A nice surprise from last night, after he seemed poised to cry “fraud” about the results.
Newsom’s margin of victory may have left him no choice, though. It was easy for Trump to allege that cheating was the difference in states where Biden’s margin of victory was less than a half point. It would have been hard for Elder to do it in a state where “recall Newsom” is currently trailing by … 28 points. The landslide was so decisive that even well-known Trumpers on social media took to pronouncing California a lost cause for conservatives instead of shouting about electoral shenanigans.
Would Elder have struck the same tone if “recall” had overperformed, losing by only single digits, say? We’ll never know. Watch, then read on.
Larry Elder, the leading GOP candidate in California's recall, tells his supporters to be "gracious in defeat" after they boo Gov. Newsom's name.
— CBS News (@CBSNews) September 15, 2021
Not everyone was gracious in defeat:
The spokesperson for the former president is out here lying a lot about American elections. It is not good. pic.twitter.com/ITRu4fS2DW
— Daniel Dale (@ddale8) September 15, 2021
Trump’s Super PAC sent out an email last night asserting “We. Cannot. Trust. Mail. In. Ballots.” No mention was made of the California election specifically, but most GOP activists surely know by now that California mailed ballots to every registered voter before the recall.
And so we arrive at a question that election nerds will be kicking around for weeks. Was Newsom’s surprisingly strong showing partly the result of Trump and Elder suppressing their own party’s turnout by scaring them about fraud? Hmmmm:
Wonder if any Republicans are re-thinking the strategy of making it harder for their base to vote by convincing them not to use mail ballots and then suggesting there's no point in voting anyway by using the final GOTV period to talk about how the election is rigged.
— Alex Seitz-Wald (@aseitzwald) September 15, 2021
Even some MAGA fans are wondering where the Republican votes were:
Why did The Recall fail?
Because Republicans didn't come out to vote
Thats it pic.twitter.com/dHC1c6Uw1W
— Tim Pool (@Timcast) September 15, 2021
It’s totally unreasonable to have expected all of Trump’s voters from 2020 to turn out for an off-year special election with Trump himself not on the ballot. But given the antipathy to Newsom among righties, I would have expected the Democratic margin of victory from 2020 to shrink, maybe considerably, last night. The polls expected it too, putting Newsom up 16 points in FiveThirtyEight’s final average. With two-thirds of all ballots counted, the governor is outperforming that by double digits. And since Democrats are more likely to use mail ballots than Republicans, his margin may end up growing by the time all the votes are counted. There’s a real chance that Newsom ends up topping Biden’s 2020 margin.
Where were the Republican voters last night for an election engineered by their own side, to oust a governor whom they despise? Did Trump convince them that it was pointless to vote when he claimed days ago that the system was rigged? He probably cost them two Senate seats in January by persuading Republican voters in Georgia that their state’s elections were fraudulent. He may have cost Elder a more respectable showing last night.
Elder sounds in the clip like he’s ready to run again in next year’s gubernatorial election, but why would he after last night’s outcome? The logical move for California Republicans in the aftermath is to try a centrist next time and make the race a referendum on Newsom instead of “Newsom vs. Elder II.”
As for what lessons can be gleaned from the results for the coming midterms, ah, probably not many. It was a special election in an off-year in a state thoroughly dominated by one party so it doesn’t translate easily to other jurisdictions. California hasn’t even counted all the votes yet! But since it’s the pundit’s solemn duty to offer takes even in the absence of compelling evidence, let’s consider the exit poll data:
It’s almost irresistibly tempting to read those trends as confirmation that the broader national trends from the 2020 election are still in motion. Democrats are gaining ground with educated whites while the GOP is making inroads with blacks and Latinos. Some Dems across the country are digesting those numbers this morning and concluding that they should emulate Newsom’s strategy next fall by running against Trump and his influence over Republicans, nationalizing their local races. Talking up your legislative accomplishments is nice and all but voters respond viscerally to fear. And if the exit polling here is correct, a lot of whites with college degrees still fear and loathe Trump:
“Larry Elder saved their lives on this,” Rob Stutzman, a Republican strategist in Sacramento, said of Democrats. “Until this race had a general election context, there was not a lot of enthusiasm for life in California. But when you have the near-perfect caricature of a MAGA candidate, well, you can turn your voters out.”
Gray Davis, the Democratic former California governor who was recalled in 2003, put it more pithily: “He was a gift from God,” he said of Mr. Elder. “He conducted his entire campaign as if the electorate was conservative Republicans.”…
The possibility that Elder-style figures could win primaries in more competitive states alarms many establishment-aligned Republicans as they assess the 2022 landscape.
Nominees too closely linked to Mr. Trump, or laden with personal baggage, or both, could undermine the party’s prospects in states like Georgia, Arizona, Missouri and Pennsylvania that will prove crucial to determining control of the Senate.
The difference between Georgia, Arizona, Missouri, and Pennsylvania on the one hand and California on the other is that those first four are either purple or red whereas the latter is indigo blue. In a pro-Republican climate like the coming midterms, an Elder type can certainly win a statewide election in a battleground. The question is whether a centrist would give the party a better chance than a MAGA stalwart would. A lot of pros will look at last night’s numbers and think “yes.”