John Anderson Direct: With Victor Davis Hanson, on the 2022 Midterms

John is joined by regular contributor Victor Davis Hanson in the wake of the midterm elections to digest what the results mean for the major parties, the American people and the 2024 presidential election.

Hanson points to the underlying malaise in American political culture that divides citizens into 'red' and 'blue' states as the greater threat to national stability. He argues the failure of Trump endorsed candidates, significantly higher election funding for the Democrats and the fracturing of the Republican party are all contributing factors to the 'red ripple'.


Introducing Victor Davis Hanson

John Anderson: It’s impossible to remember US midterm elections that were so anticipated, so controversial, and so polarised as these last have been. President Biden and much of the media have been stating that with these elections, American democracy is literally at stake. Both parties have become more ideologically zealous over the past six years especially, with the Democrats becoming radically progressive and the Republicans being reshaped by Trump’s Make America Great Again movement.

Now that the midterm ballots are in. It’s a time to analyse the state of American politics and society, and it’s hard to think of a man more fit for that task than today’s guest. A regular on our conversations, senior Fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution: Professor Victor Davis Hanson. Well, Victor, thank you very much for being with us again, and we’re obviously talking about something that is of monumental, monumental importance for America and for the world, in my view, the midterm elections, We’re talking pretty much as they’re still unfolding or the results are still unfolding.

What happened this midterms?

John Anderson: Can I begin by saying that as an observer and admirer, of America, midterm outcomes are usually shaped largely by the popularity and standing of the president and whether people think the country’s going in the right direction.

When you look at this, my understanding is that the vast majority of Americans do not believe the country’s going in the right direction. President Biden is not enjoying a strong standing and popularity. There was a predicted red wave. In Australia, that would mean the left side of politics, but in America it means Republican.

A predicted red wave. It turned into something like a trickle, and we still don’t know yet whether the Senate will slip or not. In a short question: what happened?

Victor Davis Hanson: Well, it’s a good question. I don’t think anybody quite can figure it out because as you say, a president in his first four year term has a midterm election where one third of the Senate, the upper house and all of the representatives in the lower house are up for election.

Human nature being what it is usually, candidates promise a lot, and they don’t perform as well as their expectations. So traditionally, a president loses about 25 seats in the House and two or three Senate seats, and then we have historical, trends that can either diminish or amplify that fact.

And one of them is the president’s poll ratings. If a president is around 40%, then we get into 1994 Bill Clinton territory, or 2010 Barack Obama territory or Donald Trump, 2018, all of whom had about 40% approval, and they lost respectively, 63 seats, 53 seats, and I think 40 seats.

So, when Joe Biden is around 40% and his main agendas on the border, inflation, fuel crime, foreign policy are polling below 40/45% approval. And they are also polling in the mind of the voter as the most important issues. Everybody looked at this as a perfect storm. They said weak president, traditionally in a vulnerable position in his first midterm has, brought in agendas that are unpopular.

So we are forecasting anywhere from 35 to 50 seats and anywhere from three to four to five lost Senate seats. There is one caveat that I think is very important to add to this calculus, and that is, in the case of the house, when I talk about major inroads of the out party, they’re usually behind; they don’t have [00:05:00] control of the house. In this case, the Republicans didn’t have control of the house, but they were only seven down. So what I’m getting at is if they had won 25 or 30 seats, that would’ve been analogous in their final tally to something like their enviable positions in 2010 and 2000, and 1994 where they were way down and then they had to go way up. Here, they were basically even,

The other thing to remember is that the Senate flips over every two years with only one third of its members. And the way it works is that sometimes they can be vastly asymmetrical in the number of Democrats or Republicans out of that 33 cohort or up in this particular case.

This was one of the years the Republicans had to, field and protect a lot of offices that were up for re-election. And the Democrats had very little exposure, meaning the incumbents were mostly Republican. And so their existing seats were pretty much safe, because incumbents usually win.

But the Republicans had a lot of exposures. Nonetheless, the Republicans were hoping, given the unpopularity of Biden, to win, as I said, 40 seats or so up and maybe three to five sentence seats. And what we’re looking at tonight – I’m in Arizona tonight in a hotel, I’m giving a lecture, I did one this morning and one on the election tomorrow.

It looks to me like they will be up anywhere from 10 to 20 seats in the house, and they’ll be lucky if they take the Senate. It’s right now looking. It, it’s starting to look like it’ll be 50 50, 49, 51, 50, 1 49, depending on who wins Georgia, which will have a special election because it has a unique and perverse law that says that no one can be elected unless they have a majority of over 50%.

Herschel Walker and Warnock will be doing the same thing again in December, and that will determine, I think, the fate of the Senate. And the reason is, so why did this happen, John? That’s what we’re, we’re trying to find out. And I think in a nutshell, the Republicans felt that because five or six issues were polling the most important in the mind of the voters, and those issues were not polling well for Biden, they were going to seize on them.

And then they said that Democrats had seized on abortion because of the repeal of the Roe versus Wade was back to the States and that was not an issue they felt that most voters cared about. And so everybody left and right had said this was a classic mistake on the part of the Democrats.

And the polls showed that the Republicans had almost caught up by early October. They were in the polls in most cases ahead of the Democrats. But what apparently happened was, Joe Biden two weeks before the election took place, that is the last week of October and the first of November, he tried a radically different tact.

He decided that he was going to run on insurrection and democracy dies in darkness, and he made the premise in a very series of sharp speeches that if Democrats lost then democracy was over with. In fact, we had presidential historian, Michael Beschloss, said they will kill your children. It was that type of rhetoric.

If you let these people who storm the Capitol take control –and they will; they’re election denialists, they’re nihilists, they’re anarchists And then the Paul Pelosi attack that happened just at the end of October where they said that this deranged ex hippie, nudist, commune, homeless, illegal, alien was actually a MAGA adherent and therefore he acted to attack the Pelosi home and the deals of that attack were still not completely aware of apparently, but, he acted out of right wing rhetoric of the sort that Joe Biden said we had to crush.

And then they went full, they went whole hog, so to speak, on abortion and said, they framed the abortion debate in the sense that we want to protect young women who will die. Because even though Ro Roe versus Wade turns it over to the states, these lunatic states will bar abortion and young women will die trying to have back alley abortions.

And apparently from what we know from post polls, that those two issues galvanized young people. And [00:10:00] single women, 20 to 30, that pretty much had not given an indication they were going to outperform their demographics, and they did. They got very enthused and angry and turned out. And then on the other hand, the Republicans who thought they had these issues that everybody cared about learned that younger people did not care about them as much as they did. And more importantly, while they hammered Biden on the the price of gas, inflation, crime, they never really came out with a contract of America and said:

“If you vote for us, this is what we’re going to do. We’re going to open up and more. We’re gonna get Keystone going. We’re gonna get federal prosecutors to go into the cities and make sure that these criminals are not let out. We’ll charge them with racketeering or federal offenses.”

They gave no solutions. And so people said they’re just yelling. And we agree. They’re yelling, but they’re not telling us what we’re gonna do. And there were other extraneous force multipliers of that as well. Donald Trump, I think quite unwisely a week before the election started attacking Ron DeSantis, the Florida governor, who was very popular and in fact, he’s the bright spot.

He had a landslide victory and he said that he was Ron de Sanctimonious. And he then later he made fun of his wife. He said he would bring out dirt against DeSantis, et cetera. And that was unwise. And then he hinted that he was going to announce his intention to run. That may have galvanized left-wing voters who despised Trump to get out and vote who might otherwise have sat it out.

And it might have turned off DeSantis supporters from voting for Trump candidates after he insulted their favourite candidate.

John Anderson: So, Victor, to pick this up from where I sit on the other side of the world, I’m always reluctant to presume to know too much about somebody else’s country.

But the impression you get is that the failure here was on the part of the Republicans to craft a convincing narrative. And I find that staggering, given the extraordinary level of challenges that America faces internally. Economic inflation, all of those sorts of issues, and externally with very real threats to America’s position in the world.

Trump as a Republican leader

John Anderson: Why is it so difficult for the Republicans, it seems, to mount a clearer narrative given that everyone says they’ve got the leadership in the wings, so to speak, the people coming through.

Victor Davis Hanson: Yeah. Usually the nominal head of the party is either the current president or the ex president, or somebody who by a claim, will probably be the next president.

In this case, Donald Trump fulfilled two of those criteria. He thinks he’s going to be the next president and he was the last president. So in a usual midterm election, Trump would then assume the mammal of the party unifier, and that would’ve entailed two or three things. He would’ve said, look, the message is that these people are McCarthyites.

And they’re equating their own defeat with insurrection. But what is absurd because in sort of an egocentric idea, all they’re saying is if we lose, then democracy’s done. If we win, democracy is okay. And he could have exposed that. Then he could have said, and Joe Biden is buying off the electorate. He’s emptying the petroleum reserve.

He’s giving amnesty to marijuana convictions. And most importantly, he’s forgiven illegally, a half trillion dollars of student debt. And that’s all intended to get you students to come out and young people and young women on the abortion to come out. But this is why you shouldn’t do this. Here is your inflation, your crime, your border, and this is what we’re going to do about it.

But instead of that leadership, he was engaged in a fight against Mitch McConnell on whether his candidates that he endorsed would be those that the Republican establishment endorsed. Anybody who voted for his impeachment, or criticized him, he attacked. And he was raising money separately from the Republican congressional funding. And then he was very worried about Ron DeSantis

And the result was there was no coherent leadership from everybody. There was no contract like Newt Genrich had done in 1994 contract with America. So people said, well, yeah, we agree with you that Biden is an awful president and we don’t like him. [00:15:00] But you never told us what you’re going to do, and they tell us that you guys are crazy and you’re gonna take away women’s abortion. People are gonna die. What do you say about that?

And, and then we had some very, very astute conservative against the grain pollsters. The Trafalgar Group, InsiderAdvantage, Rasmussen, and they had been so much more accurate than the standbys – the Emerson poll, the Susquehanna, the Monmouth poll, the New York Times, CBS, NBC, Wall Street – in past elections.

So when they came out and they said, we have a different formula. We look at the suppressed conservative voter that will not talk to pollsters, and we factor that in, and therefore, all these candidates that now apparently have lost, if you look at the polls, they were either dead, even in these conservative polls or ahead. And that created, I think, a sense of laxity or delusion that when you looked at Blake Masters and Carrie Lake and uh, Herschel Walker and Lee Zelin on the last day of the polling on conservative polls, they were either all tied or ahead

And people said, well, they’ve been right before. So there was a sense of premature celebration, red wave, and the left outspent them. They outspent the Republicans three to one, and they scared the population, the voting electorate. And I don’t think the Republicans were prepared for that.

The fact that they’re going to, I think still take the house and they have a 50 50 chance of capturing the Senate means that for all these mistakes, they can just barely, and they will barely stop all legislation. If they take the house, Joe Biden can’t pass any legislation whatsoever.

There will be investigations under Republican auspices of everything from Hunter Biden to Dr. Fauci, and he’ll have to rule by executive order. Had they taken the Senate, they could have not only passed the legislation in both houses and sent it to the president where it would force him into embarrassing vetoes, but they could have stopped all of his hardcore left wing judicial appointments or any appointments, and they were prepared to do that.

But I don’t think, that’s more tenuous now as we talk.

John Anderson: So, Victor, you’re painting a picture grimly of an America that remains as divided as ever from top to bottom at a time when I think behind a lot of your thinking is that there are a lot of Americans who are actually desperately looking to put that division behind.

Victor Davis Hanson: Yeah, they are. But what we’re doing is under our federal system, John, we’re self-selecting. And so in states that are socialist such as California, Illinois, and New York. They are not the same states they were 30 or 40 years ago that would elect a Ronald Reagan or a George Duke Major, or Pete Wilson or a George Pataki, uh, or Mayor Daley, a conservative. They are are very progressive neo socialist states, and they’re broke or they’re not working, and they’re highly taxed and they’re getting enormous exoduses.

And over the last 20 years, maybe eight to 10 million people have left those states and gone to Florida, to Texas, to Tennessee. And the result is that a guy like Beto O’Rourke can spend a hundred million dollars and he’s never going to win in Texas because every conservative from these blue states will go to Texas and they get hyper conservative.

By the same token, when you leave these blue states, a good candidate like Le Lee Selden or Tiffany Smiley in Washington, or Tudor Dixon in Michigan against a very poor democratic candidate, it’s not going to win because those states are becoming bluer and bluer as conservatives leave them. And so what’s happening is the country is even accentuating those differences because people are self-selecting in a very mobile society.

And we can’t quite figure out what’s going on, but if you go to Florida today, or Tennessee or Texas, and you go to California the next week, or New York or Illinois, you believe you’re in a different country. They’re becoming that different.

John Anderson: And you’ve spoken very convincingly about this when we’ve talked in the past, but in places like California, it’s up there in lights as to what this progressive ideology actually does.

You force energy prices through the roof for various reasons, all the while saying that renewables will bring the price of energy down. You force manufacturing out, you kill your middle [00:20:00] class, you end up with staggering unheard of wealth and influence in the hands of quite limited numbers of people.

Creating seperate nations of Americans

John Anderson: And as I understand it, correct me if I’m wrong, but my understanding is that California is creating new jobs, but they’re all low paid jobs. The middle class is gone.

Victor Davis Hanson: They’re actually losing, they were creating low, low jobs. But the tech industry, as you’ve read, is blowing up. So this week, mark Zuckerberg, Twitter and Facebook, they’re gonna be laying off tens of thousands of employees.

They’re not sustainable operations; partly because of mismanagement, partly because of the global recession. So, a lot of people, look, I guess that it would be analogous if you look at the EU today, and let’s just take for an example. Switzerland was a member of the EU and it had a free market economy and it was less socialist than it is, and people were free to go there, and they all spoke the same language.

You could see what would happen to the EU. People would be going in every direction. Leftists would be going to left wing countries. Conservatives would be, if they had common ties. What prevents that is that these are separate nations, but here in the United States, we’re creating separate nations, but of Americans that have common ties.

And the common ties are attenuating as politics. And what that means is that when you look at the crisis in depth, the individual personalities didn’t matter as much, the candidates didn’t matter. People were voting on ideology, party affiliation politics. So you got a guy like John Federman, that even people in Pennsylvania said is non compos mentis.

He’s totally unable to fulfill the duties of a US Senator, yet I’m gonna vote for him because he is a one vote in the Senate that we need, or he is a Democrat and they’re gonna stick with him no matter what. Debates don’t matter anymore. Uh, John Federman was humiliated in that debate, tragically so.

Kathy Hoel, the mayor of the Governor of New York, did dismally. Carrie Lake, the contender for the governorship here in Arizona, where I am today, she tore up Ms. Holmes, her opponent. They didn’t matter, and when, and candidates just refused to debate. That was always the mark of a loser in American politics.

They were cowardly. They they weren’t up to it, but there was no downside. They just said, we’re not gonna debate.  And so everything that had been the particulars and the ingredients to winning or losing are being airbrushed out. We’re getting down to a hardcore, you’re either with me or you’re against me, a partisan ideology.

Changes to mail-in balloting

Victor Davis Hanson: And it starts from the left. And in reaction to it, a beleaguered conservative said, we’re gonna be doing the same thing. And then there’s a final equation, John, that’s very important. The way that an election is conducted in America today bears no resemblance whatsoever to the way it was 10 years ago.

In 2012, about 25 million ballots were cast. Absentee or what they called in some states early voting, you could vote in a series of consecutive days. But all of those states that did that, that small percentage had about a 5% rejection rate. That meant if a Mailin ballot came in. There were so few, they examined them very carefully.

They said the name is not complete – out. The address is not complete – out. The name in the address does not match the registrar’s computer list – out. They forgot to sign their name – out. The ballot came in two days after – out. But when they changed under the cloak of COVID in 2020, these state legislatures, it was just a very, very systematic effort funded by Silicon Valley to sue in the courts to say that this was racist, discriminatory.

You could just have your first name, you could send your ballot in late. All of those variables were enacted illegally, and now they’re all under appeal, and they will be appealed, but too late.

The result was that the rejection rate in most states went down to 0.2, 0.3%. That was a magnitude of 10. At the same time, the absentee ballots and early ballots went over a hundred million. So you had, basically, in the space of a decade, reduced election day and hollowed American holiday almost – not officially, but de facto – into a construct. It was irrelevant.

Only 30%/40% were actually showing up on election day. And they used COVID to do this and they were very adept at changing the laws. They had the money, the capital, the media, the influence, Silicon Valley and the Republicans had no idea what was going on. They were still [00:25:00] fossils who said On election day we get out the vote, we get cars and pick everybody up.

We, we go to the polls and vote and they have not mastered that. And it was very apparent in this election that these ballots, we don’t know when the ballots come in. There’s no such thing in America as there was in 1960s, seventies and eighties, that on election day people vote and by seven o’clock in the evening till midnight, they find it, they go to bed and they know who won.

People in America go to bed. They won’t know who wins for a week because these ballots come in at all different times. They’re all different sorts of rules in different states, and it’s a, it’s an entire mess and it’s a real dagger to the heart of democracy.

Problems - early voting, Georgia & ranked voting

John Anderson: Yeah. It seems to me there, there are two other problems.

One is that very often a campaign can swing right at the last moment. In a genuine campaign, something is uncovered very late in the piece. Well, if you’ve had a whole lot of people who have voted already, many of them will then have buyers regret, but it’s too late. You know, that’s why you have a campaign having been involved in them, right to the end, arguing your case, being under examination yourself, having to rebut answers so that voters have the maximum chance of making an intelligent choice.

The other problem is that it feeds into this great problem now in America where it’s very easy to claim fraud. And that becomes a corrosive cancer on trust.

Victor Davis Hanson: It does. And then especially when people who commit fraud, they’re irregular, they have a pre-emptive defence that says, if you dare criticize me, you’re a voter suppressionist, or you’re an election denialist and we know what happened to you guys after January 6th, and then you add into, you described exactly that.

The fate of Donald Trump. He had a terrible first debate in the 2020 election against Joe Biden. He was rude, he interrupted, he thought he was gonna rat. It was, and then he had a very good, a very competent, and a very clear victory over Biden, weeks later. But 60 million people had already voted. It was irrelevant.

There’s two other things that in the equation that are force multipliers. In Georgia, we have a 50% majority. It’s a state, and there’s a couple like that. You have to have 50%. So now the whole nation will be sitting on needles and pins, while this one particular state says the winner on election day is not the winner unless, and neither one has 50%.

So we’re gonna replay what we did in 2020 where Georgia held everything up. And then we have this crackpot idea of ranked voting where you list 1, 2, 3, 4 candidates as happens in Alaska or in the mayorly race in New York. So we have three or four competing systems in these states and they’re not compatible.

And the result is that Americans are losing confidence in the integrity of their ballot.

John Anderson: And that’s devastatingly bad for true democracy.

Trump's influence on the race

John Anderson: Can I come back to, let’s focus for a moment on former president, or as you say in America, you still call him President Trump. You made the comment that he has great influence as a leader, of course, because he’s been a president, he sees himself as a future one.

You’d have to say out of this though, he’s very diminished. We’re all expecting that next Monday, Australian time, he’ll make, an announcement. We’re assuming that it’s going to be, that he’s going to run again. But actually in two ways, it seems to me he’s been very diminished. One or three really. One is that, it’s looked as though it’s about him rather than highlighting the failures of the current administration.

Two is that his handpicked candidates, as Mitch McConnell warned, have not done as well as they should have. But three, perhaps the most important, is that the governor of Florida has actually shown that there is an appetite for good sound, solid policy making, and he’s been massively enhanced at the same time as President Trump has undermined him.

And that’s of course governor DeSantis. So where does Trump come out of this as the rest of the world watches and wonders?

Victor Davis Hanson: I think you summed up exactly the state of American feeling in this 24 hour period. If we were to ask Donald Trump this question, he would say to us, well, maybe Blake Masters is gonna win in Arizona, that’s not decided.

Maybe Herschel Walker’s going to win and maybe Adam Laxalt is gonna win. And JD Vance did win. And so Oz loss, but that wasn’t my fault. And he would get into it, some esoteric explanations, and then he would say, the last time you did this you saw a very successful governor who was in a purple state or had turned it around and made it into a [00:30:00] red state, and he had all of the skills and he was way ahead in the polls with Scott Walker in 2012 and 2016, I should say.

And he ran, he was thinking about in 2012, he did run in 2016 and Trump would say, look what happened. And how do you know if you put all of your eggs in the DeSantis basket, and it doesn’t seem to be any other Republicans people have talked about it. Tom Cotton just pulled out, but there’s Nikki Haley, there’s Mike Pompeo, there’s Mike Pence, but none of them have the stature of DeSantis.

So Trump is making the argument: he’s not time tested. So what I’m getting at is I don’t see how the Republicans avoid a knockdown, drag out fight between the two. And Trump, as we know from the primaries, cannot just be very nasty in a primary debate or battle.

He can be very effectively nasty and find things that weaken. He tore Scott Walker to piece. He destroyed Chris Christie as a candidate. He made Marco Rubio, he turned him into a caricature little Marco. Ted Cruz all of a sudden became lying Ted Cru. And he absolutely humiliated Ron Paul.

And so what I’m getting at, if you’re Donald Trump, he feels that DeSantis has, had the beneficiary. He’s in the beneficiary of an influx of conservative voters that have changed Florida rather than his policies winning them over to the conservative side. I don’t know to the extent whether that’s true or false, but he’s saying, to all of us, and he said this explicitly yesterday.

He said, I know things about Ron DeSantis and his background that you don’t want to know, and his wife is running his campaign. It was a very mean thing to say because his wife is a cancer survivor, et cetera. But what he’s trying to tell us is, you put him on the stage and you unleash me against him, I will tear this man apart, just like I tore every other person who said that they could never be torn apart.

And that’s where we’re headed. So right now, Trump supporters, mainstream Republicans that didn’t support him but voted for him, they’re all in a panic. Because I think what you’re telling me is what most of the conservative Trump supporters have already would agree with you That you can have the Trump successful four years without the excesses and without damning Trump.

You can thank him for creating a new middle class populist party for winning and keeping Hillary Clinton out of the White House. But you don’t think that’s sustainable given the way that he invites gratuitous arguments, controversies and incurs such hatred from the left who have such resources.

So that’s what, but then we end up everybody, if you’re right, John, I think you are. Everybody’s saying, well, the cat has, to use the Aesop’s fable simile, the cat has to have a bell around his neck, but none of the mice want to put the bell around it. And so who’s going to go into Mar-a-Lago and say, Donald Trump, you should become a senior statesman.

You had a wonderful four years, compared to the Biden record history will look kindly upon you. You can be magnanimous and barnstorming. Get Ron DeSantis. You can be an ambassador; you can be a senior statesman. You’ll have a great life. Why would you want to go back into this cauldron in your late seventies?

But no one seems to be willing to do that, that has influence upon him.

DeSantis ascendancy?

John Anderson: If I could just tease out for a moment, I bow your much greater knowledge of your country. You said you don’t, you couldn’t test the theory as to Trump’s theory that it’s about demographic change in Florida, but it does seem to me too, other factors that have to be taken into account and should not be ignored.

I don’t wanna sound like a, it’s not for me to run an advertising campaign for the governor, but I understand that every single media outlet down in Florida that has any sort of following absolutely slammed him. He was an appalling person. He should never be voted. He’s a divider. He’s a shocker.

Victor Davis Hanson: Yep. Absolutely.

John Anderson: And you look at where his numbers have gone over the last few years, that’s gotta be more than demographics. My point is this, I would’ve thought he’s reflecting a genuine appetite for, you know, alright, tough – nobody says to you, you know, he’s a walkover – but, but firm, clearly articulated policy; if you like, the politics of conviction still has a great place and isn’t there something very powerful in that?

Because I’d like to come back to a moment to the lines that [00:35:00] President Biden’s been running. By contrast.

Victor Davis Hanson: I think you summed up the DeSantis narrative. He only won by half a point against this very mediocre Gillum who was an unimpressive candidate for Governor the Democratic, and then he had a lot of personal scandals and imploded, but, everybody said he has the background.

He’s in Ivy League, he’s been in the military. He’s a very good speaker. He has an enormous intelligence command of the facts. But he was a technocrat. He didn’t have the fire in the belly. He couldn’t. So what he had tried to do the last three or four years that says, I can be as tough as Trump on the left.

I can tell Disney that if they’re going to push down the throats of Floridians a transgendered experience when you go to Disneyland, then I’m not gonna give them a special tax break. Or he can say to the critical race theory lobbyists not in our schools, or he can tell Dr. Fauci, we’re not gonna mask in perpetuity and he can do it with a Trump style fire.

And he did that. And then the third element of that trifecta was he said. And I can do all this without getting on Twitter, without calling somebody an A-hole or without insulting. And so you get Trump’s vigour, and you get the agenda that we are indebted to him for reformulating the Republican party, but you don’t get the downside.

And so, you’re absolutely right. If you look at this dispassionately, and I’m saying for somebody who wrote a book about Trump, I like Donald Trump. But if you’re gonna be dispassionate and empirical, Donald Trump took a big hit on this election, just simply because there was one state that performed exactly what conservative pollsters said would happen and what democratic, worrisome people feared what would happen and what the media, finally, in the last days, democratic media, Republican media agreed it was gonna be a tsunami and it was. Not one Democrat won a statewide office in Florida. He flipped Dade County that was almost 70% Hispanic. And so, he was the great success story and Donald Trump looked small because he was yelling at him when he should have been down there thanking him for helping the MAGA cause.

And Donald Trump’s candidates, at this moment, we don’t know, but it doesn’t look like the Trump seal of approval was a guarantee they were gonna win. We should mention money too, John, that Ron DeSantis raised over $200 million and didn’t have to spend it. He’s got over a hundred million dollars in his war chest and he has a phenomenal ability to raise money more, much more so than Donald Trump.

So, I think everybody, I guess why, if you think I sound a little tentative, because as I’m trying to be empirical and read what the landscape is for all the reasons I just said, people would be persuaded by, I think, what you’re saying. But then if you’re correct and I think you are, then they shudder.

Because they know Donald Trump won’t back down and they know that DeSantis is formidable and he’s not gonna back down. And you’re going to see a huge fight that will tear apart the party. Whereas one of the ironies of this election was Joe Biden should have been destroyed in this election.

Everybody said he should step down. There were democratic people who were attacking him for not talking about the issues. Suddenly they’re giddy at the White House and I think it’s gonna be ironic that now Joe Biden says at 82 he’s gonna run for office, and I think otherwise he would’ve stepped down or retired and he’s gonna be a very vulnerable candidate.

And so people are saying they’re gonna be united and not fighting, but they have a very vulnerable candidate. We’ve got two good candidates, but we’re gonna destroy each other when we could just unite behind one and defeat Joe Biden. And since Donald Trump couldn’t do that, DeSantis is a logical successor.

But how do you convince Donald Trump and his supporters of that. About 25 or 30% of the Republican Party are just fanatical Trump supporters and the Republican Party cannot win without them. And that would mean that Donald Trump would have to at some point, say after New Hampshire or Iowa, if he should lose: “I want all of my supporters to realize we had a great fight, but we have to unite now behind [00:40:00] Ron DeSantis.” and I don’t think that’s something he’s going to do, at least at this point. But this is all speculation.

John Anderson: Yeah. But very, very depressing to contemplate, I have to say for if you like the best interests of the global community as I see it.

The Democrats

John Anderson: Can we come back? I’d like to explore that in a moment. Just come back if we could to, we touched on it, the lines that were coming from the White House and President Biden. He ran strongly on abortion rights. We discussed that. It was well done on voters’ concerns, but I guess about getting people out. Getting particularly young women out. And the threat to democracy from what he called the semi-fascists, which I thought was extraordinary.

To go into areas that I think really need to be teased out that are a little bit sensitive. But it seems to me that this is a pretty strange line of logic coming from the President of America because the High Court, Supreme Court decision in essence, has to be seen, I would’ve thought, as restoring democracy.

We Australians would understand that the people – in our case, it was done state by state – the parliaments should make decisions about something as sensitive as abortion, not the courts. So our real argument would’ve been that action is not about smashing democracy. In fact, you’re undermining it by saying we will apply actually a very radical prescription, the Democrat position, right across the land by fear.

It won’t be decided by the people state by state in the normal democratic way that abortion is legal right up to the time of birth. And the other aspect of it that sounds strange to me for President Biden to talk about the other side opposing democracy, is that, as we read it from the other side of the world, the biggest chunk of people involved in mainstream politics in America who oppose the democratic capitalist model that has made America what it is, is the left wing of the Democrat Party.

They’re the anti-democrats.

Victor Davis Hanson: Well, you’re absolutely right. So to amplify what you said, Roe versus Wade did not outlaw abortion. It made it more democratic. It said, we have 50 different cultures in the United States, local cultures, and you’re all free to do what you want. If you want to stupidly, and I think quite evilly, allow abortion as we in California to the moment of birth, go ahead and do it.

If you feel that if a woman is raped or is a victim of incest and you still don’t want to get abortion, then go ahead and do it if you can get a majority to do it. But most states are somewhere in between. And so it was a very democratic thing to do. But remember, we’re not dealing with the Democratic party of old.

We’re dealing with progressive neo socialists, ideologues, progressives, and their way of thinking that if you do not vote for their agenda, then you’re voting against democracy. And at the same time, one party is saying, we have not got our agenda through. We don’t have gas up to $8 a gallon. We haven’t gone completely green. We haven’t destroyed the border. We haven’t decriminalized the judicial code.

And the reason we haven’t is the rules that we’re forced to play by: we don’t like. So we want to do the following. We want to get rid of the electoral college that’s in the constitution. We want to get rid of the Second Amendment that’s in the Constitution.

We want to restrict the First Amendment through something we call hate speech and suppress free expression. We want to get rid of the nine-person Supreme Court that’s been here for 160 years. We want to get rid of the idea of 50 states that’s been here 60 years. We want to get rid of the constitutional idea that the states set balloting laws and have a national voting law that says you have to, you cannot ask for a person to present an ID and so, we want to get rid of the 180 year filibuster.

So this party has attacked every element of the Democratic experience because they felt that it wasn’t viable or useful for their own agenda. So this is kind of a projection that they’re in. They do all of these things and then they projected onto the Republicans and it’s very effective.

If you say election denialist, they don’t mean Jim Clyburn. Who in 2005 voted to not certify the election because he claimed that John Kerry was a victim of computer tampering, or Al Gore who said that George W. Bush was selected and not elected, or Hillary [00:45:00] Clinton who said that Donald Trump was not a legitimate president, or Jimmy Carter said the same thing.

So, I don’t know what to tell you except that we’re not dealing with democratic people. They’re more like European socialists. So that when you had these populist movements in Europe that wanted to have referenda to get out of Brexit, it was basically you’re gonna keep voting until you vote to stay in.

And then they damned the British as being anti-democratic. Because they had a very democratic and transparent election to leave Brexit. But for the socialist mind, you can’t do that because they’re really, in essence, they don’t believe in democracy or government. They believe that they have a superior ideology, and they’re our moral superiors.

And that any means necessary or, or justified to advance those proposition.

Lessons from history

John Anderson: Well, Victor, um,  can we just round out now by considering – and I’m sitting here in Australia – thinking that everything that confronts as difficult as it might be around the world today, involves, if we’re to find a way forward, the active involvement of a coherent America.

Take climate change policy, for example, the greatest threat to a coherent climate change policy around the world would be a collapse. I put it to you that the rules based international liberal order that the Americans have effectively policed for 60 years. They’ve been the good cops.

If it collapses, the autocrats aren’t gonna care about this. You know, what’s my point? My point is more broadly that there is a massive global interest in what’s happening in an age when the new autocrats, and we all know who they are, believe that America is now so polarized, well, the west in general, but America in particular, so polarized, so degenerate that it’s a one-way street.

It can’t pull its way out, and we will fall into the laps of the autocrats over time with or without some military assistance in terms of what they seem to be prepared to do. Everything that we’ve talked about today suggests that whether or not coherence, if I can put it that way, in American leadership, politics, place in the world, order is to be restored.

All of that is put on hold again. We don’t have a clearer idea of where it might go. Now, you are an eminent historian. What are your observations and does history tell us anything here, give us some clues.

Victor Davis Hanson: States and all systems come to end. There was an end of the British Empire, the Roman Empire, the Ottomans, but they’re usually characterized by cycles of renewal.

And Rome was all through, I would argue, in the first century AD during the Julio-Claudians, I mean, how can you endure Nero and Caligula? Although they had four Emperors in one year, and yet it had enormous resurgence, they had the best period, that Gibbons said, in the history of mankind, roughly from about 98 to 190 Marcus Aurelius and Trajan, Hadrian, Antoninus Pius, et cetera.

So there’s these cycles of renewal and remember about the United States. We, we’ve been talking in a pessimistic context, but here we are and it looks like this progressive experiment is going to be sidetracked because they’re gonna lose the congress, the house, and it looks like there’s a 50 50 chance they will not be pushing these very extreme leftists through the process to the Senate. They won’t be confirmed if they lose the House.

And we have an election in two years, and they’re gonna be running somebody who’s 82 years old and has cognitive difficulties. Not because they want to, but because when you look at a Cory Booker or Beto O’Rourke, or Kamala Harris or Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren or Julian Castro, Or a Gavin.

There’s nobody there. These ideologues – nobody wants them. And then we’re saying yes, but they have this type of voting that favors them now. And yes, but there’s enormous pushback as we’re speaking. There are people in the states who say, look at Georgia. Georgia has passed a voter ID law, and a lot of the states are reacting against this.

And then at the same time, the Republican party is not easily, I mean, they did not win 51% of the votes since 1988, they’ve lost five out of the last six popular elections, Trump’s included. But now when you see what DeSantis has done and you see that it’s starting to become a [00:50:00] populist party that appeals on class interest rather than just racial balkanization, it’s appealing to Hispanics and black.

They didn’t, it’s true. They didn’t vote in the percentages that the Republicans wanted, but they did much more, they were much more supportive than they did in the past. And what I’m getting at is the trends are pretty good. If you look at the suppression of free speech, there has been a pushback.

So right now, today, Twitter is in the hands of Elon Musk. If this was four years ago, you wouldn’t, we couldn’t hear about Hunter’s laptop. Twitter suppressed it. Facebook suppressed it. Mark Zuckerberg has lost 70 billion dollars. He’s gonna lay off 80,000 people. He’s imploded that company. He’s despised in America.

He’s been exposed as working with the FBI. He’s very paranoid about repeating the role that he did. Twitter will now let any expression, there’s a true social, there’s a rumble, and so we’re starting to see that the American people are waking up. I think the way to look at this election was people were so giddy that they had pushed back and they felt they were regrouping and they got a little ahead of their skis and they thought, we’ve ended this, and this mid midterm will be such a blowout that we’ve ended the progressive project.

There were articles written almost daily by pundits. The end of woke, woke is in crisis. No more critical race theory. Transgenderism is over. The limits of progressivism have been reached. And so I think if we just step back a little bit, I think the forces of reform and counter revolution are very healthy.

We just, we underestimated the resilience of the progressive left-wing movement and the fusion of it with the media and money. I mean, one way we could have had this entire discussion, John, I think on the role of money in this, this bold, the New Hampshire candidate, he was outspent 17 to one. Blake Masters, was outspent three to one.

Every single candidate was outspent because of the globalist concentration of entertainment wealth, Wall Street wealth, finance wealth, Silicon Valley media wealth. So given all of that, I think this is a slight detour, but I think people are starting really to wake up and I’m very confident about that.

And I think there’s people abroad that are starting to see that whatever we’ve been doing, it doesn’t work. And there’s people in Europe who are saying to us, we need your natural gas. Don’t make the same mistakes we do. There’s people in Ukraine who are saying, NATO now admits if you don’t help us, if you’re not muscular, there’s no hope for us. You’re the only people that can do this.

There’s people in Japan and South Korea that are saying, we need the United States. It’s kind of ironic because when we were very engaged and united and powerful, we had a lot of people who said, well, you Roman legions are too brutal. You’re too forceful, and we Greek philosophers have to modulate and tell you what to do.

Now that we’ve backed off and we’re diminished, people are saying, you shouldn’t have ever listened to us. We want you back. We need you because of China and Russia. Get back. And we’re saying, okay, but you know, it takes a while to recalibrate.

And we’ve got a bunch of socialists in this country, like most countries abroad, and they’re more European than, they are American in their politics. And we know you should tell them where it ends because look at Germany’s energy situation or look at NATO’s military preparedness the last 20 years. So I think we’re trying to correct in one of these periods of American change response, change response.

And I am confident that in 2024 there’ll be a conservative president and a conservative government, but we have some problems because we have a very dynamic leader that’s very multidimensional. And we must remember that Donald Trump stopped Hillary Clinton. If he hadn’t have done that, we would’ve been in terrible shape.

He had a very good four years, but there were elements in the way that he governed that are not sustainable for the conservative movement. And I think it is gonna be very hard for him, given the maltreatment that he received – Russian collusion, hunter laptop, the Covid lies, pangolin and Bat caused the pandemic, not the Wuhan lab, like Trump said, et cetera – that it’s gonna be very hard for him to say, I was treated so poorly, I want redemption.

And you’re gonna have to say to him, life is tragic, but we’re gonna have to have primaries and let the people decide, and that’s gonna be a tough business for a while. [00:55:00]

John Anderson: Victor, thank you. Not just for your time, but for the extraordinary thought and experience you’re able to bring to bear on these things.

And I guess the takeout is to remember what Edmund Burke said: you’ve got to speak up. All it takes for the wrong things to keep happening is for good people to disengage, we need to be engaged.

Victor Davis Hanson: Yes. I think it’s really important that we’re in a period of, we have 50 million people, John, that were not born in the United States.

It’s the highest in percentages and actual numbers, and they have not been assimilated, integrated, intermarried at the level we have before, and we need to have civic education inculcate America about its foundings, its maturity, its values, and more importantly, its alliances and its role in the world.

Its historic relationship with the English speaking people, and it’s very, I try to do that when I teach, but when you see somebody who’s very left wing or they’ve just come from Venezuela and you try to tell them, we have historical ties with Britain or Australia, or we have historical ties with Europe and Japan that supersede our ties with Africa or Latin America.

That’s a very hard sell, but we’re trying to do that. In other words, we in America believe it doesn’t look, it doesn’t matter what we look like. If we have this Western outlook and western values that from the, you know, from 2,500 years of civilization, especially our founding, but that’s what we’re engaged in.

The subtext of all this political acrimony are cultural existential problems with we are becoming a multi multiracial society. It’s not 90% European anymore, and we’re trying to tell these new groups of people, you came here for a reason. You came because the Western paradigm was dynamic and free and prosperous.

And it’s our duty to teach you about it. And we don’t want you to come here and tear it down. And we don’t want you to listen to the people who want you to come here and tear it down. And that’s the great struggle we’re engaged in right now.


John Anderson: Can I just put it to you? If it’s anything like Australia, it’s often the people who have come here who, once a few ideas are triggered in their mind, they say, hey, we came here because of these things. Of course what you’re saying is important, and you’re seeing this now, as I understand it, in some racial groups who are deserting the Democrats rapidly.

Victor Davis Hanson: Absolutely. We’re seeing it in Florida’s, but Dade County, Dade County is, uh, 70% Hispanic and they went overwhelmingly for DeSantis. And we’re seeing high levels of African American. Not high in the sense of absolute, but relative. 17% of African Americans voted.

Our problem right now is that we need the country to assimilate these very, for the most part, they would come legally. That’s another question, but they’re very entrepreneurial. They really want to be Americans. But we have elements of the left elite that don’t want them to be assimilated.

They want them to be subservient, tribal, and dependent on leftist, big government. And so it’s hard to tell somebody you’ll be better off not getting lifetime entitlements from the people who will acquire political fealty to do things that are against your own traditions and customs. Why don’t you take a chance and do what we used to do with immigrants?

And I think we’re trying to get that message. And I’m optimistic because only because America’s so resilient and self-critical. And we’re in a bad space right now. Our major cities are disasters, but we’re very self-critical. We’re not people that say, don’t, don’t dare say that about America. I don’t think you’ll hear that from Americans.

They’ll say, please tell us more. Tell us. I mean, the left will say, this is music to my ears, but the right will say, I want to hear what you think is wrong so I can correct it and I need to correct it. So we’re very self-critical, but on the right and the conservative, we’re positively self-critical. We’re not nihilistically self-critical as the left is. So I remain cautiously optimistic.

John Anderson: Well thank you for your encouragement and thank you very much again for your time.

Victor Davis Hanson: Well, thank you for having me again, John.

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