“D” Stands for “Democracy”
It is time for me to offer my recommendation for voting in the 2022 midterm elections.
Perhaps I’m a bit late, given the increased prevalence of early voting. Then again, people who vote early tend to be those who are pretty committed to their choices and particularly to their partisan affiliation. This recommendation is for those who are still on the edge and still trying to make up their minds, because it’s tough to figure out which of two awful choices is worse.
But I do have a simple, blanket recommendation, one which applies to all contests across the board. It’s not one I ever expected to make—but then again, a lot of things have happened in recent years that I never expected.
My recommendation is this. Vote for Democrats, to ensure that you will be able to vote again. To be more exact: vote for Democrats, to ensure that your vote will be counted and regarded as final. In this election, the “D” next to a candidate’s name stands for “democracy”—in a good way, in the way that refers to a system of representative government in which leaders can only gain or keep power with the consent of the governed.
Like, I said, I never expected to make such a recommendation, because I never expected representative government itself to become a partisan issue. Yet here we are.
The Anti-Republican Party
Beginning in 2020, the Republican Party has remade itself as the party of election denial, not just in rhetoric but in its actual, specific agenda. It has prepared itself to vigorously deny the result of any election its candidates don’t win—and what is more, it seeks to gain the power to block or overturn those results.
How can a mere midterm election influence the outcome of such a contest? Easy: The people elected next Tuesday are the ones who will be in charge of counting, certifying, and ratifying the results of the next election in 2024. And one party is telling us that their candidates, if they get into office, are determined to rig the system.
Here is just a sampling.
In Pennsylvania, the Republican candidate for governor is Doug Mastroiano, who bused voters down to the Capitol insurrection on January 6 and who, as a state legislator, attempted to throw out the state’s slate of electors and send a pro-Trump slate in its place, overruling the decision of the voters.
In New Hampshire, Republican Senate candidate Don Bolduc declared, “Trump won the election” in 2020, and New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu—considered one of the few remaining “sane Republicans,” particularly on this issue, has finally knuckled under and supported him.
Similarly, Georgia Governor Brian Kemp held firm in 2020 against Trump’s attempts to overturn his state’s vote. But now he is running for re-election with a fake elector as his running mate.
In Arizona, Kari Lake is running for governor on a promise to decertify Arizona’s 2020 election results. At a rally, Lake called for her opponent, Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, to be imprisoned for rigging the 2020 vote: “Frankly, I think she should be locked up.”
In a call to Arizona Senate candidate Blake Masters—recorded for a Fox News documentary—Donald Trump admonished Masters not to go “weak” on the issue and instead to emulate Lake.
If you want to get across the line, you’ve got to go stronger on that one thing. That was the one thing, a lot of complaints about it. Look at Kari. Kari’s winning with very little money. And if they say, “How is your family?” she says the election was rigged and stolen. You’ll lose if you go soft. You’re going to lose that base.
Notice that Trump is personally pressing candidate to embrace his stolen election theories, hand-picking politicians who will be willing to deliver the 2024 election to him.
Even more worrying is Arizona’s Republican candidate for secretary of state, Mark Finchem, who has built his campaign entirely around election conspiracy theories which he cannot even defend when challenged.
Remember the special role that Arizona played in the 2020 election. Trump’s plan to declare himself the winner early on election night, before mail-in votes could be counted, was foiled when Fox News Channel called Arizona for Biden. How do you think that’s going to go next time if the secretary of state is determined to declare Trump the winner no matter what the votes say?
In Wisconsin, it was recently revealed that the chief of staff for Republican Senator Ron Johnson “tried to deliver to Vice President Mike Pence a slate of fake electors backing Trump.” Meanwhile, the state’s Republican candidate for governor Tim Michels outlined plans to change voting rules and vowed, “Republicans will never lose another election in Wisconsin after I’m elected governor.” I guess that lays all the cards out on the table.
This is just a sampling of what has been going on across the country and at every level. One analysis indicates that a majority of Republican primary winners in statewide and congressional races backed or gave some credence to stolen election conspiracy theories, which have become the “price of admission” to Republican politics. Meanwhile, the last of the sane Republicans, the ones who won’t sign up for the conspiracy theories, are being knocked out of politics one by one.
This is what I warned about in December of 2021. Trump’s attempt to overturn the 2020 election “failed because the ground was not prepared for it.”
But the current attempt is preparing the ground, getting the rank and file of Republican to sign on to election conspiracy theories and be ready to demand a different result four years from now. It’s not about this presidential election. It’s about the next one.
The ground is now thoroughly prepared, and if Republicans win, they will attempt to accomplish precisely what Wisconsin’s Michels promises: Republicans will never lose another election, because they will never allow any other result.
This pattern is too big and too pervasive to be dismissed or ignored. This is basic American, Norman Rockwell kind of stuff that the Republicans are coming out against. They are now the Anti-Republican Party.
The Lesser of Two Evils
Democrats have had their own problems with election denial—but not quite on the same level. Yes, a lot of Democrats refused to accept (and still refuse to accept) the results of the 2000 presidential election. Then again, Al Gore conceded that election and as vice-president presided over the Senate vote that ratified the election results. Yes, Stacy Abrams mouthed off a lot about how the 2018 Georgia governor’s election she lost was “stolen.” But her response afterward was to focus on voter registration and Democratic Party get-out-the-vote drives, an effort that respects and works within our system of representative government. So Democrats have been bad, but Republicans are objectively worse on this issue.
That sets the tone for this election across the board, which generally offers us choices, not between good and bad, but between bad and worse.
Possibly the most unsatisfactory voting dilemma in the country—my condolences to those who live there—is the Pennsylvania Senate race between John Fetterman and Mehmet Oz. Like Donald Trump, Dr. Oz is purely a celebrity, reality-TV-style candidate, who is running on the strength of his name recognition from a daytime television show in which he hawked fake miracle cures. In short, he is a fame-hungry con man whose “man of the people” routine has fallen flat over revelations that he isn’t really from Pennsylvania, can’t keep track of the names of the state’s major grocery chains, and thinks the price of a crudité platter is the kind of kitchen table issue that will really connect with blue-collar voters.
And yet, who did Democrats put up against him? Fetterman’s hulking appearance and blue-collar style masks the fact that he has a record of taking consistently far-left positions that are widely unpopular. And then, just as he was emerging from the primary, he suffered a stroke that effects his ability to process language. It does not seem to have crippled his cognitive abilities, and it is likely he will eventually recover. But running for the United States Senate is a job that requires a lot of talking, and having a candidate who can only speak haltingly is pretty much of a disaster. So the choice in Pennsylvania is between an unscrupulous huckster and a stroke victim. I would still go for the stroke victim, but holy heck.
Yet there’s a lot of competition for the worst race in the country. In Georgia, the Senate race is between Raphael Warnock, a preacher whose mentor was an advocate of radical leftist “black liberation theology”—and on the Republican side Herschel Walter, a sleazy, addle-brained former football player. A walking cautionary tale about the long-term effect of concussions in football, Walker also turns out to have an incredibly seedy personal life. It was already common knowledge that he has fathered multiple children with his various mistresses, but the big revelation of the campaign is that he paid one of them to get an abortion—even as he backs a draconian state abortion ban that allows for no exceptions. The whole thing makes a mockery of conservative rhetoric about “family values,” particularly since it has hardly affected Walker’s support among Republicans.
Or take Wisconsin. The Bulwark’s Charlie Sykes likes to mock Republican incumbent Senator Ron Johnson as “RonAnon” for his broadcasting of conspiracy theories. (I think the intensity of his white-whale obsession with Johnson is because Charlie backed him years ago during the Tea Party era and feels responsible for having unleashed him on the world.) But the Democrats put forth Mandela Barnes, who has been pushing gun control even as he has a record of wanting to unleash more criminals by loosening bail rules and defunding the police. “Defund the Police” has gone from being the slogan Democrats didn’t dare oppose in the summer of 2020 to being a millstone around their necks in 2022.
The Democrats have not fully taken on board how serious this election is and what is at stake. They are still captive to their radical wing, though arguably to a lesser extent in the most recent round of primaries. (According to one analysis, a higher percentage of Republicans ran on a MAGA platform and won their primaries versus Democrats running on a far-left platform.) But the radical wing, as usual, is so fixated on the fantasy of getting their full agenda that they will blithely risk losing everything by demanding the nomination of candidates that are too radical for voters.
Not all races are going to be this difficult to decide. I had hoped to be able to vote in Virginia’s 7th District for Abigail Spanberger, who earned my vote with this one shining moment of glory.
Alas, in the recent redistricting, I’ve been shuffled into the 5th District, where the Democrat is some guy whose main issue is global warming. It’s well-calculated to win votes in the university town of Charlottesville—and nowhere else in the 5th District.
But look, this is not the first time we’ve had to choose the lesser of two evils. I am recommending that in all races, on every level, you vote for Democrats. At this point, with inflation dragging down Democrats’ national popularity, there is no danger of ending up with a strong Democratic majority. They are very unlikely to keep control of the House of Representatives and will be lucky to hold the Senate. The much greater danger is what a Republican majority will do in the next election.
If Republicans get back into power in this election, and especially if they leverage this victory to put themselves in power in the next election, it will not stop there. There are many consequences that will follow.
First is the courts. As Jonathan Last points out, the courts have been Trump’s kryptonite when it comes to pushing his stolen election conspiracy theories. The courts have well-established rules of evidence and do not accept mere rumor and innuendo, which is all that the conspiracists have to offer. (See a dismantling of Dinesh D’Souza’s “2,000 mules” concoction.) But if we give Trump another four years to appoint judges, will that always be the case?
We already know what Trump plans to do with the federal bureaucracy, because in the waning days of his administration he launched a scheme to greatly enlarge the number of government employees who are political appointees. Trump has firmly decided, after leaving office, that his biggest problem the first time around was that not enough government officials were loyal to him and his faction. He regards the bureaucracy as politicized, so he intends to openly politicize it in return.
Note this specific detail.
Sources close to the former president said that he will—as a matter of top priority—go after the national security apparatus, “clean house” in the intelligence community and the State Department, target the “woke generals” at the Defense Department, and remove the top layers of the Justice Department and FBI.
That leads us to the most hair-raising possibility of Trump’s return: a plan to fire all the generals. When people who declare their intention to overturn election results also declare their intention to purge political opponents from the military—a key stage in Hugo Chavez’s takeover of Venezuela—then we had better listen.
Republicans have already been drifting toward a pro-Putin, pro-authoritarian foreign policy, with the Heritage Foundation opposing funding for Ukraine and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy hinting that he would cut it off next year as Speaker of the House.
More broadly, this is part of a larger movement that Stephanie Slade calls “will-to-power” nationalism, dedicated to the following proposition, as articulated by the Heritage Foundation’s David Azerrad: “The right must be comfortable wielding the levers of state power…using them to reward friends and punish enemies.”
That includes new efforts to ban books and, as Azerrad puts it, to bring the universities to heel. This is already being implemented in Florida, where Governor Ron DeSantis’s administration is arguing in the courts that the curriculum in public universities and the in-class instruction—the lectures given by professors—are not protected free speech but are instead “government speech” that can be regulated and controlled by government.
If you think any of this will benefit you—after all, they’re just targeting the left—think again.
The War on the Brains of the Right
As interested as the nationalist conservatives are in purging the left, they are even more interested in purging their rivals on the right. I have been warning for a while about a war on the brains of the right, and it has now fully arrived.
Consider the fate of the Heritage Foundation, once a venerable conservative think tank that usually served as a kind of administration in waiting, staffed with right-of-center policy experts who could easily step in as cabinet secretaries and other political appointees whenever a Republican wins the White House. But inside reports from Heritage reveal that the think tank has dispensed with its thinkers.
Some former staffers told me [Heritage president Kevin] Roberts has prioritized political messaging over policy formation. As Heritage becomes beholden to the MAGA movement’s political whims, these analysts allege, the organization is now following the mob rather than leading it, rendering serious policy work irrelevant….
In July on Fox News, Roberts said it’s time for the United States to declare independence from the “liberal world order.”
A report in The Dispatch has this doozy.
In one encounter, a member of senior management approached a scholar to challenge the scholar’s stance on a policy issue, referencing a conflicting position taken by Fox News host Tucker Carlson on the air. The scholar recalled saying, “I don’t watch Tucker’s monologue anymore.” The senior staffer allegedly replied, “Well, you ought to watch it, because the people who pay your salary watch it.” This ethos may have made its way into the policy shop’s output, which increasingly resembles public positions taken by Carlson on topics ranging from election integrity to big tech.
The storming of the Capitol was another sensitive topic for senior management. Coffey recalls being required by management to remove a Twitter post condemning the January 6 Capitol riots.
Some employees went from avoiding criticism of January 6 to actively amplifying conspiracy theories related to that day’s events. That includes on the Daily Signal Podcast, where Daily Signal executive editor Rob Bluey hosted Julie Kelly—author of January 6: How Democrats Used the Capitol Protest to Launch a War on Terror Against the Political Right—in February 2022 for a conversation about the Capitol riot. During the conversation, Kelly accused Biden, former President George W. Bush, and the media of “colluding” to brand the day an insurrection: “It was like a Fusion GPS-type orchestrated campaign, PR campaign, but then a little more sinister behind the scenes.”
I had some encounters with Julie Kelly back in my Federalist days, and she is without a doubt one of the worst, most dishonest, most viciously immoral people I have ever encountered. You can see why the old guard of Heritage analysts have been fleeing in droves.
But perhaps you are not an intellectual and just a businessman. Well, Republicans are putting you on notice that your political views are being monitored and could result in reprisals, as DeSantis has done in Florida. Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton recent warnedcorporations not to withdraw their advertising dollars from Twitter now that it is being run by Elon Musk (who is steadily devolving into a right-wing Twitter troll).
This should be no surprise, because this is all part of the model applied in Hungary by Viktor Orban, which the nationalist conservatives have been watching closely and hoping to emulate. It includes using government to put business in the hands of political allies and cronies, and to keep think tanks, universities, and the media under the control of the ruling faction.
There will no room for you or me—for those who are not on the left but are not partisan religious nationalists, either—in this new order.
It Can’t Happen Here
One thing we’ve learned over the past few years is that no matter how bad things get, they can always get worse. The next step is the looming prospect of political violence. January 6 may not bethe high point of that threat. It might be just a beginning.
This prospect looms most ominously in the right’s embrace of the QAnon conspiracy theory and the movement built around it. Donald Trump has increasingly echoed that movement, making references to it at his rallies, promoting QAnon memes on social media—again and again and again—and talking about putting the most openly pro-QAnon member of Congress, Marjorie Taylor Greene, in his cabinet.
I want to remind you again that QAnon is at its core a fantasy of large-scale political murder. Its central fantasy is “the Storm,” a mass political purge in which hundreds or thousands of political opponents will be rounded up and executed.
In effect, as Tom Nichols explains, Trump is toying with the prospect of recruiting a street army that will be willing to commit political violence on his behalf. And it is already happening: A crazed QAnon follower just broke into Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi’s house in the middle of the night with a plan to capture and torture her. She was gone, so he had to settle for fracturing her husband’s skull.
But that’s not the end of the story. After all, do you really think there is only going to be one side to this conflict? I was reminded of this rather forcefully during the January 6 insurrection, when my phone suddenly came alive with texts from people I didn’t know. It turns out that I had been included in a group text with my brother-in-law’s old army buddies, and as they watched the insurrection on TV, they began replying to it. The general tenor was along these lines: “I’m old and out of shape, but I swore an oath to defend the Constitution, and if this continues, I’m going to have to get my rifle and go down there.” To be clear: They would be going to the Capitol to suppress the insurrection.
These were not radicals or antifa types, just old-fashioned center-left liberals. I have no doubt their intentions were patriotic. But this shows how political violence, once embraced by one side, invites political violence in return. Conservatives have been indulging in a lot of loose, puffed-up talk about a new civil war, and they just might get it. But if my brother-in-law’s army buddies are any indication, and they are, the Trumpists will be disappointed to discover that they are not the only ones who know how to use a rifle.
Is that outcome likely? I would have said “absolutely not” a few years ago. Now, I have to admit that it is a possibility. Will this midterm election make it inevitable? No, but Republicans winning, particularly in some of these key races, makes it more likely than before—and that is a good enough reason to vote against them, which I guess means voting for some Democrats.
No Permanent Allies, No Permanent Enemies
Does voting for Democrats seem weird, even inconceivable? Well, the labor unions use to have a saying: No permanent allies, no permanent enemies, just permanent interests. My version is: No permanent allies, no permanent enemies, just permanent principles. And one of those principles is representative government and free elections.
This is a central principle of a free society because it is the one that keeps all the other issues open for debate. Elections in a country are like reason in a mind. This is true in the literal sense that elections force leaders to answer questions and make arguments and not just appeal to the prejudices and blind loyalty of their faction. But it is also true in a broader sense. An individual mind can survive making an error so long as it is still open to using reason, which allows it to correct that error. The same is true for a country. America has shown more than once in the past that we can survive going off the rails for a while, so long as we have elections in which we can eventually correct the error. What happens if we lose that corrective ability? We know from watching other countries embrace authoritarianism and go swerving into a ditch because no one is in a position to tell the Great Leader that he is wrong.
As I said, this is not the first election in which we have had to figure out which is the lesser of two evils and which party is the more immediate danger. I think it’s clear that the more immediate danger is the party that wants to keep us from holding free elections in the future and to push us one step closer to deciding political questions through brute force.
Republican apostate Liz Cheney sums up the central issue: “We can’t give power to people who have told us they won’t respect the outcome of elections.”
I suggest you vote accordingly.
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Wow this is hard to read! But what I needed to “hear”. As a non MAGA Republican, I’ve been troubled by our treatment since the last election. Not wanting to “throw the baby out with the bath water”, I have stayed with the Republican Party. I can no longer.
I have been active from an early age, even being chosen for Republican Leadership Program in 1993 (since renamed). I’ve both appointed election judges, and have served as one. The non truths are just horrific.
Thank you for being honest and brave.
Excellent article and very well argued. I was Never Trump in 2016 but never imagined he could do this much damage. I'm sad to say our country is weaker than I thought.