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The GOP truly has absolutely nothing to run on
In 2022, Republicans fully hit rock bottom, and they don't seem to have the capacity to crawl out. Asterisk: That won't stop them from trying to steal elections.
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Let’s be clear before I go further: The GOP has, for a very long time, rarely had much to run on. It’s a party that for decades has been all about preserving wealth for the 1% and corporations.
But they could always count on evangelicals, who fueled their base, by taking positions that demonized other groups, like LGBTQ people, and making grand promises, such as on banning abortion (which they secretly hoped they’d never fulfill, as the outcome could alienate many Americans).
And they could count on a lot of white voters of lesser means than the 1% — suburban middle class voters, and working class voters — convincing them that trickledown economics, helping rich people and big corporations with massive tax breaks so they could “create jobs” while slashing “wasteful” government programs (read: helping minorities), benefitted them. And they could also convince a lot of those voters that their approach to crime and immigration (read: harsh racist policies) was best.
So, they’ve for a long time now had only three true constituencies: Big business and the wealthy; Christian nationalists; and bamboozled, disaffected and/or racist white people. Which, by the way, is the constituency-playbook of authoritarian leaders worldwide, currently and throughout the 20th century.
This sham was a good enough gig to win elections, as long as the GOP could sustain it. But several things have happened — all of them of the GOP’s own doing — that have scrambled all of this. And the 2022 midterms was another culmination of it.
Beginning with the election of Donald Trump in 2016, Republicans would begin bleeding white suburban voters, particularly women. The authoritarian playbook worked as long as the leader looked (to enough people) like a nice guy. When he suddenly looked like what the Republican party actually is, it scared the daylights out of many of their own voters.
The misogyny, racism and cruelty of the party was laid bare for these voters by Trump. This was a potentially devastating loss for the GOP. When you’ve only got three constituencies (and the 1%, while great for fundraising, are small in numbers) you can’t afford to lose a big part of one of those constituencies. And this highly-educated, well-connected group of suburbanites could become a potent force when combined with the Democrats’ traditional constituencies: well-organized Black voters, Latino voters, LGBTQ voters, young voters, unions, and other women of every class and race.
In 2018, the GOP would try to get these suburban voters back, using all of the tricks in their dirty old bag. So we heard about caravans of immigrants who were drug dealers and murderers intent on wreaking havoc in the suburbs, with Trump leading the charge.
None of it worked: The 2018 blue wave came crashing. But it was even worse than that. Trump’s rhetoric about immigrants inspired white supremacist mass shooters, such as the attacker who engaged in a massacre at a synagogue in Pittsburgh in October of 2018, and later, in 2019, the man who brutally gunned down Latino shoppers at a Wal-Mart in El Paso. These and other horrific events would impact the 2020 election, in which Trump was literally begging suburban voters for support: “Suburban women, will you please like me?”
Of course, that laughable plea didn’t work, and Trump lost re-election. And things had gotten even worse for the GOP. Adding to the suburban voters’ exodus — which helped fuel Joe Biden’s win in Arizona and Georgia — Joe Biden cut into the GOP’s white working class supporters. He didn’t win a majority of them, but chipped off enough of them to further hurt the Republican Party, particularly in the key states of Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin.
Then came 2022. The overturning of Roe v. Wade, as well as January 6th and the threat to democracy, were on the ballot. Suddenly, Christian nationalists, the other major constituency in the GOP, were a liability rather than an asset. Pandering to them further — and Senator Lindsey Graham did so in promising a federal abortion ban — was political suicide.
If the GOP was bleeding suburban voters in 2018, it was now massively hemorrhaging them in 2022, as they organized around abortion rights and threats to democracy. Those two issues also had the GOP losing more working class whites, including many independents and even some Republicans, particularly among women. We saw this early in the summer, in the turnout to vote for abortion rights in the Kansas referendum, a landslide win by a coalition of Democrats, independents and Republicans of every class, race and education level.
The GOP, still clinging to Trump, fearful of what he could do to them, believed their only choice in the midterms was to double down on the issues animating their base, including the Big Lie. But their base has shrunk and election denial would alienate many more voters.
The end result was that election denialists in important statewide races — for governor and secretary of state — and in many House and Senate races, went down in flames. This was enough to make 2022 the first year since 1986 — and only the second time since 1934 — in which the opposition party had a net loss of governors seats. And Democrats didn’t lose any state legislatures they’d previously controlled, which, per the Washington Post, is “a feat not accomplished by the president’s party during a midterm election since 1934."
Election denial helped hand Democrats the Senate, with potentially one more seat if they win the Georgia runoff, and dramatically narrowed any House takeover.
In 2022, the GOP had gone into its dirty bag of tricks again, and whipped out crime and immigration — old standbys — but they did little to bring back the voters they lost. Exit polls showed both issues were under 15% among voters’ top choices in the election.
The GOP thought the economy and inflation would save them too. But not only did they offer no plan on either; the American people saw the issue as mixed, even if it greatly concerned them: low unemployment, but (hopefully) temporary inflation. The other issues that were threats to their lives and their rights were clearly more important.
More than that, while President Biden’s approval, per polls, was low — and this supposed indicator, used ad nauseam by the media, may be a tired and not-so-useful one — Biden’s policies are rated high. People like the Inflation Reduction Act and lower prices for prescription drugs under Medicare.
People love that we’re tackling climate change with massive investment. They’re happy to see Obamacare premiums come down. Those who are suffering under student loan debt — millions of Americans, and particularly young people — were glad and relieved to see a modest amount canceled.
The vast majority of Americans support marijuana decriminalization, and surely support the Chips Act, which will bring more manufacturing of semiconductors to the U.S. rather than China or elsewhere.
Except for student loan debt, the GOP never actually attacked any of these popular policies — but rather just focused on the “approval” number of the President, a very abstract idea. They didn’t seem to get that, no matter what that number is and the reasons for it, people approved of what the president and Democrats actually did.
So, to review, the GOP has nothing:
Crime doesn’t work.
Immigration doesn’t work.
Inflation and the economy doesn’t work.
Election denial doesn’t work.
And surely taking away the right to abortion — or trying to gloss it over or run away from it after you do — doesn’t work.
What will they run on?
As I wrote last week, my concern is that they look to Ron DeSantis in Florida, and believe he’s got the right formula — a 15-week abortion ban rather than banning abortion from the moment of conception (although, after the election DeSantis got behind a full abortion ban, so there goes that); a “don’t say gay” law that can be seen as being about parental rights rather than stripping LGBTQ people of the right to marry; “Anti-woke” legislation which couches white resentment as merely a “sensitivity” (for white kids) school curriculum issue; and on and on. So we cannot take our guard down.
(And let’s not forget that the GOP will always try to rule from the minority, via gerrymandering and voter suppression — both of which DeSantis used in Florida — so rigging the vote becomes, for them, increasingly more important than running on issues.)
But what works in Florida — a very weird place — may not work elsewhere. And more to the point, the base nationally, intoxicated on election denial and banning all abortions, is not about to compromise.
Then the GOP’s got Trump. He’s lashing out, and still set to announce his presidential bid for 2024, still set to be a disaster for the GOP. They’ve shown no capacity in the past to rip Trump away from themselves and crawl out of the hole, and it doesn’t seem like they do now — despite the mild finger-pointing we’re seeing.
The far-right has built such a huge alternate-facts universe, including pushing biased polls that intoxicate the GOP base and GOP leaders — see the right-wing RealClearPolitics, predicting the GOP would have a four-seat Senate gain — that they are simply stunned when reality hits them in the face. If they truly want to make a change, they need to live in the real world of real facts. They’d have to begin to dismantle their toxic media empire that pushes magical thinking, lies and conspiracies, which seems like a daunting task for a party addicted to propaganda.
Mitch McConnell is surely ruing the day that he didn't convict Donald Trump in his impeachment trial after he incited an insurrection. He’ll never be senate majority leader again — all because of that decision. Yet he thought leaving Trump alone, hoping he’d fade away, was actually his ticket to winning the Senate. And for Kevin McCarthy it’s even worse: He thought courting Trump, bowing to Trump, and letting extremists run rampant, would give him a huge House win.
Now both men face attacks and challenges from within their parties — from the extremists, and from the more centrist (for lack of a better word) members — and neither has a plan. The extremists will have more power than ever — particularly in the House, where they can keep McCarthy from being speaker — so it doesn’t seem the GOP is anywhere near jettisoning Trump, who demands loyalty, including to the Big Lie. And if they don’t do that, they will continue to lose elections.
But even worse, the GOP’s decades-long sham has been fully revealed. Even if a “kinder, gentler” Trump emerges — and is that person really the mean and pouty Ron DeSantis? — it won’t be so easy to get back those suburban and working class voters they lost. And with Roe v. Wade, they can’t put the genie back in the bottle. More so, even if they truly wanted to take it on, change policy and bring in different voters, they’re paralyzed and don’t appear to have the remotest ability to do any of it.
As I stated though (in a parenthetical above), no one should count the GOP out completely, just because they have nothing to run on and are forever tethered to Trump.
What they’ve tried over and over is voter suppression and gerrymandering — and ruling from the minority — and that has worked to an extent. Maybe not enough to put them over the top in a big way in the last three election cycles (though if they win the House narrowly in 2022, as expected, it will be because of gerrymandering), but enough to make it close, take a few prizes and still remain a threat. The hope is that the threat diminishes over time, even if it takes a while. So we just have to keep making it harder for them, organizing fiercely, turning out the vote and beating them back every time.