It shows you how sacrosanct Trump is among populists that Blankenship won’t attack him even after laying responsibility for his defeat last night at Trump’s feet. Steve Bannon’s uncharacteristic silence after Trump excommunicated him from the party makes the same point. In both cases you have guys who have strained to sell themselves to the right as fearless warriors willing to utter truths that their enemies despise — except that once Trump makes himself an enemy, they go quiet. Although in fairness to both, that may have less to do with fearing Trump than with wanting to hang onto whatever stature they currently enjoy on the right after he’s denounced them. Trump attacking you means you lose your job. You attacking Trump means you lose your friends.
Still, not a word here from Blankenship about POTUS having betrayed populism by letting “swamp captain” Mitch McConnell dictate endorsements to him? It’s not like there are any other state offices for which POTUS might support Blankenship. This was his big chance at a major political career and Trump squashed it.
Or did he? I predicted in the primary thread last night that Blankenship would finish third, which he did, but that wasn’t because of Trump’s “don’t vote for Don” tweet. It was based on a judgment that the public polls would turn out to be more reliable than the internal polls. Two internal polls showing Blankenship surging into the lead in the final few days of the race drew media attention because they fit the narrative that Republican voters were about to engage in Roy Moore redux and nominate a dodgy populist in what should be a winnable race. But internal polls are suspicious because they come from partisan actors with some skin in the game. Who knows if the data has been manipulated and leaked for strategic reasons, like, say, exaggerating Blankenship’s support to try to scare Trump into issuing an anti-endorsement?
The two public polls taken last month, though, showed Blankenship a fairly distant third. The media narrative on him as of two weeks ago was that he was fading in the race. Charitably, you could theorize that his famous “Cocaine Mitch” ads might have propelled him back into contention late, sparking fear among Beltway Republicans and convincing McConnell to beg Trump to speak out against him. More likely, though, Trump was recruited to anti-endorse Blankenship as a just-in-case measure. That is, establishmentarians probably expected Blankenship woould finish last but just in case there was any last-second momentum building, Trump was dispatched to pop the balloon before it could inflate. “Late Blankenship surge?” headlines may have helped convince him to do it.
None of which is to say that Trump should be denied credit for weighing in. He did the smart, responsible thing this time. I hope Morrisey rewards him by swiping Manchin’s seat this fall. Conceivably POTUS may retain a Senate majority next year only because he was willing this week to oppose a populist whom he deemed, quite plausibly, to be unelectable. As for Blankenship:
Don Blankenship spent $2,715,838 on the airwaves and (with 92% reporting) garnered 27,414 votes.
Just shy of $100/vote.
— Carrie Dann (@CarrieNBCNews) May 9, 2018
Hoo boy. Look on the bright side: His parole’s over today. He can cross state lines again!