May 19, 2022

The midterm results (and what they mean)

The midterm results (and what they mean)

Plus, a question about what's coming in Georgia.

I’m Isaac Saul, and this is Tangle: an independent, ad-free, subscriber-supported politics newsletter that summarizes the best arguments from across the political spectrum on the news of the day — then “my take.”

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Today's read: 13 minutes.

The results from Tuesday's primary (that we have) and what they mean. Plus, what is going to happen in Georgia?

Dr. Mehmet Oz (right) is in a Pennsylvania Senate race that is still too close to call. Photo: David Shankbone
Dr. Mehmet Oz (right) is in a Pennsylvania Senate race that is still too close to call. Photo: David Shankbone

Correction.

Last week, I wrote about the new stolen election theory presented in the film 2,000 Mules (and why I'm not convinced). In it, I wrote that Dinesh D'Souza, the film's creator, claims to have millions of hours of dropbox surveillance footage. In fact, he claims to have millions of minutes of surveillance footage. This is an order of magnitude different, but my point still holds:

Even one million minutes would mean over 16,600 hours, and just over 694 days, of footage. Assuming a 12 hour work day, with zero breaks, you're talking about 1,388 days of watching footage for one person. Maybe D'Souza had a team of 10 people on the footage, so 139 workdays of 10 people doing nothing but watching footage. Do we really believe they did that? And remember: He is claiming multiple millions of minutes, and he still has zero footage of any one person at two boxes on the same day. I got this number wrong, but the real number still undercuts their claim.

This is our 63rd Tangle correction in its 147-week history, and the first since May 5th. I track corrections and place them at the top of the newsletter in an effort to maximize transparency with readers.


See you tomorrow?

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One of the topics I get asked about most often in Tangle is third parties. Do they have a chance? Who are their leaders? What do they stand for? In tomorrow's subscribers-only post, we're going to take a look at the current state of third parties in the U.S., what they run on, how they have performed in the past and what their future might hold.

Quick hits.

  1. President Biden invoked the Defense Production Act to ramp up baby formula supply and begin importing it from overseas. The House also passed an emergency $28 million bill to fund the FDA to address the shortage. (The decision)
  2. The Department of Homeland security is suspending plans to establish a so-called "Disinformation Governance Board" after a wave of criticism. (The fold)
  3. The U.S. embassy in Kyiv officially reopened. Separately, Congress confirmed Bridget Brink to serve as U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, the first Senate-confirmed ambassador in Ukraine in three years. (The reopening)
  4. 76% of patients experiencing "long Covid" had not been hospitalized for their initial infection, a new study found. (The study)
  5. All three major U.S. stock indexes fell three to five percent yesterday, extending major losses this month. (The slide)

Our 'Quick Hits' section is created in partnership with Ground News, a website and app that rates the bias of news coverage and news outlets.


Today's topic.

Tuesday's midterm elections. Primaries took place in Idaho, Kentucky, North Carolina, Oregon, and Pennsylvania. To narrow our focus a bit, we are going to center our coverage on Pennsylvania and North Carolina, two battleground states that will be key to who wins the House and Senate in 2022 and the White House in 2024.

Pennsylvania's most-watched race — the Republican Senate primary — is still undecided. As of Thursday morning, Trump-endorsed Dr. Mehmet Oz had a slight edge over David McCormick, best known for his work as a hedge fund manager. The race is close enough that it could trigger a recount, and McCormick is still within striking distance of victory as they tally mail-in ballots. With over one million ballots counted on Wednesday, Oz's lead amounted to just over 500 votes. Kathy Barnette, a controversial candidate who rocketed up in the polls towards the end of the race, finished well behind both candidates in voting.

On the Democratic side, Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman easily defeated Conor Lamb. Fetterman has run as an anti-establishment candidate who harshly criticized Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) and promised to unite progressives and rural Pennsylvania. Fetterman won the race from a hospital in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, where he was recovering from a stroke he suffered four days before the primary. His campaign says he underwent surgery to get a pacemaker.

In the governor's race, State Sen. Doug Mastriano prevailed for Republicans. Mastriano was endorsed by Donald Trump and has gotten a lot of attention for saying he would’ve refused to certify Joe Biden's election victory in 2020. He also used campaign funds to bus people to D.C. on January 6, was seen on the capitol lawn during the riots, and has been subpoenaed by the Jan. 6 commission.

Heading into 2024, he has said he would "reset" the state's voter rolls, forcing people to re-register. As governor, he would have sweeping election power, including the ability to nominate a secretary of state to oversee elections. Mastriano's candidacy — which was heavy on Christian nationalism, a stolen election, and criticism of Covid-19 mitigation measures — drew concern from Pennsylvania Republicans that he is too far right to prevail in a general election.

In North Carolina, Rep. Madison Cawthorn (R) lost his primary race to Chuck Edwards, a three-term state senator and business owner. Cawthorn, one of the youngest members of Congress, had been immersed in numerous controversies over the last two years, but still scored an endorsement from Trump and had been leading in polls heading into the election.

In the North Carolina Senate race, Rep. Ted Budd (R) easily prevailed in the Republican primary. Budd was also endorsed by Trump and was one of 139 House members who objected to the certification of the 2020 election. He will face off with former state Supreme Court chief justice Cheri Beasley in the general election. Beasley became the first Black woman to ever be nominated for the Senate in North Carolina.

Some other notes: Rep. Mike Simpson (R-ID) and Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA), both regular critics of Trump, easily defeated challenges from pro-Trump candidates. In Idaho, Gov. Brad Little (R) defeated Trump-endorsed Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin (R). Progressive Democrats across the country are also celebrating a series of high-profile wins over more establishment candidates, and in control of a high-profile race in Oregon.

You can find all our previous coverage of the 2022 midterms here.

Below, we'll take a look at some reactions to these results from the left and right, then my take


What the right is saying.

  • The right says Trump is still in control of the party.
  • Some argue that the election is proof Trumpism is alive and well, which is a good thing.
  • Others warn about the risk of candidates who are still talking about the 2020 election being stolen.

In Fox News, David Bossie says Pennsylvania is proof Republicans still want "America First."

"In North Carolina’s primary election for U.S. Senate, conservative Congressman Ted Budd fit the bill perfectly," Bossie wrote. "President Trump endorsed Budd early on, and it paid off in spectacular fashion. In fact, Trump’s stamp of approval paved the way for Congressman Budd to win a once unthinkable 59% of the vote in a crowded and competitive field of candidates that included a popular former governor. The liberal media will work hard to sweep the implications of Budd’s massive haul under the rug, but what it means is unmistakable. President Trump remains very strong in the critically important battleground state of North Carolina.

“The results in Pennsylvania’s U.S. Senate primary are still too close to call at this hour; however Trump-endorsed candidate Dr. Mehmet Oz has the lead," he said. "The race appears headed to a recount, but anyone who follows tight elections knows that Oz’s current vote lead will be very difficult – if not impossible – to overcome. The top three finishers, Oz, Dave McCormick and Kathy Barnette, are all conservative political outsiders in the Trumpian tradition, all campaigned for President Trump’s endorsement and strongly support his America First agenda... In the gubernatorial election, President Trump’s endorsement propelled conservative State Sen. Doug Mastriano to victory. Before Trump threw his support behind Mastriano, he was polling in the 20s. But on election night with Trump in his corner, he received a whopping 44% of the vote in a very crowded field. Those numbers are an exclamation point that can’t be ignored."

Erick-Woods Erickson said "Trumpism lives on," and that's good.

"The left vilifies 'Trumpism' as the racist ideological offshoot from Donald Trump," Erickson wrote. "It’s not. It’s actually a reconnection with the middle class and workers. Ironically, a man whose name is on top of skyscrapers has been more in tune with the working class in this country than the elite who’ve tried to replace American democracy with technocracy. Our bureaucrats, the wealthy, and the left have enriched themselves while screaming about taxing the rich. Blackrock is advancing its ESG initiatives pushing companies left while buying up housing forcing Americans into permanent tenement settlements. Hollywood and the teacher unions are more interested in teaching our kindergarteners how to have sex than how to read.

"Sure, it is not perfect," he added. "Some of the people in the movement have noxious ideas. But those people are not the movement despite what some say. At its heart, Trumpism is about correcting the imbalance between an American elite and cultural tastemakers and the American worker who has chosen not to live in urban, mostly coastal America where those elite and cultural tastemakers dwell. It is not then surprising that President Trump’s endorsements are mostly falling flat at state levels. He came late to the party in Pennsylvania with Mastriano and Mastriano’s November loss will be hung around Trump’s neck by his opponents. Trump has lost his gubernatorial picks in Idaho and Nebraska and will shortly lose a whole slate in Georgia. But at the federal level, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Georgia, and more are showing the American people continue to be fed up with a progressive left/media and even Republican elite who think one-size fits all cultural garbage should be imposed on the people."

The Wall Street Journal editorial board said "Democrats got their man" in the Pennsylvania governor's race.

"Mr. Mastriano is the candidate Democrats wanted to run against in November, and they ran ads essentially telling Trump voters he was their man," the board wrote. "This should be a good GOP year everywhere, and certainly in Pennsylvania after two terms of Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf. Yet Mr. Mastriano has an uphill fight against Democratic nominee Josh Shapiro, the state attorney general. Last month Mr. Mastriano addressed a 'Patriots Arise' rally, where other speakers lamented 'child satanic trafficking' and other QAnon nonsense. He sponsored a bill to ban abortion after about six weeks and said at a recent debate that, 'I don’t give way for exceptions either.' He wants to rip up contracts with 'compromised voting machine companies,' while doing a reset of the voter rolls: 'You’re going to have to re-register.'

"If Republicans lose this election, it’s their own fault, and a warning about chasing 2020 ghosts instead of focusing on the future," the board concluded. "In the Pennsylvania Senate race, Democrats nominated Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, a progressive in the mold of Bernie Sanders. He backs Medicare for All, says “weed should be legal, nationwide,” and believes the “union way of life is sacred.” The fact that he wiped the floor with Rep. Conor Lamb, a young Marine veteran centrist who was hailed as a rising star until two minutes ago, shows that primary voters in both parties want political pugilists who will pick ideological fights."


What the left is saying.

  • The left warns that Trump-endorsed candidates are a threat to democracy.
  • They argue that the party has been wholly taken over by Trump's ideology now.
  • Some analyzed the potential progressive gains from Tuesday's elections.

Greg Sargent said to "say it clearly: Republicans just nominated a pro-Trump insurrectionist."

"For the love of democracy, please stop using the phrase 'election denier,'" he wrote. "These phrases create the impression that Mastriano is merely delusional in some backward-looking sense. The suggestion is that he’s obsessing over already-settled matters that won’t be reopened, or that he actually believes the election was stolen and can’t let go of that myth out of personal loyalty to Trump. The situation is worse than this. Mastriano may be delusional or given to conspiracy theorizing, but this is largely beside the point. What’s important is that Mastriano is making a statement about his forward-looking intentions as governor. Mastriano is running on what is functionally an open vow to use the power of the governor’s office to nullify future election losses, even if they are procedurally legitimate, and even if he knows this to be the case.

"This becomes unavoidable once you look closely at Mastriano’s own conduct. And his Christian nationalist sympathies underscore the point," Sargent said. "As governor, Mastriano would likely handpick a secretary of state who would resist certifying a razor-thin legitimate Democratic victory. And Mastriano would likely try to certify sham electors for Trump or another GOP candidate. The 2024 election in Pennsylvania might not be close; either the Republican or the Democrat might win easily. Alternatively, such an effort by Mastriano might fail. But let’s be clear: He’s telegraphing a willingness to attempt such a thing, and that he’d likely see it as a righteous act as well, even if there’s little actual voter fraud, and even if he knows this."

In The Atlantic, Ronald Brownstein said, "Whatever happens to Trump’s personal influence, Trumpism is consolidating its dominance of the GOP."

"The former president’s scorecard on Tuesday was mixed," Brownstein wrote. "Candidates he endorsed won the GOP nominations for governor in Pennsylvania and Senate in North Carolina, while his preferred choice for Idaho governor failed to topple the incumbent and his late intervention could not save troubled young Representative Madison Cawthorn in North Carolina. The Pennsylvania Republican Senate primary remains too close to call between the celebrity doctor Mehmet Oz, Trump’s candidate, and David McCormick, whom Trump has criticized.

"Yet more revealing than what happened to the candidates Trump endorsed was how many candidates endorsed him. As in Republican primaries earlier this year, no top-tier contenders in any of Tuesday’s races ran on repudiating the bruising economic and racial nationalism that Trump has solidified as the GOP’s dominant ideology," he said. "In several contests, particularly the Pennsylvania Senate race, all of the leading candidates sought to define themselves as the most committed to Trump’s MAGA agenda—even McCormick, an Army veteran and former hedge-fund CEO. And almost all of the leading candidates echoed, to varying degrees, the former president’s discredited claims that he lost the 2020 election only because of widespread fraud."

Perry Bacon Jr. wrote about what he saw on the Democratic side.

"On Tuesday, there were four U.S. House primaries where the left wing and the center-left competed hard: two in North Carolina, one in Pennsylvania and one in Oregon. Each side appears to have won two races. Center-left-backed Valerie Foushee and Don Davis won the primaries in North Carolina. Meanwhile, it appears likely that progressive-backed Summer Lee in Pennsylvania and Jamie McLeod-Skinner in Oregon will win their primaries, though these races have not been called yet," he wrote. "(Center-left-backed Rep. Conor Lamb lost the Democratic Senate primary in Pennsylvania, but the winner, Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, is not firmly in the party’s left wing.)"

"For progressives, any victory in a competitive primary is a major achievement. Progressive candidates are usually opposed by wealthy donors, business groups and incumbent Democratic politicians," he wrote. "Tuesday’s results leave both sides in an interesting position. The left has heavily invested in this primary strategy — trying to boost the broader progressive cause by getting charismatic, very liberal figures elected in races for city council, mayor, prosecutor, state legislative and the U.S. House in heavily Democratic-leaning areas. It’s hard to say that strategy isn’t getting results. Lee is likely to be a Squad-like member of the House. A victory of McLeod-Skinner over Schrader would suggest that the progressive wing can defeat incumbents who break with party orthodoxy too much, potentially keeping more conservative Democrats in line in the future."


My take

So far, this is about what I expected.

I think Ronald Brownstein gets to the crux of this issue when he points out that regardless of how Trump's endorsements fare, one thing is clear: The Republicans who are winning are endorsing Trump. His economic agenda, his social stances, his denial of the 2020 election results; it's all there. You can say what you want about his "record," but he has redefined the Republican party in the races we've seen so far.

To make an analogy, I'd say Trump is more the stage manager than he is the director. He isn't successfully telling candidates or voters what to do, but he is building the set that the show will be performed on. Dr. Oz's candidacy is perhaps the best illustration of this.

On the ground and online, Trump's endorsement of Oz was extremely controversial in conservative circles. Trump saw a TV celebrity in his own mold who would win over voters and was ready to get on board with "America First" despite a convoluted political history. Many in the conservative movement saw a fake Republican who had spent decades chumming it up with Democrats and didn't have any legitimate conservative bonafides. The endorsement drew criticisms of Trump, even from his most ardent supporters. The result is a razor thin finish where nobody on either side is going to be happy, and Oz (if he holds on) will have to face a Bernie Sanders-esque Democrat who coalesced support and is going to try to speak to many Republican working class voters.

While Oz's race has been the most closely watched, it's hard to argue that there is a bigger story than Mastriano's victory. As always, I pledge in this newsletter to shoot straight, and tell you what I'm really thinking. So here it is: Mastriano's candidacy is bonkers. It should be the biggest story in U.S. politics today.

I share both the frustration many on the left feel about his win, and the fear many on the right have about what it means for conservative politics in America. Ross Douthat, one of my favorite conservative columnists, called it "America's Doug Mastriano problem." The Washington Post's resident Republican Henry Olsen, regularly featured in Tangle, said conservatives have "only themselves to blame" for Mastriano's rise. I always try to avoid fear-mongering or sensationalism, but their warnings are both sobering and understated.

Mastriano's view isn't just that the 2020 election was stolen, it's that he will have the "sole authority" to appoint presidential electors if he believes an election is compromised. And given that he believes the 2020 election was compromised, despite providing no evidence to support his claim, that should amount to a five-alarm fire for voters. Mastriano isn't simply saying the media is biased and undercut Trump, or Zuckerberg donated to a bunch of Democratic districts’ election centers; he's in the Dominion-Voting-Systems-2,000-mules stolen election camp. He seems to believe, truly, that the vote was compromised irreparably, and used his own campaign money to bus in supporters to D.C. in an attempt to stop the electoral count on Jan. 6.

If Mastriano were to do what he said he would have done in 2020 by pushing his own approved electors in 2024, even if the Republican candidate lost the popular vote in Pennsylvania, it would create a constitutional crisis the likes of which our country has never seen. It's the kind of thing that would actually have a high likelihood of creating political violence in the streets, weeks of civil unrest, and the potential for a coup at the White House. These are the honest stakes of his candidacy.

North Carolina Republican Ted Budd was made in a similar mold. The big difference between Mastriano and Budd is that Budd was caught on tape admitting Joe Biden won the election fairly, despite publicly maintaining otherwise. I'm not sure if that makes him better or worse, but as a senator he'd have far less say in how North Carolina certifies its vote anyway. He's playing politics while Mastriano will actually be able to change the law. By job title alone Budd's story is less important and his views are less threatening.

Democratic voters didn't send Mastriano or Budd to the general election, but Democratic politicians in Pennsylvania deserve a note of scorn here, too. Their decision to send out fliers boosting Mastriano and running TV ads calling him too conservative for Pennsylvania (which they knew would elevate him in the primary) is hard for me to understand. Now they will pivot to calling him a threat to democracy (which they should, because he is), but if they get burned playing with this fire it'll be one of the more disastrous moves in the party's modern history.

As we continue to wait for the final Pennsylvania results to come in, it's also worth pointing out that we shouldn't have to. Pennsylvania could have had its count 100% completed on Tuesday, if the state legislature would pass a law allowing earlier processing of mail-in votes (as they do in Florida and Ohio). But they won't, so instead we have this. Unnecessary days of waiting and ambiguity, which leads to suspicion and allegations of fraud.

Pennsylvania Republicans initially obstructed laws allowing mail-in votes to be counted earlier, despite the fact 37 states allow pre-canvassing. Last year, Republicans passed a bill to allow five days of pre-canvassing, which would have helped enormously, and the state legislature passed it. But before the bill got to Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf's desk, Republicans attached a voter ID provision to it, so Wolf refused to sign. A nice encapsulation of how partisan politics destroys progress.

Of course, Trump used the delay to call on Oz to declare victory in the race, even though he leads by just a few hundred votes with thousands more to be counted. That approach is a clear reminder of how Trump views the electoral process and why a candidate like Mastriano would be so dangerous if he were governor of a swing state with Trump on the ballot in 2024.

In sum, the latest spate of election results demonstrates the Republican party's makeover but also some limits to Trump's power; it shows a still-divided Democratic caucus with an ascendent progressive left; and it ushers in a slew of candidates who appear primed to derail the democratic process in 2024 should their desired outcome not come to fruition. Amidst the normalcy of how so much of it felt, it was also a destabilizing and sobering day.

Have thoughts about "my take?" You can reply to this email and write in or leave a comment if you're a subscriber.


Your questions, answered.

Q: I know you don't like making predictions, but Georgia's Republican primary race for governor seems like a huge next story. Who you got?  

— Eric, Atlanta, Georgia

Tangle: All signs point to Brian Kemp. In the latest Fox News poll, Kemp is still holding onto a 32 point lead over former Sen. David Perdue. Just three percent of voters are undecided, so I'm not sure how much there is to see here.

What makes the race interesting is that Georgia is a new battleground in the conservative movement, and if you wanted to make the case that Trump's influence was waning that is where you'd start: He endorsed Perdue there, yet his candidate can only muster 28% of Republican support in polls. In fact, one poll showed 24% of voters saying Trump's endorsement made them less supportive of Purdue while 37% said more supportive, and 36% said it had no impact.

Frankly, I'd be shocked if Kemp didn't win, but given some major polling errors and the Trump magic I suppose there is always a chance it's tighter than we think. Still, Georgia is an interesting case study in Republican voters breaking free of Trump's sway, and will definitely have to be included in the 2022 midterm autopsy.

Want to ask a question? You can reply to this email and write in (it goes straight to my inbox) or fill out this form.


A story that matters.

The U.S. women's soccer team struck a labor deal that closes a pay gap between it and the men's squad, in an "unprecedented step" that will ensure both teams have equal salaries, bonuses, health benefits and even transportation. The deal is part of a new collective bargaining agreement with the U.S. Soccer Federation and marks the conclusion of a years-long battle between the women's team and the sport's governing body. One of the most significant concessions is the team bonuses. Until now, the U.S. men's team had earned much larger World Cup bonuses than the perennial champions on the women's side because FIFA pays out larger sums to men's teams, since the men's tournament generates much more revenue. Now, the two teams will pool and equally divide these bonuses from both World Cups. The Washington Post has the story.


Numbers.

  • 416,785. The number of votes Mehmet Oz has in the Pennsylvania Republican Senate primary race, as of 10:00 a.m. EST on Thursday.
  • 415,544. The number of votes Dave McCormick has in the Pennsylvania Republican Senate primary race, as of 10:00 a.m. EST on Thursday.
  • 588,042. The number of votes Doug Mastriano received in the Pennsylvania Republican governor primary race, as of 10:00 a.m. EST on Thursday.
  • 271,292. The number of votes Lou Barletta, in second place, received in the Pennsylvania Republican governor primary race, as of 10:00 a.m. EST on Thursday.
  • 32%. The percentage of Americans who are being urged to mask up by the CDC because they currently live in high-risk Covid-19 areas.
  • 49. The number of states where the spread of Covid-19 is accelerating.

Have a nice day.

Everything is bigger (and better) in Texas. Including its dogs. Now, a two-year-old Great Dane named Zeus is officially the world's tallest dog, after hitting a record-breaking height with an official measurement from his vet. The pup stands at 3 ft and 5.18 inches, but is as tall as seven feet and four inches when standing on hind legs. Yes, we have a picture:

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