little bit of what Alexis was just talking about. We had this meta-debate going in the Democratic Party throughout the year about what is the right thing to try to motivate Democratic voters. I agree with Alexis, that it seemed very clear that abortion was the right thing to motivate Democratic voters. I think that inflation conversation, it seems to me was more muddied by the fact, one by the Democratic Party's just general aversion to aggressive to offensive politics, but also, by the fact that the White House really has struggled with how it wants to respond to this conversation throughout the year.
They have got in, and we've all struggled with what it really means in our lives, but the White House has, first was like, "There's no such thing," and then it was like, "Whose fault is it, and the president can't control it." Which is true to a certain degree. It's an issue that really the White House struggled to respond to, and I think you just saw that throughout the party as a result.
Brain Lehrer: You want to keep going on that, Charlie?
Charlie Sykes: I agree with that. It is interesting that Barack Obama came here to Wisconsin, in the final weeks of the campaign, and really delivered a stem-winder about the threats to Social Security and Medicare. I remember thinking at the time, had the Democrats adopted that message somewhat earlier, the results might have been different in the US Senate race here.
Going back to the point about the abortion issue, I do think that it is extraordinary the degree to which Republicans were unprepared to deal with this. They had been pushing for the overturning of Roe v. Wade for 50 years and it wouldn't happen. They kind of looking around, like, what do we do now. As a result, they took the most extreme possible positions in places like Texas, and all around the country, and they got locked in.
I guess this is a larger point, because of the overall political environment and inflation, I think Republicans convinced themselves that there were no consequences for reckless behavior or taking extreme positions, that you could call Nancy Pelosi an animal or that you could engage in bizarre conspiracy, and there would be no consequence because you were going to win, because there was going to be this red wave, and because the election was going to be about inflation. There was a sense that we don't have to come up with reasonable ways of dealing with a woman's right to choose. Now that environment has changed.
I completely agree with Alexis, Republicans have made it very, very clear that they haven't really thought this through. Are they going to keep pushing a national ban? Do they think that that's the way out of this? Are they going to continue to push legislation that will have no exceptions for rape or incest or the life of the mother, seriously, because until like five minutes ago, that was a fringe position? These are positions that are supported by about 8% of the electorate, and many of them are locked into that.
This is going to be a major issue in 2024, and it's going to be very difficult for any Republican to finesse it because that base is going to demand purity. We've seen this before, that if you're in favor of 15-week ban, you'll be challenged in the primary by somebody who favors a six-week ban, and that person will be challenged by the purist who will say, "Well, there should be no abortion at all." There's going to be an internal civil war and the Republicans on this issue. As Alexis points out, this is not going away. This is not an issue that has been resolved. In fact, I think it will ramp up between now and 2024.
Brain Lehrer: Charlie, as the Wisconsinite in the room, let me share some breaking news with you. NBC Politico and CNN are now projecting that Republican Ron Johnson has won the Wisconsin Senate race against Mandela Barnes. We do not see the AP calling it yet or the New York Times, but NBC Politico, and CNN calling Ron Johnson. Does that mean Wisconsinites elected a MAGAite for Senate but not for governor?
Charlie Sykes: Yes, it's a split decision. I think the governor's race was very much a referendum on abortion. It was really up or down because we have an 1840 law on the books. If Republican candidate for governor had been elected, Republicans would have controlled everything and abortion would have been completely banned. Now it is less clear.
Democrats did very well across the board. I was always a little bit skeptical about Mandela Barnes' electability. You and I've talked about this before, I think Ron Johnson was a deeply embarrassing character. I think he was too extreme for Wisconsin, he was very vulnerable. I think perhaps this was a last opportunity for Democrats to pick up that seat and insecure control of the US Senate. Very frustrating and very disappointing.
Brain Lehrer: Alexis, there's going to be a stalemate in Congress. Whatever the final numbers are for House seats, it'll be very hard for Biden and congressional Democrats to get anything done outside of executive action, as it was more or less the last two years because, if nothing else, he'll still be the filibuster rule in the Senate. Are we going to have this dynamic which Obama, Trump, and Biden have all had, where, with a stalemate in Congress, they try to go as far as they can with executive action, on climate, on immigration, on other things, then they get challenged in court and something stand and some things don't stand, is that the next two years of American politics at the policy level?
Alexis Grenell: Well, I think we should be actually looking to the states for the next two years of American politics at the policy level. We have always focused on Washington, which as you put it, is in a bit of a spiral, but the states are really, as has been said laboratories of democracy, and where we set up for the next presidential cycle.
I keep going back to Michigan, and I'm going back to Pennsylvania, but those are major swing states that are now in control by Democrats with clear majorities, and that's really interesting. That means they can do interesting things in those places. I think Michigan, in particular, is going to be important for 2024. It was a blowout there for Democrats and it's huge. That's a state that decides elections and I think we shouldn't be paying attention to the state level because frankly, that's where Republicans have built power.
Brain Lehrer: That's right.
Alexis Grenell: It's a mistake Democrats repeatedly make which is to focus only on Washington without looking at their own backyard, which is where actual policymaking that affects everyday lives really happens.
Brain Lehrer: That has to be the last word for this hour. Alexis Grenell, columnist for The Nation and co-founder of Pythia Public. Kai Wright, host of WNYC Notes from America, National Show call-in six o'clock Sunday night. Kai, five seconds, who you got this week?
Kai Wright: We got callers. It's all about the listeners. What do you think enough is responding to this election?
Brain Lehrer: There we go. Charlie Sykes, founder and editor-at-large and podcast host at The Bulwark, and author of How the Right Lost Its Mind. Thank you all so much for an hour on an extremely busy day.
[end of audio playback]
New York Public Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline, often by contractors. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of New York Public Radio’s programming is the audio record.