I’ve made next to no effort to read post-mortem analysis of Tuesday’s elections, and don’t see any reason to start now. What I was hoping for was that Democrats would hold on to New Jersey and Virginia governorships and legislatures, and maybe pick up a contested congressional seat in Ohio (where Republicans have been overperforming ever since they put those new voting machines in for the 2004 election). Had that happened, it would basically say that even if voters are dissatisfied with Democrats they at least recognize that they’d be much worse off with Republicans. As you know, that didn’t happen, although the NJ governorship was held by Democrat Philip Murphy (in something of a nail-biter). The lesson I draw from all of this is that Democrats need to communicate and campaign better. In particular, they need to drive home the point that there is no effective difference between Trump and any other Republican on any ticket anywhere.
No More Mister Nice Blog has written several good posts on just this theme. In particular, see Democrats Need to Develop Rapid Response 2.0. He starts off quoting Greg Sargent on a “lopsided communications imbalance” by which “Youngkin and his allies have pumped . . . raw right-wing sewage directly into the minds of the GOP base, behind the backs of moderate swing voters, via a right-wing media network that has no rival on the Democratic side.” Blogger SM notes:
What Democrats need to do is disrupt the messaging of the right. They need a sense of what’s being said in the right’s propaganda channels and they need to respond to it fast, before the messaging reaches voters in the middle. They need to debunk dishonest allegations and they need to make the dishonesty the story.
The 1992 Bill Clinton campaign was known for a “rapid response” capability that didn’t allow bad news to fester. Democrats need to recognize that Fox News is the Republican Party, and that they need to treat messaging on Fox as if it’s messaging from Republican campaigns. (Because it is.) They need to see propaganda campaigns like this coming and they need to counter such campaigns as fast as they can.
The facile explanation for Democratic losses is Biden’s recent drop in the favorability polls, which crossed negative around August 27. That slide started with the fall of Kabul, which had become inevitable at least since Obama’s “surge” failed to gain any traction in 2009-10, or for many of us since Fall 2001, when GW Bush responded to Osama Bin Laden’s dare and blundered into the “graveyard of empires.” I gave Biden much credit for sticking to his withdrawal schedule, and thought he defended the decision ably (if not as eloquently as one might wish for). But who in the public eye had his back? Republicans enjoyed a purely opportunistic feast of demagoguery at Biden’s expense. Since then the right-wing talk machine has been harping on things like gasoline prices, while the media has been focused on the efforts of two marginal senators to sabotage an important (and if people properly understood it better a potentially very popular) piece of legislation, making Democrats look hapless.
While it may be difficult to get an airing in the fracas-oriented mainstream media, it really shouldn’t be hard for sensible people to make meaningful comparisons Democrats, who are honestly proposing real solutions to critical problems, and Republicans, who offer nothing but complaints and paeans to magical thinking. Even more so between Biden and his Republican predecessor. Last week’s trip to Europe for G20 and COP26 should have been seen as a triumph of statesmanship, in stark contrast to the amateur hour histrionics of Trump’s foreign meetings. The G20 agreement to pursue minimum global taxation of corporations, for instance, wasn’t even on the agenda as long as Trump was president. The pledges on deforestation may not amount to much, but can you even imagine Trump caring a whit?
Trump is so ridiculous and vile he’s like a prophylactic around the mass of the Republican Party (at least those who haven’t made public spectacles of themselves, like Louie Gohmert, Matt Goetz, Marjory Taylor Greene, and Ted Cruz), protecting their reputations from his stain. But for all practical purposes, there is very little difference Trump and the average Republican conservative in Congress. SM has a post on this: The Number of Bad Republicans Is Much Greater Than One. His first piece of evidence is a Twitter thread from Diana Butler Bass (links in post) about “Bad stuff that happened in Virginia the last time we had a GOP governor” (each of these is backed by links to articles):
- Remember the Virginia ultrasound bill forcing vaginal probes controversy?
- UVA professors were investigated for teaching climate science.
- Gov Bob McConnell reinstated Confederate History Month.
- The GOP worked to subvert every environmental policy in the books.
- The 2013 candidate for Lt Gov ran a campaign based on Democrats being the Antichrist.
But this is my ongoing complaint about the Democrats: They’re up against a party of extremists whom much of the country regards as moderate, while Democrats are a mostly moderate party that’s regarded by far too many voters as extreme. Regarding the latter, Democrats like Joe Biden and Kyrsten Sinema, in different ways, send the message, “I’m moderate — I’m not like those Democrats you don’t like,” which got them elected but reinforces the Democrats-as-extremists stereotype. And when Democrats focus on Trump as a uniquely evil figure, that reinforces the belief that most Republicans are fine, decent, responsible right-centrists.
Still, what bothers me isn’t that the Republicans have become the real extremists, but that the ideas that motivate their extremism are so dysfunctional. In simpler times I might offer you a list here, but now it would take a book. They have no idea how the economy works. They have no concern for what unfettered business does to the environment, let alone the climate. They hold all but the rich in contempt, yet are convinced their attitudes will never provoke redress. After all, they figure they got all the guns. Every time you give them a piece of power, they cost us valuable time and often exacerbate the problems.
Still, as disasters go, Tuesday’s elections didn’t do a huge amount of damage. They are a wake up call for Democrats, a warning that we need to work smarter and help each other out more, and take seriously the need to explain to people why we offer hope for the future, and why Republicans don’t. And by the way, the elections did bring some victories. Here in Wichita, three progressives were elected to the city council (a net gain of two). On the other hand, the school board took a step backward, as Republicans organized a partisan slate in a nominally non-partisan election and flipped three (of four) seats, one thanks to a split among better candidates. That promises to be the end of Critical Race Theory in the Wichita Public Schools (not that there was any), but also the end of mask mandates.