Here at the Journal, when we hit a wall on politics, we call Walter Shapiro. A columnist for The New Republic and a political science lecturer at Yale, Walter has covered 11 presidential elections, including stints at Time and Newsweek, where he learned to churn out impeccable copy on impossible deadlines. He's also been a columnist for Esquire and a speechwriter for Jimmy Carter. Then there was the stint as a standup comic...
We like to think of him as our journalism uncle. So with half the country predicting doom in the midterms, and the other half telling us that you can't predict anything, we knew who to call.
Late note: Shapiro didn't want to weigh in on the horrific attack on Paul Pelosi, the 82-year-old husband of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. "Too soon to tell" was his only comment on whether this disturbing event will affect the election's outcome.
JOURNAL: Of course, we’re all concerned about control of the Senate and the House. But can we talk Fetterman v. Oz? Isn't that contest emblematic? The gentle giant with his rough authenticity and stumbling speech versus the slick TV snake oil salesman. I know Biden isn’t 6’8” but….what do the poll numbers show us and what about the funding bump that Fetterman got after the debate?
SHAPIRO: Number one, this is probably the most important Senate race in the country. If the Democrats win that seat, it gives them a Republican-held seat, because Pat Toomey is retiring. It’s an insurance policy, because Democratic incumbents, particularly in Nevada, are in real trouble. If you lose a Democratic seat you lose the majority.
JOURNAL: The debate has caused a lot of debate.
SHAPIRO: I consider it one of the most heartbreaking events of the 2022 campaign. I’m not going to get into disability rights. The real question is not whether Fetterman could serve as senator. I mean, Strom Thurmond served as senator.
As heroic as he was, the visible effects of the stroke are really saddening. While he may recover, the real question is whether this is the best look for a Democrat in the country’s most important race.
Fetterman should have had the realism to realize his recovery is going to take longer than the campaign and he should have stepped aside. Again, this is not about his fitness to serve. It’s about his fitness to win the election.
JOURNAL: There was a million, two million that came in after the debate. Social media was littered with upbeat memes.
SHAPIRO: Over $100 million has been spent in PA, possibly closer to $200 million. The fact that he got $2 million is a rounding error.
JOURNAL: On that dispiriting note, let’s move on to polls. We keep hearing that they don’t mean anything, but then people keep citing them because what else do we have? Should we ignore them?
SHAPIRO: Yes. Absolutely.
The polls could turn out to be 100 percent accurate or dead wrong. We will only know that Nov. 9. Or more realistically, closer to the end of the month, when the results from the slowest-counting states, New York and California, are in. Plus, the inevitable lawsuits. The truth is that polling has broken down.
JOURNAL: Is it because of cell phones? Younger voters who don't have land lines falling through the cracks?
SHAPIRO: Cell phones are one reason. Number two, there is a general reluctance to answer the phone. Three, there is increasing hostility to the media so you may have a disproportionate number of people refusing to talk. Would you, for instance, talk to someone who said they were from Fox?
JOURNAL: I would, because I would tell them what I think of them.
SHAPIRO: Fox polling is actually very good.
JOURNAL: Yes, I’ve read that. They make an effort.
SHAPIRO: But that polarization hurts polling. There is also the traditional question about turnout. The If the election were held today would you vote for the Democrat or Republican? We were just talking Fetterman and Oz, not Democrat or Republican.
Not enough people in districts know the names of the candidates. They think in terms of personalities not parties. Not enough people in districts know the names of the candidates. So generic ballot polls are predictive but not that predictive.
The decline of legacy media also means that there are fewer polls being done on House races, so that’s another gap. The legacy media organizations don't have the money to fund them.
JOURNAL: Can you break down some key races? Is there any way to get an idea of the big question of who will control Congress?
SHAPIRO: For the Senate, there is Pennsylvania and Nevada. Pennsylvania we’ve talked about. In Nevada -
JOURNAL: We say it Neh - va - duh. Not Ne - vah - duh.
SHAPIRO: Anything west of the Missouri is foreign territory to me. What I hear, though, is that Cortez Masto isn’t a charismatic candidate. Harry Reid ran the Democratic Party in Nevada and he supported her, but Harry Reid is dead.
In Georgia, I think Warnock is going to beat the anti-abortion football hero who likes to pay for abortions.
JOURNAL: At least he sends a card.
SHAPIRO: Yeah, he sends a card. In Arizona, I think Mark Kelly has a good shot at winning over Blake Masters.
JOURNAL: Peter Thiel’s pool boy. He went to a progressive private school in Tucson and a bunch of people from the school signed a letter telling people not to vote for him.
SHAPIRO: Right. In Ohio, Tim Ryan has run a great campaign, but he faced an uphill battle. The state went for Trump twice by 8 percent.
One or two reputable polls say Chuck Grassley, who is 89 years old may be in trouble in Iowa. The boring Franken has a chance of winning there.
JOURNAL: The retired Navy admiral. If only it were Al.
SHAPIRO: Ohio and Iowa have two things in common: Until Trump they were swing states. The major reason they are tilting to Republicans, is that there is a higher than typical number of non-college educated white voters.
All of these races are close with the exception of Arizona and New Hampshire.
JOURNAL: In other words, nobody knows what’s going to happen.
Nobody knows what’s going to happen. You can watch Morning Joe for 18 hours a day and you won’t know. You can refresh Nate Silver’s website every 6 seconds.
My best advice is to go directly to the Delphic oracle.
SHAPIRO: I did, and I agree with him. What this election comes down to is do we continue to investigate Donald Trump as we should, or do we impeach Joe Biden?
JOURNAL: Not just Biden, according to Gellman. Harris, Mayorkas. Besides that, what's in play is do we run the country or spend everyone's energy on Benghazi-type hearings.
SHAPIRO: Right. If the Democrats hold both houses, the ambitions are going to be very limited. To pass a bill legalizing abortion, they need two seats to get rid of filibuster. That's unlikely.
On climate, Biden has pretty much legislated everything he can get through. Guns? About the same.
SHAPIRO: Immigration is the great white whale for both parties. We have been battling over immigration for 30 years. Obama got draconian on deportation and security, thinking comprehensive immigration reform could get done in the second term. All that happened was that we deported more people.
JOURNAL: Walter, I hadn't known that was the strategy. You're the man. Let's do this again. Maybe in a podcast!