Hosting a 24-year-old avowed white nationalist
and internet provocateur named Nick Fuentes for dinner last week, along with the musician and entrepreneur Kanye West—who’s put himself in Fuentes’s company after making a series of anti-Semitic public statements—the former U.S. president Donald Trump brought on yet another moment of controversy in America. Condemnations came from across the political spectrum—including from prominent Republican politicians and conservative media figures who until recently, even after the U.S. Capitol riot in 2021, had been reluctant ever to criticize Trump. But with a slate of candidates he endorsed having lost their races in this year’s midterm elections
—notably, the 2020 “election deniers” who’ve refused to acknowledge the legitimacy of Joe Biden’s presidency—many Republicans have begun publicly blaming Trump for their party’s overall electoral failures. Meanwhile, as the former president announced his own candidacy for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, influential media outlets on the right are now promoting Florida’s Republican governor Ron DeSantis as the better bet—“DeFuture,” as a New York Post headline put it. But Trump still has powerful allies and broad support in the Republican base, assets that have made him untouchable in the party since 2016. Is something different this time?
A.B. Stoddard is an American journalist who’s covered U.S. politics for decades, now an associate editor and columnist with RealClearPolitics. To Stoddard, while it’s unusual how right-wing elites have started to speak out against Trump and his influence in the Republican Party, it’s not at all clear how long this behavior will last. Though DeSantis and a number of other would-be candidates are already pitching themselves as alternative directions for the party, no one really knows yet how many Republican voters actually want to go in an alternative direction—and ultimately, Republican voters are the only constituency that matters. Whatever happens, Stoddard thinks, there’s no evidence that these voters will support anything other than some version of the populist politics Trump won over their party with—let alone that they’ll turn back to the style of conservatism that dominated the party before him.
Graham Vyse: What do you make of all the losses among candidates Trump supported in the recent U.S. midterms?
: A lot of Democratic voters would like to think this election demonstrated that Americans roundly reject election deniers. I don’t think it’s that straightforward. Many Americans, who may not have much awareness about the question of U.S. democracy being in peril
, nonetheless showed up to vote on the issue of abortion access—less than five months after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade
and ended a national right to abortion. Young voters don’t often vote in midterm elections—and many of them don’t even know what midterm elections are—but the Court’s decision infuriated them. It caused a spike in voter registration among young Americans—young American women, in particular—which helped Democrats and hurt Republicans.
Meanwhile, many independent voters thought that many Republican candidates were outlandish. We saw a lot of Americans split their tickets, voting for candidates of both parties, demonstrating that some voters are still persuadable—even in such a politically polarized country. We saw a rejection of candidates who seemed too extreme, with Trump-backed and election-denying candidates in particular not doing well. But that factor on its own—the aversion to extremists, Trump allies, and election deniers—is mixed in with all these others. Parsing them out isn’t simple.
Vyse: What are some of the broader significant patterns you see in the election results?