Forward Kentucky’s Berry Craig emailed Murray State University’s Dr. James Clinger a series of questions about the midterm elections and Donald Trump's decision to run for president again. Dr. Clinger is a political science professor, researcher, and author, who holds a Ph.D. in political science from Washington University in St. Louis.
Here are the questions and his responses:
FK: According to pollsters and pundits, most people were supposed to vote Republican mainly on economic issues – notably inflation and gas prices. Why do you think the widely predicted red wave didn’t happen?
Clinger: Economic conditions have a big impact on voting in presidential elections, and on presidential approval ratings. It certainly has an impact on congressional or state elections, but its effect is much less. A number of polls indicated that concerns over the border, crime, and schools would affect voting decisions.
I think all of those factors were important, but they were not as important as other variables for some voters, particularly independents. Exit polls indicated that a majority of the voters who believed that Biden was doing a poor job still voted for Democratic congressional candidates. In my view (and Senator McConnell’s), candidate quality matters.
In particular, the Trumpier candidates were despised by independents, even if those candidates had enthusiastic support from part of, but not the entirety of, the Republican base. Trump’s influence in affecting primaries did not carry over to the general election.
Both parties are going to have to win a good share of the votes of independents in general elections to win races in swing districts and states. Some Republicans (e.g., DeWine, DeSantis, Rubio, Kemp) did very well, but they were not the Trumpier kind of candidate.
I would like to make one point about the polls and their predictions. The task of predicting election outcomes is getting more complicated as more and more people vote earlier and by mail. Voters may not be willing to answer pollsters questions after they have already voted. The polls from the two weeks before the election indicated considerable GOP momentum. I don’t think those polls were necessarily wrong in summarizing the votes of those who cast ballots on election day. But many people had already voted, particularly in Pennsylvania. Many voted before the Fetterman-Oz debate. We know from voter registration records that the early voting was disproportionately done by registered Democrats.
FK: If the GOP does take the House, it will be by only a few seats. Do you think the Republicans will go full MAGA by impeaching Biden and Garland, investigating Hunter Biden, and rejecting compromise in all forms?
Clinger: I do not think there will be much interest in seeking the impeachment of Biden and Garland any time soon. Those votes would be hard to get through the House, with only bare GOP majorities. There would be no chance of winning a removal vote in the Senate. There will certainly be investigations of Hunter Biden, which will implicate Joe and Jim Biden. There may not be indictments, but there will be scandal uncovered. Much of the outrage will be directed at those that suppressed the scandals a few years ago. There will be investigations of the Justice, Homeland Security, and Education departments. There is litigation already started about some new regulations and those departments’ failure to comply with FOIA requests. I am not sure that uncovering wrongdoing will make too much difference in voters’ minds. Cynicism is so pervasive that each new revelation barely makes an impression.
Regarding compromise in all forms, I do not think there will be much effort to compromise by either party. Some of that will depend upon who wins the chamber leadership positions. I suspect McCarthy, McConnell, Schumer, and Pelosi will remain in power. If any of those are replaced, compromise will become more difficult. I imagine Biden will try to advance his agenda through administrative means. I think much of that will be struck down in the courts. He has already lost in that arena several times and I doubt he will be any more successful in the next two years.
FK: Lastly, even some Republicans are turning against Trump. Do you think the MAGA movement is dead, or at least fading?
Clinger: I believe Trump is not a credible candidate in a presidential general election. I understand that he announced tonight that he is going to run. He has some small chance of winning the GOP nomination. He has a good chance of dividing the Republican Party and making it much easier for Biden (or some other Democrat) to win. Some prominent Republicans have spoken out against him. Some are just keeping quiet and walking away. I suspect he will fade from the scene, but I don’t know how quickly. I don’t know how much damage he will do to the GOP before that happens. He could insult and disparage all his rivals, real or imagined, making it hard for any Republican to win the White House and causing many down ballot candidates to lose.
The MAGA movement, as opposed to Trump himself, could survive in some form, possibly only as a shadow of its previous self. Certain elements of Trump’s policy agenda could remain a part of debates in GOP circles. I don’t think protectionism will be supported by most Republicans. I think some concern with border security will remain and grow, even among Democrats and independents. Intermittent isolationism attracts some following, but I don’t think it will ever be a position that would appeal to most Republicans in office although they might give lip service to the idea when on the campaign trail.