Did the midterms save democracy?

For anyone paying attention, it was clear that the Republican Party intended to use the recent midterm elections to engineer a full takeover of government in 2024 by any means necessary, including cheating and voter disenfranchisement.

The GOP has been involved for years in making it harder for Democrats to vote. Republican state governments employed extreme gerrymandering – given tailwinds by the Supreme Court’s 2013 decision to gut the Voting Rights Act – as well as reducing the number and hours of polling places, restricting mail voting, preventing former felons from voting, and other strategies to cement their control over government at all levels.

Then, in 2020, Donald Trump and the MAGA wing of the Republican party – which a majority of the party’s officeholders were either members of or cowed by – added a new weapon to the arsenal: election denial. Trump showed the way when he lost the election that year by declaring the results tainted by fraud, inducing friendly government officials to do the same, casting doubt among the public about the legitimacy of the ballot, and, when necessary, mobilizing supporters willing to use violence to intimidate or even harm officials overseeing the vote count.

Ultimately, the MAGA strategy didn’t work for Trump. He lost, although only after an all-out attempt to force Republican state officials to alter vote counts , all the while alleging fraud and, in the end, fomenting a violent attack against Congress.

Trump and his allies were determined not to lose again. They saw the 2022 midterms as an opportunity to stuff the ranks of GOP officeholders – local, state, and congressional – with MAGA faithful who would do Trump’s bidding when he ran again in 2024. Especially important were state officials, including governors and secretaries of state, who would be willing to “find” votes to deliver their states to Trump – as top Republican officials in Georgia refused to do in 2020.

As we have seen, this ship crashed on the rocks in the general election.

Trump-endorsed candidates badly underperformed their own expectations across the country. Republicans planned to sweep into the House with a large majority and to win the Senate; instead, they barely won the House, Democrats maintained control of the Senate and Trump proved to be a drag on his hopefuls’ chances. In a New York Times analysis of House races, Trump endorsees underperformed other GOP candidates by five percentage points.

Washington Post looked at the outcomes of key races for governor or secretary of state that featured notorious election deniers who could potentially manipulate the 2024 vote count. All of them lost. Across the country, extreme Trumpers lost races that should have been winnable for Republicans, such as gubernatorial candidates Doug Mastriano in Pennsylvania, Tudor Dixon in Michigan and Kari Lake in Arizona. 

However, many election deniers did win – 173 in offices at all levels, according to the Post – many in noncompetitive states and districts. Vigilance is still needed. There remains a large and mobilized base of MAGA voters ready to cry “fraud” if Trump runs and loses in 2024.

And yet, the fact that so many election deniers lost at the polls shows that false claims of fraud are a sure voter turn-off. Voters want to hear how candidates will address rising prices, gun violence, poor schools, health care and other quality-of-life issues. By and large, voters support democracy over the GOP’s drift toward fascism.

Republicans are coming to realize this, as was shown at November’s Republican Jewish Coalition conference. At that meeting, a number of leading Republicans and donors stated openly that fealty to Trump will mean more electoral losses down the road. The GOP’s conundrum is that the MAGA wing of the party, its most active and vociferous faction, drives the nomination of extreme candidates who often are anathema to a majority of all voters – such as ultra-Trumper Dan Cox, trounced in the election for Maryland governor. Election deniers from 2020 running in 2024 have an incentive to play down their past denialism and hope voters forget about it.

Some election analysts claimed that the midterms were a victory for moderation against both political extremes  But this goes against the facts. Progressive Democrats fared well, including many of those who identify as socialist, as reported by In These Times. When the new Congress is seated, the ranks of the leftist “Squad” in the House will have grown to 12 from the original four members in 2018. Nationwide, 16 of DSA’s 30 endorsees were elected. Progressive ballot initiatives were largely successful on such issues as higher minimum wages (including the elimination of DC’s sub-minimum wage for tipped workers), criminal-justice reform and affordable housing. Five states – California, Montana, Kentucky, Vermont and Michigan – echoed an August decision by Kansas voters to protect abortion rights, while no state voted to further restrict abortion access.

The midterms were not a call for centrism but a call for democracy. Many voters saw MAGA Republicans as hostile to democracy, candidates who demeaned the exercise of the franchise. It is a false equivalence call both Doug Mastriano and, say, Bernie Sanders “extremists” on the opposite ends of the political spectrum. Sanders wants to empower more voters and amplify their voices in Washington. Mastriano wants to disenfranchise them.

So, did the midterms save democracy in America?  The American Prospect’s Robert Kuttner thinks so:

. . .[T]he anticipated Trumpian claims of election fraud, as well as Republican attempts to use it to their advantage, totally fizzled. Trump’s calls were widely ignored. Almost everywhere, it was a normal election.

Efforts at voter intimidation at polling places were blocked. With a few exceptions, even conservative courts refused to connive with Republican strategies to deter or depress voting.

In every major race that the AP has called, the loser has accepted defeat [author’s note: Since Kuttner’s article appeared, Kari Lake was declared loser of the Arizona governor’s race and refused to concede by the Socialist’s deadline. Most statewide Republican candidates who campaigned around claims of ballot mischief were defeated.

Nevertheless, Trump is running again, and he aims to rally the MAGA faithful behind him. While the midterms were a boost for constitutional government, its enemies are still potent. We still have a republic, only if we can keep it.

Clearly, voters don’t want to hear that their votes won’t count. Republicans should have intuited this from the start, but they were too frightened by Trump’s MAGA base to think independently. It’s up to the Democrats, especially those on the party’s left, to double down on the promise of more, not less, democracy in America.

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