Donald Trump, midterms results and defining “winning”

The Compass of Power Episode 5

Winning is the primary motivator in politics. It may seem obvious that winning is important. Everyone wants to win, right?

I live in Washington state, and let me tell you, there were Mariner fans here the whole time. But seeing as they hadn’t made it to the post season since the days when Facebook was but a twinkle in Mark Zuckerberg’s wallet, there weren’t that many Mariners fans. This year they started winning. They made it to the post season. And guess what? Suddenly everybody was a fan. They had always been a fan because winning is great, and it’s nice to be associated with it.

We are born wanting to get fed, to be cuddled and to score. Really getting cuddled is a score. Getting cuddled is a win.

But winning matters more to some people than to others. It matters more in some cultures than others, and it matters in more in some parts of the country.

Let us discuss winning as it pertains to Donald Trump and what it means for the North and the Democrats, what it means for the South and the Republicans. And let’s just start with: winning is good.

Winning elections good; losing anything bad

We know that literally by instinct, winning, good losing bad.

But how do you win an election? Some people would tell you that you, you stake out positions. You pick the side of the issue that most people like. And because voters like your positions on those issues, they support you. You get the most votes, you win.

I think it’s better in a lot of ways to think of it in the reverse. People support you because they think you are going to win. And if you do, you get to set the policies. See also Republicans, who were hard on Russia and they were easy on free trade. Until Trump won the presidency in 2016. Now, the opposite views are essentially Republican orthodoxy.

Winning indeed is the most important thing in politics.

Hurting the nation to avoid a loss

Liliana Mason makes this point brilliantly in her book Uncivil Agreement. You remember back when Obamacare was public enemy number one?

Remember when the Affordable Care Act was like the worst thing that ever happened to America, for Republicans, the G O P — who by the way, are mostly from the South?

Well, back in 2013, there was this big government shutdown in October. Mason collected some of the stats from this. It was the second longest since 1980, and it led to like government employee furloughs. It lowered the GDP by somewhere between 2 billion and 6 billion. It led to 120,000 fewer jobs if federal employees lost 2.5 billion in pay. Uh, let’s see here, it closed head start day care centers to 6,300 people, delayed home loans to 8,000 rural families and delayed food safety inspections. Uh, and why were we shutting down the government back in October of 2013? Because Obamacare. The Republicans had voted 41 times to repeal the ACA. And now they were saying, “we are not gonna fund the government unless you do away with it.”

Now, to be clear, they had already sued about this and lost, and they tried to overturn it in Congress and lost. There was basically no way it was going to stop. The Affordable Care Act was not going away. But nonetheless, we shut down the federal government and did some damage to America and the process. Mason has a great quote from Jack Kingston, a representative from Georgia who said, “I think it’s important for us to reestablish our brand as being against Obamacare.”

Right? The important thing is that they needed to stand up against the ACA. They had to push back against defeat because as Mason points out, the fact that the Affordable Care Act was becoming law and going into effect after the Republicans had declared themselves against it was losing, it was defeat.

The damage they incurred seems unnecessary. You don’t need to put people out of work or keep kids out of daycare just to make your political point. Except that you don’t want to be a loser.

Here’s Mason.

The damage caused to the nation by shutting down government was, from an identity standpoint justified. Millions of strongly identified Republicans needed to know that they were not losers. Their party had to deliver that message. It cost a great deal, but it was necessary for protecting the group.

Liliana Mason, Uncivil Agreement

Lilian Mason’s my hero, by the way. She’s making the point that you need to feel good about yourself, and you, your identities are all supposed to be a source of good feeling. And in this case, you don’t want your people to feel like being a Republicans to be a loser.

So even if you’ve gotta do some, uh, negative things, that’s to fight off defeat. It’s totally worth it. Mason, uh, had this thing. She said one time when I listened to her in interview, she talked about how what we need to take away from Trump is the importance of promising to win, to say quote, we will win. Uh, Trump talked about it all the time, not in vague terms or even using synonyms or anything. He said, with me, you win. And that worked. That is how important winning is. It’s the most important thing. Think of how many times Trump won, okay? He was, he was a joke early in the primaries, right? Uh, people were not taking him seriously, had no political experience, but he was bold and he started getting wins in the primaries and debates, like, there’s lots of opportunities to win in the presidential contest.

It’s not just a question of whether you are going to be the president or not. It’s debates with other Republicans state by state, primaries and caucuses, and then of course there’s the contest for the headlines. The media coverage is in fact a game. And Trump played to win and he won.

Trump always associates his name with winning

This is especially, especially true in Appalachian areas. And I talked about this in a different podcast episode called The New Civil War. Trump, he really worked an advantage with that culture, which most associate with the Appalachians, the Kentuckys, West Virginias. It also includes North Texas, parts of the Carolinas. The Appalachian people, spread out across the country as did a lot of our founding groups. But it’s a warrior society. These are the folks who are willing to come to blows over something rather immediately in a culture like that.

Winning isn’t just important. It’s the only thing.

It’s what you need to do. If you win, those folks will gladly die on the field for you. They will be behind you a hundred percent. You’re not inviting folks in that culture. Um, you’re not asking them to, uh, support you so much as you’re asking them to. You’re inviting them to join you in victory, right? Like, you can be part of my, my clan, you can be part of the army and we’re gonna go win. Um, and it’s not, uh, you tell me what you want me to do and I’ll do it. Uh, I hear you people on x, y, and Z issue, and I will, uh, vote for such and such legislation. It’s I’m a winner and you can stick with me, uh, and be a winner too. But if you lose in that kinda situation, right?

If your loyalty, uh, if the loyalty of your fans, the loyalty of your voters, you’re base is based on being winners, and then you lose, well, then you’re in trouble. And when you’re specifically talking about like the Appalachian culture, well, they might just kill you themselves, metaphorically speaking, right? Like, but you know, it’s like the old, like the king’s, the king until the king starts losing. And then we find somebody else, uh, Powell, uh, and didn’t Trump lose in 2020, right? Uh, I think he did. And doesn’t that mean that they should like metaphorically kill him? Like shouldn’t he be politically dead? But wait, here’s the thing. He says he didn’t lose, he was cheated, which is a clever way to reassure your followers that they’re not losers because they were also cheated. Uh, now that keeps the flame of winning alive. It makes you feel like, I actually did win, but I was cheated.

So it is almost kinda like a twofer, right? You’re still a winner and you’re aggrieved. Um, and that, that kind of like, I really actually won theory went all the way through to the elections this month, right? And, uh, 5 38 track, I think 199 candidates who agreed with this totally untrue story that Trump actually won the 2020 election. And to be clear, it is not true, but, uh, it’s become an article of faith and it’s, I can understand why that happened too, because like, look, it does, if you really like Trump or you really like that angle of politics and he says he was wronged and you say he was wronged, then you’re already part of the club. Like, it’s immediately like, it’s like, um, a profession of faith, right? Like even if lots of people look at you like you’re crazy when you say it, people who agree with you now know you’re one of the faithful.

So it was an important signifier. Uh, and well, we’ll get to the, the results a little bit on what happened to those folks, but it’s a mixed bag. Let’s talk about winning in the election. So we’ve established that winning’s really important, and Donald Trump, who is once again running for president, uh, I think made his reputation on getting wins for people who felt like they hadn’t won in a long time. And we get up to the next elections after the disputed, but not really in doubt results of 2020.

Election takeaways are about the expectations set just before the election

And what, what’s the takeaway? What’s the consensus from this, uh, election? Well, it was no red wave. Trump has defeated democracy was saved. Here’s some actual headlines that you know are along those lines.

We need to have a real discussion. GOP Leaders Brace for tense talks after disappointing election results

Denying the 2020 election wasn’t a winning strategy for political newcomers

Republicans lost the election and so did Putin MBS and net and Yahoo, just to throw on a few.

Trump is weak, but the G O P is weaker.

Now when it looks like you’re going to split control of Congress with the Senate going to the Democrats and the House going to the Republicans, that’s not the wave we were talking about. It’s like a sound wave, a vibration that you can pick up with a very sensitive membrane.

The actual numbers are not impressive for anybody. The Democrats picked up one measly seat in the Senate so far, uh, but that means they went from being tied, which is a win kind of because the Vice President breaks ties in the Senate. Now they’re going to be still far short of a super majority of the Senate needs to need, right? Cuz you have to have like 60 votes to do anything in the Senate. So, you know, uh, 51 seats versus 50 is not like huge improvement.

The house as of this recording is 209 seats for the Democrats, 217 seats for the Republicans. So given that the concrete results are literally mixed with Democrats gaining in one chamber and Republicans gaining in the other, why is the midterm election being treated as a democratic triumph?

Because of the expectations.

It’s the same reason some kids spend the whole year waiting for their birthday, right? Like, when’s my birthday gonna come? And then, and only on the day of they are frantic and they are getting presents and tearing through them and eating the cake, and then they’re like, oh, this is terrible. I didn’t get the thing. I already ate my cake and I was hoping it would be some other kind of cake. Listen, kid, you told me you wanted that. Um, it’s just expectations, right? Like nothing can live up to those birthday expectations for some kids.

And expectations are everything in the political game, right? So in early 22, let’s go back and remember that it seemed like the Republicans were going to clean democratic clocks, whatever that phrase may mean. But by the summer, the narrative had changed. Now it said, well, maybe Democrats could defy 60 years of history, which clearly shows that the President’s party loses ground during midterm elections. But in yet another twist, by late October, right on the eve of the election, the Republicans were in the lead. Uh, here’s the New York Times From October 24th. Every major senate race, except for Georgia’s, has been trending toward the Republicans. There are even warning signs for Democrats in house districts in Oregon and Rhode Island where republicans are rarely competitive. And now more voters say they intend to vote for Republicans instead of Democrats for Congress in their district.

So the expectation just before the election was that the Republicans were going to win. But when you’re supposed to win big, anything less than crushing your opponent is actually losing in the fight game. Uh, when everyone expects a knockout, you can’t just like beat the guy in scorecards, right? The champ starts to look bad if he can’t put the chimp away. And in politics, when the president is from the other party, he has low approval ratings, inflation is high and crime is going up. Well, you’re expected to rack up some numbers. The Republicans didn’t do that. Uh, as I said in a previous episode, it seems to me that what actually happened on election night is that the areas you would expect to go for Republicans in the South especially went to Republicans, Ron DeSantis, Greg Abbott, right? Uh, Brian Kemp in Georgia. But the places that you’d expect to go to Democrats in the north especially went to Democrats, including Pennsylvania.

Uh, there’s, there’s no wave, not the kind that would, you know, bring the sharks swimming in front of your porch. Anyway, uh, I believe this is true, not a single incumbent governor lost this year. Uh, I think the reality is that this was a sweeping victory for whatever we were just doing. Uh, but the Democrats are the ones who beat expectations. They have the presidency, they have the Senate, and that’s real power, like global level power, uh, not as much as they had in the last session, but they are not totally eviscerated in that, in this case is winning the Republicans, they had the Democrats on the ropes. They had the sharks lined up, prowling the shore just waiting to go bite some ankles in the suburbs. All you needed to do was give them the big wave, right? All you needed to do was deliver the knockout blow.

But instead of, uh, a big round of majority flipping mandate grabbing Biden rebuking, electoral conquests, they got a seat here and there, a runoff in Georgia and whatever joy comes from beating Beto O’Rourke three times in a row. So not meeting expectations in the school report cards, this is what we call, uh, quote approaching standard. Now, that doesn’t mean that trump’s a total loser. And I remember we had those 199 Trumpy candidates that 5 38 was tracking 67% or 134 of them had won by the end of last week. Uh, there’s still, you know, some outstanding races and I’m sure we can track on it. The interesting side note though was that those that were winning the Trumpists who were winning, they were incumbents. The new people in politics, the people who got in on the 2020 was stolen bandwagon. They didn’t do as well. I think that they, hmm, I think it was the other way around.

I think that you had like out of 80 folks like that, maybe 60 who, uh, lost. No, that’s right. Yeah, I just looked it up. Of the 80 non-incumbent Republican election deniers who ran for house, senate governor, secretary of State, and Attorney General, just 22 are projected to win. There you go. And also, the Republicans did not win, especially not the Trump Republicans in the races that really mattered, you know, in places in northern states where you gotta win, right? You gotta win in, uh, enemy territory, so to speak. If you wanna build majorities. And places like Pennsylvania did not come through, uh, in Washington state here. Uh, there was a Trump back candidate who lost a squeaker to a newcomer, uh, and Democrat. And that was a big deal. So despite this less than frisky, less than exciting performance by the Republicans, Trump goes ahead and just yesterday says, I’m running for president again in 2024.

Uh, but what do he guess? Why is he doing this? You know, why is he running, running, huh? To win. Here’s just a little quote from his announcement speech. We will be attacked, we will be slandered, we will be persecuted just as I have been, but we will not be intimidated. We will persevere and in the end we will win. Our country will win. You know, he still understands the importance of winning. He still gets it. Now, can he win enough to win again? He’s clearly lost some battles. Uh, he’s a little dinged up. He’s not the unbeaten champ anymore. Like no one can figure him out. How do we get to him? Uh, he’s banged up. And the people who felt like they were winning with him, some of them probably feel like they’ve been losing with him now. So the luster is gone, uh, at least a little bit.

And to be clear, I don’t like Trump and I hope he doesn’t win. But the danger here, and I hope that’s what we’re getting to, is that not quite winning can become winning. The G o p did it just voting against Obamacare 40 times. Uh, Trump tried to do it through his big lie, right? Like he tried to turn loss into a kind of win by just saying, well, I did win. I did win. And the Democrats frankly, kind of won this election by not losing too much. They had both chambers of Congress, uh, in the previous election, and now they’re gonna be down to one. It’s actually losing ground. But again, they beat expectations. So here’s, here’s my lesson to you folks. This is what I’m trying to get to.

It’s gonna take more than Trump not winning. For Trump to lose, it’s going to take beating him, crushing him. Victory. That is undeniable. That gets people off the Trump train. It gets people off any train. It’s not precisely about the policies, it’s about convincing folks that he’s a loser. All right? We’re gonna, we’ll be back of course, next week and talk about things. There are, you know, who would beat Trump? Well, you don’t, again, you don’t really have to wait for the next major, uh, presidential election. There are, uh, there’s a primary coming up, right? There’s other battles to be had and there are go p contenders in the wings. And there’s also things, of course, that Democrats can do, including a runoff in Georgia that we can talk about.

Thanks for spending the time with me. As always, you can go to the website, compass of You could tell someone, anyone about this podcast, tell your enemies, just make them suffer for it.

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