Everyone loves a magic show, and especially trying to figure out how the trick was pulled off. You sit there and watch every move, every little flourish, for something unnatural that shows you just how the impossible is happening in front of your very eyes. And yet the first rule of magic is that 90% of the time, the trick was over before you even knew it began.
That switch that you were looking for so carefully happened immediately the magician touched the cards. That girl who somehow exited the box despite your eagle-eyed surveillance was never in there to begin with. And all that magic that allowed the Dems to win their unlikely victories on Tuesday night? It was all over before Fetterman ever stumbled up on stage to deliver his dreadful debate performance.
Just like that puzzled punter staring at the stage, the pundits are debating whether it was this or that comment from Trump, or the Dobbs ruling, or some other factor that drove a late shift in public opinion. But I would suggest that the real victory was secured a long time ago with the biggest change in electoral practices since we moved to the direct election of Senators: The adoption of mail-in and early voting.
In state-wide races at least, the Dems win or lose on their ability to extract the maximum turnout from their heavily concentrated voting blocks. Pennsylvania is dominated by Philadelphia, Allentown, and Pittsburgh, and yet for all the Dems own these cities, it’s still hard to turn out all the necessary votes on a single day. But if you have weeks to work the voters rolls, what was already a huge advantage can become insurmountable.
It’s the same with Gen Z voters: The Dems dominate the younger demographic, and yet they are notorious for not turning up on election day. But switch to early and mail-in voting, and now the Dems can slowly but surely work their way through the college towns running up their tallies to the point where they cannot be beat.
Now, this is not fraud—or at least, insofar as the rules are broken, they are nonetheless delivering votes that truly represent the beliefs of those in whose name they were cast. But it is still an enormous problem for the GOP. Heck, why do you think the Dems embraced the electoral changes so passionately? Out of the goodness of their hearts? No. They did it because they knew it would help them—and helping them it surely is.
So, what can the GOP do about it? Well, they could aim to reverse the changes, and return to single day in-person voting. But that’s going to be a heck of a hard sell. First, the states where they need it most are controlled by Dems who know which way the wind blows. And second, it would be to some degree anti-democratic to prevent votes that, as I noted, do actually represent a constituent’s actual preference.
The only option, then, is to face the new reality, and make it work for both sides. And that means a far better ground game and embracing the extended GOTV efforts at which the Dems excel. It won’t be easy, as Republican constituencies are far more widespread and much harder to target. But if the party ignores the lessons of the last two cycles and thinks that Dumping the Trump will be sufficient to offset such huge changes in voting habits, they’ll be sitting there again in two years, peering at the TV screen, and wondering how the magician managed to saw yet another lady in half.