Friday, December 2, 2022

From Red Wave to Red Shoals

 From Red Wave to Red Shoals

by Thomas C. Cooke , National Review

Mediocre midterms indict the Republican Party’s recent choices
Rarely has a party deserved to lose its unified control of the federal government as much as the Democrats did in the year 2022. Often, politics hinges upon timing. And, often, timing hinges upon dumb luck. But no such excuses apply here. Upon taking office last year, the Democrats inherited a bad situation and swiftly set about making it worse. In just two years, they supercharged inflation, invited chaos at the border, weakened America’s vital energy sector, added substantially to the national debt, and took aim at America’s core institutions. It was a sorry performance, and at the first opportunity, its authors have been modestly punished for their inadequacy.

Elections are opportunities for political parties to ask for more power, and the Democrats have been denied that request. On the trail, President Biden promised that if his party gained just two more Senate seats, it would abolish the filibuster and rule unchecked until the end of his first term. Why? Per Biden: so that it could stage a federal takeover of America’s election systems, preempt the abortion laws of all 50 states, spend another $3 or 4 trillion we don’t have, push through draconian restrictions on the Second Amendment, and raise taxes as we enter a recession. Voters responded to these promises by handing the House of Representatives over to the Republicans and by declining to give the Democrats those extra two seats in the Senate. Americans, in other words, said “No.” And thank goodness that they did.

But, in all honesty, that is about all that Americans said. This was no “shellacking” or “thumping.” It was a mild rebuke. Evidently, voters do not like the Democratic Party much at present, and they do not like their Democratic president much, either. But this does not mean that they have become rock-ribbed Republicans. There is a considerable difference between winning because people favor your agenda and winning because you’re not the other guy, and this was almost entirely a not-the-other-guy sort of election. Clearly, the GOP’s incoherent worldview remains a big electoral problem. Clearly, Donald Trump’s continued unpopularity remains a big electoral problem. Clearly, the Right’s persistent preference for cranks and oddballs remains a big electoral problem. In essence, the electorate did this year what it tried to do back in 2020: It chastised Donald Trump and his cronies; it divided power between the two parties; and it instructed the president that, for now, it wants him to do nothing more interesting than play caretaker. Perhaps, this time, these instructions will be heeded.

That the Republican Party could not do better in this terrible political environment serves as a searing indictment of the choices it has made in recent years. Candidates matter — especially in Senate and gubernatorial races — and the GOP has simply forgotten how to pick figures who can win. Herschel Walker, Mehmet Oz, Blake Masters, Adam Laxalt, Doug Mastriano, Don Bolduc, Karoline Leavitt, John Gibbs — these are people who should never have gotten near their nominations. Consider, by way of comparison, how well the non-Trump-picked candidates did on Tuesday and had done before. Look at Mike DeWine, Marco Rubio, Greg Abbott, and Brian Kemp. Think back to 2014, in which year the GOP picked up nine seats in the Senate. At some point, Republican voters are bound to recognize that, more often than not, “handpicked by Donald Trump” is not a virtue but the kiss of death. When they do, they’ll turn decisively on Trump and his schtick. But, until that happens, they’ll lose — and they’ll deserve to.

The Democrats, too, would benefit from some introspection on this point, for while the public obviously does not like Donald Trump or his acolytes, it does not consider them anathematic, either. As Election Day grew closer, Joe Biden and his team became increasingly shrill about the need to “save democracy” by voting for the Democratic candidates in every single election — including, astonishingly enough, in the state of Georgia, where the party ran Stacey Abrams, an election truther, against Brian Kemp, a Republican governor who stood up against Trump’s post-2020 lies. That this approach did not help the party’s fortunes was not, as some suggested, an indication that Americans care more about “gas prices than about free elections,” but a reflection of just how cynical and self-serving the Democrats’ proposition seemed to be. As for Joe Biden? He was, as ever, the wrong messenger. In August, Biden attempted to spend up to $1 trillion without congressional approval. Last year, Biden ordered an extension of an eviction moratorium that the Supreme Court had already indicated was illegal. And, early in his tenure, Biden abandoned his 50-year-long support for the filibuster, for no other reason than that it had become inconvenient. Why, come November of this year, did voters see both parties as equal threats to democracy? That’s why.

Whether either party is capable of adapting to the messages it has been sent remains to be seen. For the Democrats, adapting would mean returning to the real world. Conservatives like to complain about the pernicious effects of bias in the media, of the progressive takeover of the slanted moderation of social media. Up to a point, they are correct to gripe about these things. But the echo chamber that has been created by these developments also holds risks for the Democrats, and over the last year, those risks have become as clear as they’ve ever been. For a while now, sober observers of the political scene have wondered how Joe Biden could be so out of touch with the bread-and-butter questions on which elections are won and lost. Why didn’t he seem to care about inflation? Why was the border an afterthought? Why could nothing convince him to scale down his expansive agenda? One of the answers to this question is that, having become president, Biden decided to live inside the bubble that the American Left has created for itself, and thereby to focus on the wrong things. Suffice it to say that it does not matter whether the president wins over the journalistic and Twitter classes if the country at large remains unimpressed.

And the Republicans? The Republicans now have a clear choice. They can either continue to follow Donald Trump into the mire or acknowledge the red flashing lights on the control panel and move on to something new. Not everything that happened on Tuesday was doom and gloom: In Florida, Governor Ron DeSantis won reelection by an astonishing 20 points, prevailing in all but five of Florida’s 67 counties in the process. In the national press, DeSantis has gained a reputation as a brawler. Among voters, however, he is relatively uncontroversial. Florida’s shift from perennial swing state to ruby-red bastion was overdetermined, but among its many causes was the elementary competence that the governing Republican Party has displayed for nigh on 30 years. Unlike Donald Trump, Governor DeSantis did not accrue terrible approval ratings and then squeak through in a divisive nail-biter; he remained popular throughout his tenure and then blew the doors off when he asked the voters to return him to office. A sensible political party would look at that model and attempt to emulate it on a national scale. Is the Republican Party a sensible political party?

Time will tell.

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