Thirty years ago, during the 1992 presidential campaign of Bill Clinton, Clinton adviser James Carville boiled the primary campaign message down to the simplest terms: “It’s the economy, stupid.” Indeed, that pithy statement is largely considered a truism in politics. Americans can put up with a lot of garbage from their political leaders as long as the economy is functioning well enough to allow John and Susie Voter to prosper more than struggle.
This year, polls showed that economic concerns — particularly the ravages of inflation — were at the top of the list of what voters cared about. Judging by the historical pattern of the sitting president’s party suffering large congressional losses in midterm elections, it seemed like a red wave was inevitable. Oops. Many conservatives were guilty of counting their chickens before they hatched. What happened? What explains the unusual and unexpected outcome that seemed to hold President Joe Biden and his party unaccountable for the obviously negative impact of their policies?
In this case, I would say, “It’s NOT the economy, stupid.” I would attribute the Republicans’ historically weak performance to three factors that are not economically related.
1. The Trump Factor
I don’t mean to pile on because the former president is taking a lot of flak right now, but it is undeniable that the candidates he helped to nominate were largely repudiated by voters in many states. Donald Trump is, I believe, one of the tragic figures in American political history. His key policies — tax cuts, deregulation, appointing serious jurists rather than left-wing ideologues to the Supreme Court — helped our country tremendously. Unfortunately, his penchant for unpresidential nastiness — directed as it is toward anyone of either party who seems to get in his way — and his narcissistic obsession with 2020 even as voters have yearned for solutions to the problems of 2022 have alienated a majority of the electorate.
The challenge facing Republicans in 2024 will be how to avoid not mere internecine squabbling, but out-and-out civil war in the party’s ranks. Trump has tens of millions of supporters who are nearly fanatical in their devotion to him. However, there is no indication that the ranks of those supporters can be expanded to comprise a majority of the electorate. The question is whether Trump’s people will be willing to “settle” for an alternate candidate. Trump himself has given every indication that he is unwilling to have anyone other than himself run as the Republican standard-bearer in 2024. How else can one explain his perplexing ridiculing of Ron DeSantis after the Florida governor won reelection in a rout? To insult a Democrat in such a childish and petulant way is off-putting enough, but to lash out at a fellow Republican who is rising in national popularity shows a dangerous monomania.
Trump’s motto seems to be: It’s me or nobody. This is personality cult fanaticism. If his followers cling to that cult and work to undercut all other Republicans, there will be a civil war within the Republican Party. What I hope the Trumpistas will recognize before it is too late is that if they think the United States is so messed up that only Donald Trump can save it, then our country is lost already. There are a lot of decent, likable, highly competent leaders in the party, and millions of patriotic Americans who want to “Make American Great Again.” If Republicans want to have a good chance to win the White House in ’24, they need to refrain from petty personal attacks and unite behind one of their many qualified party members in the presidential race.
2. Abortion Politics
The abortion issue appears to have galvanized Democrats in many states, greatly increasing their motivation to vote even if they were lukewarm about Biden’s weak performance. The Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision several months ago appears to have been a pyrrhic victory. Constitutionally, Dobbs was the right decision. In terms of practical impact, though, post-Dobbs state laws and amendments point to a possible slowing of the long-term rate of decline in U.S. abortions.
The coming years are going to be very challenging for pro-life Americans. Fearful of abortion being greatly restricted, many pro-choice Americans will oppose any and all limits, however modest, just because they don’t want to take what they perceive as the first step down the slippery slope to making abortion completely illegal. Pro-lifers will have to make some excruciatingly difficult tactical decisions. While the goal is to save every life, pro-lifers may have to compromise with pro-choicers if they want to accomplish even a small diminution in the number of abortions. More specifically, pro-lifers may have to make a choice between pushing for legislation that would reduce abortions from the around 900,000 performed in the U.S. last year to a few thousand — a measure with no discernible possibility of passing — or aiming for far more modest restrictions that might reduce abortions by, say, 50,000. Which is morally preferable: a law designed to save 900,000 lives that has no chance of passing, or a law that would save around 50,000, but has a chance to pass? Is it better to save 50,000 lives or to crash and burn and save no lives in the attempt to save 900,000 lives? Tough question.
3. The Democratic Machine
A week before the election, Newt Gingrich was the speaker at the 15th annual Reagan Lecture at Grove City College. Of his many penetrating observations and astute analyses, one comment that struck me as particularly insightful was his characterization of the Democratic Party as a machine. That makes a lot of sense. Nancy Pelosi has adopted proxy voting in the House. It doesn’t matter who the representative is; what matters is that each Democratic seat represent an automatic vote for the agenda of Pelosi and the elite leadership circle. Same thing in the Senate: It doesn’t matter, for example, if the Democratic candidate is impaired (and let me sincerely wish Pennsylvania’s senator-elect, John Fetterman, a full recovery from his stroke, which is an awful thing to happen to anybody); the key factor is not the individual human being, but his or her status as a reliable vote for the Democrats’ progressive/socialist program. And then there is the president of the United States. I chastised Democrats in March 2020 for deciding upon Joe Biden as the titular head of the Democratic machine because they knew back then that his mental faculties were sliding. The message to the American people is that it doesn’t matter to the Democratic puppet masters that POTUS is impaired. Why? Because the machine doesn’t need a fully competent president in order for the machine to march steadily toward its socialist elitist plan for America.
There was something robotic — machinelike — about voters in 2022 casting their votes for Democrats in spite of their miserable track record. Could they not connect the dots between Democratic policies and high gas prices? Alas, most of them seem to be on automatic pilot. The cost of living is rising? Well, shucks, Dem voters think, that’s unfortunate, but we know that we are the good guys, and no matter how much we have to suffer now, the important thing is to keep those bad guys — those profit-loving, xenophobic, LGBTQ-shunning Republicans — from getting into office. Certainly, the exit polls showing that a sizable majority of under-30 voters went Democratic indicates that woke education has indoctrinated that cohort into believing that virtue equates to being progressive.
I’m sure there are other factors that contributed to the Democrats’ success in limiting the damage to their party in the 2022 election, but the Trump factor, the abortion issue, and the advanced state of the Democratic machine get my vote for being the top three. I think all three will impact the 2024 elections. They bear monitoring going forward.