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The Year in Suck #5: Square wave
In the midterms the GOP just had to act normal. But...
[This final week of 2022 we’re ringing out the old in five installments.]
For months running up to the 2022 midterm elections, we were told that Democrats would be annihilated by a “red wave” or maybe a “tsunami.” We heard it from the usual rightwing outlets:
“Democrats beware, a red wave is coming because voters know they’re not better off since Biden took office…” — Fox News, Oct. 11.
“WATCH: Joe Rogan says Democrats are ‘making Republicans’ amid a silent ‘red wave’… To Rogan’s point, guest Bridget Phetasy explained that her die-hard liberal and Democratic relatives are voting Republican.” – Washington Examiner, Nov. 1.
“Are Suburban Women Creating a Republican Wave?... [A new WSJ poll says] white suburban women are now favoring Republican candidates by 15 percentage points. That’s about 20% of the electorate and that is a shift of 26 percentage points since the Journal’s poll in August. And then the news story on this quotes a voter in Pennsylvania outside of Pittsburgh, and she says that she supports abortion rights, but she says that she’s noticed things getting more expensive for kids’ clothes, groceries.” – Wall Street Journal, Nov. 2
But we also, maybe especially, heard it from the allegedly liberal prestige media. “The Red Wave Is Real — Here are Eight Polls That Prove It,” claimed Newsweek. CNN said “Democrats just can’t seal the deal with young Americans.”
“Democrats Have Alienated the Voters They Need Most,” Clive Crook told Bloomberg, and by “Voters They Need Most” he apparently meant Republicans: “If you ask about the costs and benefits of carbon abatement, let alone the scope for adaptation, you’re a climate denier,” he complained about the Dems; meanwhile “inflation is attacking living standards in the most visible way: Voters see it every time they buy groceries, put gas in the car or pay their rent.”
The New York Times gave us such stories in endless succession: “Democrats’ Feared Red October Has Arrived,” “Democrats, on Defense in Blue States, Brace for a Red Wave in the House” (“growing signs that voters are poised to punish President Biden’s party even in the bluest parts of America”), “[House GOP Conference Chair Elise] Stefanik Says She’s Confident a Red Wave Is Coming to the House,” etc.
Applebee’s whisperer David Brooks told Times readers that his paper’s poll showed “Republicans lead among independents overall by 10 points” and this was because Democrats had blown top issues like the economy and crime and “the Republicans may just have a clearer narrative,” which Brooks surmised from “campaign speeches by people like [GOP gubernatorial candidate] Kari Lake” that told “a very clear class/culture/status war narrative in which common-sense Americans are being assaulted by elite progressives who let the homeless take over the streets, teach sex ed to 5-year-old, manufacture fake news, run woke corporations, open the border and refuse to do anything about fentanyl deaths and the sorts of things that affect regular people.”
As Brooks is an especially dim Timesman, it figures that when the dust settled, the GOP 10-point lead among independents he cited had become a two-point Democratic lead — highly unusual for the party in power — and Kari Lake, whose culturally-clear rightwing raving Brooks thought would set fire to the electorate, set fire instead to herself, losing decisively to Katie Hobbs and then doubling down on loserdom with a Trump-style legal tantrum that the courts finally put out of its misery last week.
As the world knows and non-insane Republicans admit, instead of a red wave we got a pink splash with the GOP just 10 votes up in the House, and the Democrats not only increasing their Senate lead but also flipping a few state legislatures and governor seats — despite large gerrymander odds against them.
How’d the pundits miss it? Simple: They thought the Average Voter now is the same as the Average Voter 30 years ago — back when, as Brooks nostalgically waxed, “Bill Clinton and Joe Biden worked hard to give the Democrats credibility on the issue [of crime].” And that politics hasn’t changed since then, either, at least not in any important ways.
If it were the 1990s, I imagine them reasoning, then a flutter in economic circumstances will naturally doom the party in power — hadn’t it doomed Bush Sr. in 1992? And if that somehow doesn’t do it, then if that party-in-power is Democratic, they will be vulnerable to several tried and true tactics that were sure to take them down: crime stats (however juiced), drugs (fentanyl is the new crack!), the old ooga booga (with the new dogwhistles, being in our case “critical race theory” and “defund”), etc. See, you just have to grab the center, and one grabs the center by making the opposition look extreme.
And, I imagine them concluding cheerfully, the beauty part is, it only works on Democrats, because they’re a bunch of hippies, while the sober old GOP is by definition sober and sane.
Well, it ain’t 1992, and the old rules don’t work because the two parties are no longer fighting for the center — the Democrats have it by default.
In 2022, the Republicans nominated a bunch of psycho nutcakes. And because they were nutcakes, they didn’t mind telling people how happy they were that Roe had been overturned and how they wanted to outlaw abortion entirely, that they would cut Medicare and Social Security as soon as they got a chance, that their gay friends and relatives and co-workers were pedophiles and groomers, that the way to solve crime problems is to flood their communities with guns, etc.
Meanwhile the January 6 Congressional Committee issued regular reminders that practically all the Republican leadership had either attempted insurrection or been too gutless to oppose it.
The Democrats lost some voters, but it wasn’t because they were too liberal — in fact their worst performance, in New York state where they lost four seats, was arguably due to what Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez called the “old-school, calcified machine-style politics” of local Dems. (Ocasio-Cortez, nobody’s idea of a moderate, won her race by 45 points, while uber-centrist Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney lost his and appeared to blame her.)
Yet the pundits seemed to think the candidates and even the policies didn’t matter — it was all about who played the game better by Marquess of Queensbury, or should we say Tim Russert rules. It all comes down to Crucial Waukesha County, chortle chortle. Meanwhile real people looked at Dr. Oz and Kari Lake and Blake Masters et alia and ran screaming in the other direction.
And considering how incapable of learning from this experience the Republicans clearly are, it may be that the Democrats will do better in 2024. Kari Lake can help by leading a bunch of Proud Boys in a siege of the Arizona capitol! You know it’s not out of the question.