Many voters who disapprove of Joe Biden's performance nevertheless voted Democratic
Last month in Jerusalem, former US ambassador to Israel David Friedman asked Ben Shapiro whether he viewed the United States as a nation in rapid decline. Shapiro replied that he has never been more optimistic about America's future, and that he foresaw a massive backlash gathering against the entirety of woke culture.
At the time, I thought Shapiro was being far too upbeat, and likely placing too great an emphasis on electoral politics, while ignoring the increasingly monolithic control by woke ideology of the medical and legal professions and of academia.
But it turns out that even the electoral tsunami Shapiro anticipated failed to materialize, despite the most favorable conditions imaginable for Republicans. The out-of-power party almost always does better in midterm elections, and the chief determinant has traditionally been the president's approval rating and the state of the economy.
Well, Joe Biden's approval rating is the lowest of any president since Truman; inflation is at its highest levels in four decades; crime has returned to 1990s levels, largely fueled by no-cash bail laws and George Soros–sponsored district attorneys eager not to prosecute; once-idyllic Democratic strongholds like San Francisco, Portland, Seattle, and Minneapolis have become largely uninhabitable by virtue of homelessness and crime; and parents are increasingly aware of what is being taught in schools and shown in school library books.
Yet Republicans managed to do no more than gain a small majority of the House at best, leave control of the Senate in Democratic hands, and also lost two governorships.
All of this after Republican hopes had reached fever levels, fueled in part by the predictions of pollster Robert Cudahy of the Trafalgar Group, who had correctly predicted President Trump's victory in 2016 and the closeness of the 2020 election. Cudahy even had a plausible theory about his superiority to other pollsters — his ability to identify bashful Trump voters. Yet this time, Cudahy overstated Republican support by well beyond the margin of error in 13 states.
Cudahy predicted victories for Trump-backed candidates in Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, and Arizona, both for governor and the Senate, and that Herschel Walker, Trump's anointed candidate in Georgia, would reach the requisite 50 percent. And those results, he implied, would put to rest the claim that inferior Trump-backed candidates would sink Republican hopes.
Celebrity doctor Mehmet Oz lost by 4 percent in Pennsylvania's Senate race to John Fetterman, a stroke victim, who could not utter a single coherent sentence in their one debate, who had never held a job until he was 46, and whose politics, even prior to his stroke, put him on the far left of the Democratic Party — no to fracking and, as head of the state parole board, a great eagerness to release violent criminals back into the street.
Retired general Don Bolduc, a fervent election denier, was crushed by Maggie Hassan, the Democratic incumbent senator and former governor in New Hampshire, despite her low approval ratings. Herschel Walker did not get to 50 percent in Georgia, and will face a run-off with Raphael Warnock, who won a similar run-off two years ago, even though Warnock is far to the left of the state's electorate and can match Walker scandal for scandal.
Trump-backed Blake Masters lost the Senate race in Arizona, and Kati Lake, who just recently was being touted as the next great thing in Republican politics and a possible Trump running mate, lost to her lackluster Democratic opponent, who refused to even debate. Lake was so confident that she even said she wanted no support from "McCain Republicans," a reference to the seven-term Republican senator from Arizona.
In the week leading up the election, Donald Trump drew huge crowds. But each candidate for whom he campaigned, with the exception of J.D. Vance in Ohio, either lost or is currently behind. As usual, his rallies were as much about him as about the candidate. At one, he even dissed Florida governor Ron DeSantis as "Ron DeSanctimonious" — a jibe that showed even his most ardent supporters how badly served he is by his spectacular narcissism. Employing his unerringly defective judgment, Trump played perfectly into Democratic hands, but taking attention from the enfeebled Biden, and reminding independents, who loathe him, that a great Republican night might well bring Trump back.
Exit polls revealed that a plurality of independent voters who disapprove of Joe Biden's performance, nevertheless voted Democratic. While disappointed in Biden, they are terrified of Trump, who appears to have no internal gyroscope.
THE NIGHT'S biggest winner was Florida governor Ron DeSantis. In 2018 he eked the narrowest of victories; in 2022, he thrashed former Florida governor Charlie Crist by almost 20 points. His victory speech, "Florida is where woke goes to die," set out an attractive agenda going forward.
DeSantis and a handful of other Republican governors with records of solid achievement, including Greg Abbott of Texas, Brian Kemp of Georgia, and Mike DeWine of Ohio, have demonstrated that hard work, intelligence, knowing how to use the levers of government — in short, competence — pay off with voters.
The results prompted National Review's Jim Geraghty to imagine an "alternative universe where Republican primary electorates nominated clean-cut state legislators and state attorney generals who knew a lot about the issues and had some governing accomplishments to point to — you know, normal candidates — instead of daytime-talk-show hosts, football stars, tech investors, based upon whoever proclaimed their absolute loyalty to Trump the loudest."
STILL, THE ELECTION was not a cloud with no silver lining(s) for Republicans, if only for breaking Trump's spell on the party. And the beginning of Ben Shapiro's counter-revolution may be starting even further down the ballot, in local school board elections. In bright-blue Minnesota, which even voted to reelect the thoroughly reprehensible Keith Ellison as attorney general, the big news of the night, according to the Manhattan Institute's Christopher Rufo, was that the recently formed Minnesota Parents Alliance dominated school board elections and managed to capture 49 seats, in 15 of 19 contested districts.
Finally, there is historical precedent for optimism. In 1978, in the midst of President Carter's "malaise," Republican House minority leader John Rhodes predicted a 50-seat pick up, and said he would be disappointed with 25 or 30. Republicans added only 12 House seats and three Senate seats (to bring their total to 41).
Two years later, Ronald Reagan was elected, with monumental consequences for the direction of the country.
And Back Home in Israel
Having addressed myself primarily to those disappointed with the American election results, let me now turn to the victors in Israel with a few words of advice. Not that anyone asked me.
Every national leader begins his term with a promise to seek broad unity after the wounds of the preceding election. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is actually well positioned to do that. Not only is he recognized as Israel's greatest political tactician; he is also a brilliant strategist, as demonstrated by his setting the stage for the rapid growth of the Israeli economy as finance minister under Yitzchak Shamir.
So, Mr. Netanyahu, employ your formidable intelligence first to problems within the consensus, such as the vast stores of weaponry in the hands of Israeli Arabs, which so unsettled Israeli Jews during last year's rioting in mixed Arab-Jewish cities. Already in 1999, then first-term MK Yuval Steinitz wrote a frightening article about the ability of a Palestinian army to cut Israel's supply lines in time of war ("When the Palestinian Army Invades," Commentary, Dec. 1999).
Make sure that Jewish farmers in the Negev and the Galil can once again go about their business without paying protection money to Bedouins or local Arabs, and Jewish girls can walk safely on the streets of Be'er Sheva.
To my chareidi representatives in Knesset: First, remember that you are not just representatives of a particular societal sector, you are the most visible representatives of Torah to the larger Jewish public. So please follow the directive of the Chazon Ish to Rabbi Shlomo Lorincz, longtime Agudah MK: Before you speak, always consider what is to be gained and what might be lost, and if there is no gain, remain silent.
No speaking like fishwives and hurling imprecations at fellow MKs. No more statements that embarrass the community — e.g., knowledge of English and math are irrelevant to Israel's high-tech success. And remember, being clapped on the shoulders in the mikveh and told, "You really gave it to them," is not the type of gain of which the Chazon Ish spoke.
Finally, keep in mind that tens of thousands of chareidi votes did not go to their natural representatives. Some, like working chareidim, because they felt that their needs are not being represented. In the kollel budget, be sure to allocate some funds for kollelim for balabatim and for those programs that bring Israeli Jews together across the religious-secular divide.
And some voted for the national-religious parties because they saw them as more concerned with the overall national good. Chareidi MKs must demonstrate a similar concern with issues affecting all Israelis. MK Rabbi Moshe Gafni's environmental work and former MK Yaacov Litzman's early popularity as health minister are examples.
Look for issues of importance to our community and to the entire country. Rabbi Meir Hirschman of the Machon Haredi gave several examples in his interview two weeks ago. Integration of chareidim into the economy is crucial to all. Strive to get rid of artificial barriers based on academic degrees, when such degrees are irrelevant and high-tech "boot camps" can do just as well. Housing is of concern to all Israelis: Look for solutions for the chareidi population within a national housing plan.
AS LONG AS PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU is around, the chareidi membership in the coalition is guaranteed. He cannot betray his current religious partners without losing his last shred of credibility. But Netanyahu will not be here forever. And we must not lose sight of the fact that the issues dividing the political parties today are primarily ones of personality, not of ideology. The great debate of the '90s over Oslo is finished.
And as a consequence, a broad centrist coalition, including Likud, and a number of the parties now in opposition, but leaving out chareidim, is not an impossibility. Stranger things have happened in Israeli politics — consider the makeup of the last government.
And if the chareidi population wants to preclude that, the best way is to demonstrate our concern with the entire population. In short, by making a kiddush Hashem.