You can’t blame the Democrats for spinning the fact that their losses fell short of worst-case scenarios. But elections are arithmetic, not calculus. A loss is a loss. Democrats lost the midterms.
Why They Lost
- History: In a two-party system, voters express anger and annoyance by lashing out at the party in power. They elect a president, get pissed at crimes of commission and omission, and punish the incumbents by voting for the other party two to four years later. This tendency worked against them.
- Weak Leadership: We live during an era of unprecedented connectivity. You can place a phone call to Mongolia for free. You can see a picture of what someone in Botswana had for dinner a minute ago. Voters want to hear from their president more than ever before—yet Biden, no doubt due to his advanced age and fading mental acuity, followed the longstanding trend of chief executives who give fewer primetime presidential addresses and press conferences than their predecessors. No wonder the number of voters who think Biden cares about people like them keeps plummeting. They feel disconnected from him.
- Denying Voters’ Reality: Who are you going to believe, us or your lying eyes? Voters’ top issue this year was the economy, specially inflation. Biden dismissed rising prices as a temporary blip while—political malpractice alert!—failing to emphasize a far more important economic indicator, low unemployment. Citizens worried about rising violent crime; Governor Kathy Hochul (D-NY) dismissed their concerns as “people’s feelings” while accusing Republicans of being “dishonest” about the issue, and almost lost a race that should have been a cakewalk. Even if you don’t have a solution for their problems, voters want to be “seen.” Donald Trump didn’t do anything about deindustrialization but Rust Belters loved him for being the first president to call out NAFTA.
- It’s the Future, Stupid. It’s nearly impossible to win a political campaign in the U.S. based on past grievances, yet that’s what the Democrats did in 2022, running against Trump, tying GOP candidates to the former president in ads and reminding voters about the January 6, 2021 Capitol Hill riot. Yet investigations into Trump ranked 16th in the list of issues voters cared about. Voters want to hear politicians acknowledge their present problems—inflation, healthcare, gas prices, crime, gun violence, abortion rights—and offer a credible plan to fix them in the (near) future. Democrats’ Inflation Reduction Act didn’t pass the smell test, Biden’s release of petroleum reserves addressed a dollars problem with cents of relief and had no credible solution to the Dodd SCOTUS decision with which to motivate angry women voters. P.S. If you don’t have a solution to a problem, say so. Voters don’t want magicians. They want elected officials to try.
- They Sounded Self-Serving: It took the hammer attack/home invasion against Paul Pelosi, a personal friend of the president, to bring him to the mic for a primetime address about crime—crime against politicians. Likewise, the Democrats’ pitch that voting GOP would lead to the end of democracy-as-we-know-it fell flat. Democrats should have been fighting for we, the people. They came off instead as fighting against Republican voter suppression—in other words, they fought our right to vote for Democrats. The democracy argument might have landed in a multiparty parliamentary democracy—but vicious Democratic lawsuits to keep the Green Party off the ballot ensure we don’t get that.
What Democrats Can Do Now
Act how House Republicans do when they’re out of power. It works.
- Obstruct! Newspaper pundits’ conventional wisdom says that voters dislike obstructionism, love compromise and want both parties to work together to get things done in Washington. History says the opposite. Recently, you need only look at the GOP’s relentless ankle-biting of Obama to see that a minority party that relentlessly blocks the majority’s agenda can be effective—ask Supreme Court Justice Merrick Garland—and drive its acolytes into such a spasm of loyal enthusiasm that it later recaptures the majority. “This strategy of kicking the hell out of Obama all the time, treating him not just as a president from the opposing party but an extreme threat to the American way of life, has been a remarkable political success. It helped Republicans take back the House in 2010, the Senate in 2014, and the White House in 2016,” Politico noted in 2016.
- Veto! Democratic voters don’t send Democratic politicians to Washington to give the Republicans what they want. They want that stuff shot down, with extreme prejudice. Biden should pull a Gerry Ford and veto every crazy bill the Republican Congress sends to his desk.
- Executive Orders! Executive orders have become abused and are overused and antidemocratic and—get real. End-runs around the legislative branch are here to stay, so Biden should go nuts doing stuff that will shore up his party’s progressive base and drive the Republicans to distraction. Pardon Edward Snowden and other political targets. Pardon every nonviolent drug offender and commute the prison sentence of every nonviolent criminal in federal custody. Tell states and cities that refuse to do the same that they’ll lose federal highway funding; that’s how we got the national drinking age of 21.
- Quorum Theater! The House of Representatives needs a quorum of 218 members present in order to conduct business. Democratic representatives should stick around for most matters. When Speaker Kevin McCarthy and his merry band of bigots try to pull something truly cruddy (ahem national abortion ban cough) there’s no reason for the Dems not to leave town on a secret road trip. Call your buddies in the Texas state legislature; they did it to bring attention to a GOP effort to suppress voting.
- Open Field! 75% of Democratic voters don’t want Biden to run again. Anyway, obviously, he can’t. He’s too feeble. So, politically, is Kamala Harris. Only 28% of Democrats want her to step in as their party’s nominee in 2024. That’s pathetic. The lame-duck #1 and #2 must step aside, open the field and refrain from issuing endorsements. The strongest nominee is, by definition, the winner of the primary process. Let a battle-tested candidate with the most support within the Democratic Party go on to face Trump or another Republican standardbearer. Abolish superdelegates. Dutifully sticking with a doomed sacrificial lamb, like Bob Dole in 1996, would be the height of idiocy.
(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, co-hosts the left-vs-right DMZ America podcast with fellow cartoonist Scott Stantis. You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)