One of the pleasures and challenges of this job is that you travel a lot. I have been in 23 states in the last three months. The general impression I have is that I am not covering a mid-term election campaign. I'm covering two separate electorates.
The biggest difference is atmospheric. In urban and suburban America, the indignation of Donald Trump du jour is on everyone's lips: Did you see what you tweeted now? Did you see his racist ad? Where will Mueller's research go?
In rural America, on the contrary, all that is like a thunderstorm in Inner Mongolia. It is something that is happening far away, with no particular relevance here, and that is why nobody is paying much attention.
In urban America people talk about Trump constantly. In rural America people usually avoid the subject. Even if 80 percent of the locals support Trump, you never know how someone will react if you mention his name (they might call you a racist), so it's not a safe topic of conversation.
The other great impression I have is that the big guns now separate different sectors of American society and that these guns are increasingly difficult to cross.
On the one hand, as Amy Walter of Cook Political Report has pointed out, very little has changed in the last two years. In 2016, 54 percent of white voters supported Trump, and the exact same percentage of voters support him today. In 2016, 38 percent of white voters with a college education supported Trump and 38 percent support him today.
Much has been said, but few minds have been changed.
On the other hand, everyone's political positions are deeper. Suburban woman with university education Really I do not like Republicans White men without a university degree. Really I do not like democrats, urban America is Really blue. Rural America is Really Red. The race in 2016 entrenched those positions at the presidential level. The 2018 race entrenches them until the end.
I'm traveling with Ron Brownstein of CNN and former Republican congressman Tom Davis: this is not a wave choice; It is a choice of realignment. Tuesday's results will not be shaped by any momentum behind the Democrats. They will be shaped by the fact that people are hardening in their categories, and those categories tend to produce a Democratic House and a Republican Senate.
Republicans were burdened with an unpopular president, and it was normal to try to get the careers of the House of Representatives to address local problems. But Trump does everything about himself, and thus has nationalized all races.
Elections in Congress are now mostly only mini versions of the presidential elections. The quality of any individual candidate matters much less, and there is much less variation in the way different candidates conduct their campaigns.
In Missouri, for example, Republicans are running Josh Hawley for the Senate. Hawley could have run an interesting campaign that would have crossed many boundaries. He went to the Law School of Stanford and Yale. He wrote an excellent book on Theodore Roosevelt and several excellent essays for the magazine. National affairs, including a scholar on Epicurean liberalism. But he has embraced Trump and run like a fairly standard Trumpkin Republican.
Nationalized politics forces local candidates to act primarily as substitutes for Trump or Pelosi and less as themselves.
The only word that the two electorates have in common is "unravel". Both groups have the feeling that America is falling apart. If you ask them which "issues" are most important, they will say medical attention or immigration. But that is not the right question, because it does not have the feeling of existential anger and anguish that really drives things.
Of course, the two electorates tell completely different stories. In rural America, the sources of disintegration are the immigrants (symbolized by the caravan) and the radicalized mobs of educated elites (symbolized by the media). In rural America, basic values such as hard work, clear gender roles and the social fabric are dissolving in the eyes of people.
Timothy Carney had a very fine piece in the Times The Thursday that captured the sense of social desperation. "I have a .22 rifle loaded right next to my door," a man in a rural area of Pennsylvania told Carney, "I do not trust anyone in my apartment complex."
Urban Americans see the rising tide of nativism disintegrate, the way Trump evades social norms, the clandestine army of right-wing extremists with weapons. In any case, the blue sensation of unraveling is more complete.
The democratic ideology is increasingly dominated by the educated upper middle class. As the polls show, these democrats are losing faith in capitalism, in the American dream. White liberals describe racism as a major problem that impedes the advancement of blacks than African-Americans.
As Emma Green pointed out in The AtlanticFor many, progressivism is not just a set of political beliefs; It is a set of liturgies, rituals and moral doctrines for lay people without a church.
Politics is no longer primarily about disagreeing about issues. It's about being in completely separate conversations.
The Venn diagram is dead. There is no overlap area.