My colleague The Moose, fresh from a forced-march family vacation in the Lone Star State, has drawn attention to the profile of Texas gubernatorial candidate Kinky Friedman by Dan Halpern in the current issue of The New Yorker. This is indeed a great read, which shows exactly how far the Kinkster is pushing the anti-political, political envelope beyond the far horizons established by Jesse Ventura back in 1998 (compared to Kinky, The Body was a fairly conventional candidate, as the former Ventura advisors now staffing Friedman have probably figured out).But the same issue of The New Yorker has another piece that I highly recommend: Peter J. Boyer’s article on Billy and Franklin Graham. (The article’s not available online, though the New Yorker site does offer an audio slide show about it).Boyer interprets Billy Graham’s rise as representing the emergence of Protestant Evangelical Christianity through the deliberate blurring of fundamentalism’s “rough edges,” most epecially doctrinal rigidity and hostily towards less-rigorous Christians. And he interprets Franklin Graham’s long and winding road towards a prominence rivalling his father’s as illustrating a more recent resurgence of fundamentalist theology bent on direct engagement with secular culture, and a recommitment to conservative and partisan politics.I found Boyer’s reporting on Billy Graham’s early career, and the hostility he generated among evangelical fundamentalists, fascinating and instructive. As it happens, I grew up in a conservative southern evangelical milieu, and had no idea Graham was considered a dangerous liberal by the fundies. Indeed, my wife and I have virtually identical anecdotes from our childhood about our deeply conservative Baptist grandmothers striding to the family television set (a major war-zone in those pre-cable days), changing the channel from a movie our fathers wanted to watch, and announcing: “It’s time for Billy Graham.” No one dared to switch the channel back.In the decades since those innocent days, the fundamentalists have indeed not only reconquered southern evangelical Protestantism, but appear to currently occupy the commanding heights of evangelical Protestantism around the country. Billy’s son, Franklin, is part of the backlash. And moreover, another famous son of a famous father, George W. Bush, is a key transition figure in the rightward turn of evangelical Protestantism.You probably know the story: Back during his impressionable thirties, W. left behind a casual affiliation with the Anglicanism of his forefathers, and perhaps a more intense attachment to the congregation of Jack Daniels, after a discussion with Billy Graham. And years later, of course, the younger Bush developed a close political alliance with the new fundamentalist-dominated Christian Right, including the younger Graham. Indeed, Franklin Graham probably achieved his greatest notoriety when protests broke out against his plans to become an administration-authorized dispenser of aid to war-ravaged Iraq despite a history of inflammatory statements about Islam as “evil.”In any event, the whole tale is fascinating, and worth the price of buying the print version of The New Yorker. You can read about Kinky for dessert.
TDS Strategy Memos
Latest Research from:
By Ed Kilgore
After absorbing a lot of Democratic gloom-and-doom about the midterms, I offered some silver lining at New York:
The 2022 midterms don’t look great for Democrats, who will try to buck history by hanging on to super-slim congressional majorities. Thanks to the particular lay of the land, Democrats have a decent chance of maintaining control of the Senate. But the House? Not so much: The two times since the New Deal when the president’s party won net House seats in a midterm (1998 and 2002), the president in question had sky-high job-approval ratings. Even if you believe Joe Biden’s plunge in popularity has been stemmed or even turned around a bit, he’s not going to have 60 percent-plus approval in November 2022 unless really crazy things happen. There’s just too much partisan polarization for that these days.
Thankfully for Democrats, even if they lose their congressional majorities next year, Biden himself won’t be an underdog for reelection in 2024. After all, the last two Democratic presidents were reelected after historically terrible midterms. Democrats lost 54 U.S. House seats in 1994 and 63 in 2010. Yes, they had bigger majorities going into those elections than Democrats have now. But they lost the national House popular vote by an identical 6.8 percent in both midterms, which is pretty bad, particularly since Democrats suffer from a voter-inefficiency problem in House elections (too many voters concentrated in too few districts).
It’s possible for a president’s party to lose a midterm so badly that bouncing back in the next cycle is all but impossible. Consider the man whose unique comeback accomplishment Donald Trump will be emulating if he runs in 2024, Grover Cleveland. The president Cleveland defeated in an 1892 rematch, Benjamin Harrison, was a Republican whose party lost an incredible 93 House seats in the 1890 midterms. This, mind you, was at a time when the House had only 332 members, which means the GOP lost over half their caucus in one cycle (an even worse percentage than in 1894, when Democrats lost a record 125 House seats during the midterm after Cleveland’s comeback triumph). In this era of polarization, nothing like that is going to happen to Democrats in 2022.
Looking more broadly at the power of incumbency, there have been 13 sitting presidents since World War II who were on the general election ballot. Nine of them won. The four losers all faced special circumstances. Gerald Ford had not previously been elected to anything more than the U.S. House; he ascended to the vice-presidency and then the presidency when disgraced predecessors resigned, and he pardoned the president who appointed him, the especially disgraced Richard Nixon. Jimmy Carter was caught up in a historical realignment that he had held off four years earlier by carrying his native South, which then resumed a massive Republican trend. George H.W. Bush suffered from a terrible economy but then also a party split (third-party candidate Ross Perot won a lot of previously Republican voters). And we all know about Donald J. Trump, who was impeached twice and seemed determined to offend swing voters.
In retrospect, what’s most remarkable is that Ford and Trump very nearly got reelected despite their handicaps, exhibiting not the weakness but the strength of incumbency. And it’s with that perspective that any early handicapping of a potential 2024 rematch should be considered. Trump benefited from incumbency in 2020, as will Biden in 2024. So the idea that the 45th president has some built-in advantage over the 46th — absent the renewed election coup so many of us fear — doesn’t make a lot of sense.