House & Senate: An Oversimplified Theory, Surely

President Donald Trump and House Speaker Paul Ryan with congressional Republicans in the Rose Garden of the White House after the House of Representatives approved the American Healthcare Act, May 4, 2017 (Carlos Barria/Reuters)

Why did Republicans do so well but Trump didn’t? Over at The Federalist, Joy Pullman notices how much better Republicans did in the House and Senate compared to the pre-election polling and wonders why it isn’t enough for Donald Trump. She is arguing for at least the legitimacy of Republican worries about election fraud.

She concludes:

Yet we are supposed to believe the same media-Democrat complex that fed us wildly erroneous polls all year, and runs false information operations on us about coronavirus, the Russia hoax, and everything else they can use to steal power, that this blue wave’s evaporation did not at all affect the top of the ticket?

The horrible performance of Republicans in House races in 2018 and the surprisingly strong performance of Republicans in House races in 2020 does suggest something. We’re going to need more and better data, but I think the result makes some intuitive sense.

Dan McLaughlin mentioned to me on our morning editorial call that there might be a Paul Ryan party, and there is a Donald Trump party. Taken by themselves, they are minority parties. It makes some sense.

The vast majority of members of each party are the same people. But, there is a significant portion of the Paul Ryan party (upwardly mobile) that does not like Donald Trump very much at all. There is a significant portion of the Trump party (in rural areas, in the Rust Belt states, among some Hispanics and blacks) that doesn’t quite hate the Paul Ryan party, but is rarely excited enough to vote by the Paul Ryan party alone.

In 2016, the prospect of Hillary Clinton made for a nearly unanimous and unified front of the Paul Ryan party and the Donald Trump party.

In 2018, the Paul Ryan party ran for their House seats, having passed a Paul Ryan tax cut, and they got wiped out.

In 2020, most of the Paul Ryan party came out to vote in their House and Senate races. They performed much better, because they were joined by almost the entirety of the Trump party voters. Donald Trump was on top of the ballot, and those Trump party guys who aren’t members of the Paul Ryan party shrugged and voted for the Paul Ryan party guys down their ballot.

But, without Hillary Clinton, many Paul Ryan party people did not mark their ballot for Donald Trump. Or they did, but in places not well-distributed to help Donald Trump. Thus, the party was able to grow in the House in places such as Western New York State, where the Trump party had no chance of triumphing at the top.

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