The “red wave” that many believed was going to ka-whoosh from Rhode Island to Seattle did not occur, with the evening turning out to be more of a red trickle – except, of course, in Florida which saw a red hurricane.
But, at a national level, even the trickle was possibly just enough for the Republicans, who did manage to make Nancy Pelosi the ex-speaker of the House (again) and (maybe, pending Nevada and the runoff, of course, in Georgia) drive Kamala Harris even further into frustrated obscurity by taking away her tie-breaking ability.
Closely watched “Republican pick-up” races like the second congressional district in Rhode Island, the third in Michigan, and the first in Indiana all stayed blue. True, the results were far far closer (New York was and Oregon is actually competitive, unheard of in years) than they had been in the past, but they were still a few points shy of victory.
So the question is – with 75 % of voters saying the nation is on the wrong track, a floundering economy, and significant increases in crime – why did the wave fail to materialize?
That answer will take days to answer in full, but some ideas may need closer inspection than others.
First, the issue of the former president. While Donald Trump’s endorsement in Republican primaries proved very helpful for getting into November, it was far less helpful for getting out of November. Did the red hat dry up the red wave?
Possibly. Trump is a polarizing figure, to say the least. While quite a large number of people appreciate his policies, an even larger number loathe his personality, and – to be honest, surprisingly – the Orange Man Bad Democratic messaging remains viable. Did the negative shadow of Trump overshadow everything else people know is going wrong and does that mean – like the Democrats’ problem with its shrill progressive wing – the Republicans must start looking with a jaundiced eye at some of their most likely supporters on the right?
Did people vote – even subconsciously – for divided government, thinking that a government that can do less will do less harm? This is not an inherently problematic position to take, but it does have the nasty side effect of hamstringing the possibility of large-scale change. In other words, a divided government may do less harm but it also can do little good when it comes to reforming the actual power centers in D.C. – the administrative-regulatory-surveillance bureaucracy that has metastasized – under both Republicans and Democrats – into a nearly unstoppable cancer on the body politic.
It is one of the ironies of American politics that the “throwing the bums out” voting concept tends not to lead to significant reforms because it gets the target wrong – the bums who are really in control are not elected and can only be removed, or at least reined in, buy electeds who enjoy a significant popular mandate.
There is a popular notion that politics is downstream from culture. If true – and it may very well be – the current popular culture – monolithic, ever-present, and massively influential – is constantly whispering sweet woke nothings in the ear of the electorate. The value to Democrats of that constant drip of political sedative cannot be over-estimated.
Another issue is one of timing. It was a positive for Republicans Tuesday that they were able to expand their field of play, even if they didn’t quite win. Does that mean that 2024 will be better, that the “tipping point” will come then?
Maybe, but maybe not. Take California for example, the once envied, admired seat of the American Dream that is now losing people and losing businesses and losing control of its own streets. This process has been going on for years and in the past few years has become so bad that corruption, crime, homelessness have turned the world-renowned iconic cities of Los Angeles and San Francisco – once vibrant and alive and desired by millions to call home – into dystopian hellscapes. Even with the evidence screaming in their face, voters so far have not been able to bring themselves to make any real changes to its one-party post-feudal oligarchy.
But, maybe, California voters seem (final results pending) on the precipice of that “tipping point,” as Rick Caruso may become the new mayor of Los Angeles. While just one office, the psychological impact of electing a billionaire developer who ran on a tough-on-crime, crackdown on the homeless problem platform would be enormous.
One can only hope it doesn’t take the nation decades and a descent into post-apocalyptic chaos to reach its “tipping point” moment.
A positive lesson that Republicans can take away from Tuesday is pretty simple – competence manners.
Ron DeSantis, Mike DeWine, Brian Kemp, and Greg Abbott all won reelection easily. What they all have in common is actual governing ability, crossover appeal people skills, real human personalities, decent staffs, well-earned airs of trustworthiness, and first-rate political antennae. It is not impossible to learn what they are doing so right that they got re-elected so easily and build on that public image nationally.
There is also the matter of the Hispanic vote. From Florida to Texas to California to, well, everywhere, the politics of the Latino population is moving towards where its culture has always been. It is becoming readily apparent that the old political saw that Democrats took for granted – demographics is destiny – is wrong (and insulting, by the way.)
In the end, for Republicans it could have been much better, for Democrats much worse. Hopefully, both parties will learn something and something that is not just good for them but good for the country.
Thomas Buckley is the former mayor of Lake Elsinore, Cal. and a former newspaper reporter. He is currently the operator of a small communications and planning consultancy and can be reached directly at email@example.com. You can read more of his work at: https://thomas699.substack.com/