2022 Election Thoughts
Now that control of the Senate has been retained by the Democrats (albeit barely), some post-mortem notes on the 2022 mid-term elections.
1. Even if the GOP takes the House — which it probably will although at this point it may be by as little as a seat or two — this was a shockingly poor showing by the Republicans generally. I was mildly depressed through the run-up to Election Day because I was worried not just about Republican success on the national level, but also on the state level: It was entirely possible a bunch of election-denying Secretaries of State would get hustled into office with an eye toward breaking the 2024 election in as many ways as possible. I stayed away from news and media on election day and into the evening, and when I woke up the next morning I sat down at my desk, steeled myself…
… and was pleasantly surprised! The Democrats did not lose horribly! Indeed, in many places rather the opposite! They routed in Pennsylvania and Michigan, did all right in Wisconsin and elsewhere, and in the fullness of time even pulled out some unexpected victories. If the voting trends in Arizona hold, victories there will be especially sweet, because Arizona really does feel like the hotbed of GOP electoral denial madness; the GOP candidate for Secretary of State was an actual “Oath Keeper” at the January 6 insurrection. The Democrats also held the Senate, and look to limit the Republicans to a bare majority in the House — which will still be a majority, don’t kid yourself, and the GOP will happily make a mess even if they only have a single seat between them and minority status. But it could have been so much worse.
Should have been so much worse! The economy isn’t great, inflation has been terrible, people are unhappy, and Joe Biden isn’t terribly popular — although, historically, not that much more unpopular than most presidents at the two-year mark; four of the last six presidents had mid-to-low forties favorability ratings at this point in their presidencies, with only the Bushes overachieving. Those low ratings are one reason why mid-term elections are the time and place for opposing parties to make substantial political gains, and Biden’s (apparent) political hand in these elections wasn’t great.
And yet here we are, with the Democrats having had a historically good midterm.
2. So what happened? Two things, as far as I can see: One, the Supreme Court told half the country that a rapist should have more control of their bodies than they should; Two (and related), the GOP finally went more fashy than a bare majority of Americans were comfortable with.
The first of these, the tossing out of Roe v. Wade, strikes me as the more important of the two. US citizens aren’t the most politically engaged people on a day-to-day basis, but they know when their rights are being taken away, and they know who is to blame for it. It didn’t escape their notice which party was the one who put Alito and all those other conservative judges on the bench; it also didn’t escape their notice which party has gone out of its way to outlaw abortion under any circumstance, including the rapes of 10-year-olds, and people potentially dying of sepsis because of non-viable fetuses rotting in their wombs. “You should carry your rapist’s child” and “We’d rather you die than have an abortion” are, strangely, not the messages on which votes are reliably garnered.
Likewise “your vote shouldn’t count if we don’t like it,” is also something of a non-starter for a lot of people! Having the GOP become the political face of US authoritarianism in a moment when authoritarianism, including sham elections for political advantage, is being actively (and popularly!) combatted in Europe is not a great look. I also think the political strategy of trying to separate out trans people for persecution, popular as it was and is with the intolerant, was not particularly smart. Trans folks really are a small sliver of the population, but everyone understood the point for the GOP was and is to start with trans folks, and then just keep going to gays and lesbians and then to other groups, including, inevitably, the Jews. It doesn’t take rocket scientists to figure this out; the GOP, particularly its fashy wing, loves to monologue.
Here’s the problem for the GOP: Half the US population has (or had) a uterus, and the rest of the population knows and loves someone who has one. A lot of the US population knows and loves someone who is gay or may be trans or non-binary. More than half the US population, I expect, wants a reasonable expectation that their vote won’t be ignored if a state governor or secretary of state or legislature finds it somehow inconvenient.
All of which is to say, a platform of actively stripping people of their rights is (thankfully) not the way to generate a “wave” election. Even if the economy is not great and the president isn’t particularly popular. Strangely, if you make people choose, they will value their own rights, and the rights of those they care for, more than the price of a loaf of bread. Yes, you have to work at it to get the average US voter to that point! But, apparently, here we are.
3. Naturally, the GOP wants to blame anyone but itself for this poor showing, and they appear to have landed on two culprits: Gen Z voters, who have broken rather decisively for Democrats, and Donald Trump, who campaigned for genuinely awful candidates and helped to get them onto the general election ballots. With regard to Gen Z voters, well, see above: Gen Z people are not happy about their rights being fucked with just as they aged into having them, and also, as more Gen Z folks identify outside the cut-and-dried gender-and-sexual binaries than any other generation before them, turns out they’re especially sensitive to the GOP attempts to go after these groups.
One should never say never about these things, but outside the I-expect-smaller-than-4chan-would-like “white edgelord gamer” demographic, it’s entirely possible the GOP has definitively lost Gen Z, which makes two generations in a row which trend away from them, as Millennials are not huge fans either. That leaves Boomers and (ugh) Gen X, which is not great for them, as Boomers are busy dying and Gen Xers are demographically smaller than other generations. These deficits have been counteracted before by Boomers/Gen Xers voting more reliably than younger demographics, but, congrats, GOP, your rights-stripping antics have brought home the idea that every election actually does count, sooooooo, yeah.
This showing will no doubt prompt some GOP folks to wonder what they can do to bring Gen Z into the fold, and the answer is: Have you considered not actually attempting to strip people of their rights and bodily autonomy? No? Well, okay, good luck with that, then.
4. As for Trump, well, look: He is in fact the very worst thing to happen to the GOP in modern times, because he doesn’t actually care about anything other than himself and his own self-image, and as we all know perfectly well, he was happy to attempt to overthrow two centuries of democratic processes just so his widdle fee-fees wouldn’t be hurt. Worst president ever! And also, now, worst ex-president ever!
That said, you don’t stay in bed with someone for two whole fucking years after he actively and explicitly tried to stage a fucking coup and then just try to say that everything that has led to an underwhelming midterm election is all his fault. No, no, my dear little GOP babies, this is on you, too. You had a beautiful window, right after January 6, to disavow the man and cast him aside, and recommit to democracy in these glorious United States. But then you said “but what if we didn’t” and spent the next two years licking Trump’s loafers and pretending he didn’t actually lose his election, as he clearly fucking did, and you purged those of you in your party who stood up for the country rather than that pathetic orange wedge of self-regard.
So yeah, actually, fuck you, GOP, don’t try to shove this on Trump. Trump gonna Trump, and it’s heartening that so many of the really awful people he endorsed went down in flames on election night. But not all of them did, and you’re just fine with that. There will now be more 2020 election deniers in the House of Representatives than there were before, and that’s okay by you. Notable Trump-tonguer and excitable nouveau-fascist JD Vance is headed to the Senate, and you’re happy to have him there. If all the Trump picks had won their races, you would have crowed about your red wave on every Sunday morning political talk show. The reason Trump was around was because you wanted him to stay.
5. On that subject, GOP, don’t think it’s gonna be all that easy to dislodge Trump, either, now that you find him inconvenient. Here in Darke County, Ohio, which went 81% for Trump in 2020 and 81% for Trump’s hand-picked boy JD Vance in the 2022 election, my anecdotal observation of the number of Trump flags and signs up before the election that have come down since is… zero. They’re still up! They’re still flying! Proudly! His people are still his people and I expect very little is going to change that between now and 2024. I mean, yes, he could be indicted (and possibly even in this next week!), but given that anyone still flying a Trump flag in the latter days of 2022 thinks he was robbed of his presidency, how little do you think that’s going to matter to them? That’ll just make them love Trump more.
Which will present the GOP with an interesting choice: Do they support the former president, who is (almost certainly) a criminal, definitely a seditionist and who absolutely belongs in jail, and in doing so alienate the general US population, or do they cut him loose, thus alienating Trump’s base, which is, also, their base? One assumes that the GOP wants to cut out Trump and paste Ron DeSantis into his spot, but if you think Trump is going to let that happen, well, bless you, my sweet summer child. And if Trump gets back his Twitter account, which seems not entirely unlikely, since Elon Musk needs something, anything, to drive eyeballs to his misbegotten purchase… well. Trump’s gonna be around, folks.
6. And what of Biden? Some people are still having the fantasy that he won’t run again in 2024; the last bit of fervent wishing I saw, from someone who staffed in the White House in the Reagan years, is that Biden will fire Vice President Kamala Harris, appoint California governor Gavin Newsom in her place, and then resign. This fellow, bless his heart, is higher than a weather balloon. Biden isn’t popular, but he isn’t popular in a very normal way for presidents at the two-year point in their terms, and unlike most presidents at this juncture, he didn’t have his legislative support entirely fall out from under him in the mid-terms. In his two years at the helm, he’s actually and quietly got shit done, including substantial infrastructure initiatives, and he’s shored up critical foreign support and alliances strained by Trump and his Putin-worshipping ways. Hell, he’s even helped to expose Russia’s military might as a paper tiger without starting World War III.
If any other president did all that, he’d be celebrated as one of the best presidents in modern history. If a Republican president did all that, and nerfed the opposing party in the mid-terms? The GOP would already be swapping out the Washington Monument with a 600-foot statue of him, and trying to figure out how to repeal the 22nd Amendment. As it is, all the GOP has on their agenda for the next two years is Hunter Biden’s laptop and stopping people from getting their school loans forgiven (another great way to make friends with Millennials and Gen Z, by the way).
Biden has had an actually really objectively impressive first two years to his presidency, and so, what people think he should do is… resign? Oh, honey, no. Yes, he’s old as fuck and just getting older. Yes, he’s boring in an era where people expect their politicians to be 24/7 celebrities. Yes, no one was ever excited about the idea of a Biden presidency. Even the right-wing attempt to make him into a supervillain — Let’s Go Brandon! — was silly and a little sad, and the “Dark Brandon” meme that has come out of it has outmeme’d it in any event.
Biden isn’t exciting! But he is actually a pretty decent president. And in an era where the options are “boring but efficient” and “rights-stealing incipient fascism,” it’s not exactly a surprise that the red wave was a ripple on 2022’s shore, and that Biden was there in his aviators, feet in the sand, smiling, eating ice cream, and probably thinking about what he wants to get done in his second term.
Is he gonna run in 2024? If you were him, wouldn’t you?