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Democracy didn’t lose

by Bradley Gitz | November 14, 2022 at 5:00 a.m.

Democracy was supposed to be on the ballot last Tuesday. But it wasn't, just lots of candidates for lots of elected offices, most with a "D" or "R" attached to their names.

With votes still being counted and races still undecided at time of writing, the Republicans apparently took the House, but by a much smaller margin than expected, and Democrats appear to have kept the Senate (pending the outcome of yet another runoff in Georgia).

Joe Biden is still the (democratically elected) president of the United States because we have a presidential system in which the executive's status doesn't depend upon control of the legislature (unlike in a parliamentary arrangement) and the Supreme Court has the same nine justices as before, each nominated and confirmed through the usual process.

The U.S. Constitution remains the highest law of the land, dictating political institutions, protecting individual rights, and specifying that various offices be filled by the kinds of elections that just took place and will again in two years, regardless of who prevailed last week.

Yes, Roe v. Wade was overturned, and this was a major grievance of Democratic candidates, apparently issued to good effect in some places, but it is difficult to argue that democracy is undermined by a court ruling that turns an issue over to state legislatures to be disposed of by the democratic process in each.

Turnout also appears to have been unusually high for midterms in a manner suggesting a commitment to the same democratic process Democrats claimed was in peril.

In short, post-election America doesn't look all that much different from pre-election America; democracy wasn't lost and wouldn't have been, even if Republicans had done better.

Democrats should, however, be happy on two counts: They not only staved off the "Red Wave" but by so doing at least indirectly diminished what their rhetoric suggests is the primary authoritarian threat, Donald Trump.

Although it might be less obvious, those outcomes should also be satisfying for Republicans concerned about their party and country's future. If a disappointing midterm election is the price paid for getting rid of the Democrats' best weapon (Trump), then it is almost certainly a price worth paying.

Along these lines, and as just about everyone could see the morning after, the single biggest factor in the GOP's lackluster performance, particularly in Senate and gubernatorial races, but probably also damaging their brand in House races as well, was Trump's malign influence, manifest in the nomination of Trump-endorsed kooks in primaries who then became easy pickings for Democrats.

Just about wherever one digs into last Tuesday's results, one finds "stop the steal" Trump loyalists going down to defeat at the hands of weak Democratic opponents; races that should have been slam-dunks for the GOP in places like Pennsylvania and Georgia and Arizona turned out to be anything but.

The political environment this time around could hardly have been tilted more in a particular party's (the GOP's) favor: a tremendously unpopular incumbent president, issues that played to the opposition party's advantage (inflation, crime, illegal immigration, etc.), and polls showing that Americans felt the country was "on the wrong track" by about a 3-1 margin.

But it wasn't enough to overcome the Trump stigma or elect the kind of nutjobs that Trump endorsed and too many misguided Republican voters consequently supported in the GOP primaries.

Republicans might have exceptionally thick skulls, but one suspects it might now finally, grudgingly, begin to sink in that there are simply too many voters out there who will have nothing to do with their party as long as Trump is perceived as leading it.

And if last week's non-ripple that should have been a tsunami isn't sufficient to persuade, one need only look at Florida, where potential Trump rival Ron DeSantis won re-election as governor in a landslide (only days after Trump, in typically gratuitous fashion, referred to him as "DeSanctimonious," thereby concisely revealing his persistent insecurities).

Or, for that matter, at the gubernatorial results in Georgia, where the decidedly uncharismatic Brian Kemp, vilified by Trump for refusing to help overturn the 2020 results in his state, won decisively over the left's favorite politico, Stacey Abrams, or at the outcome in Texas, where Gov. Greg Abbott trounced another lefty heartthrob, Francis "Beto" O'Rourke.

Republicans--that is, normal Republicans--can win in America, by large margins; Trump and those supported by him can't.

Political parties that suffer electoral setbacks always need scapegoats, and in the Republican case the scapegoat will be easier than usual to find--the fellow who managed the near-impossible by losing the popular vote to Hillary Clinton and has effectively presided over three consecutive election debacles since then.

By the time this column sees print there will, hopefully, have concluded a therapeutic postmortem on the part of Republicans that will correspond with Yuval Levin's in National Review: "The pattern of Republican wins and losses on Tuesday was not random, and its message is not hard to discern. It presents itself as a blinking, blaring, screaming sign that reads 'Republicans: Trump is your problem.'"

Trump probably already has or soon will make his "very big announcement" regarding 2024, leaving the question for Republicans: Are you tired of losing yet?

Freelance columnist Bradley R. Gitz, who lives and teaches in Batesville, received his Ph.D. in political science from the University of Illinois.

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