Good policies alone won’t win 2022 elections for Democrats

Democrats need to turn the midterm elections into a referendum on the Trump cult and GOP sycophancy toward his assault on democracy.

SHARE Good policies alone won’t win 2022 elections for Democrats

Former President Donald Trump speaks during a visit to the border wall near Pharr, Texas, on June 30, 2021.


Many Democrats are leery about the party’s ability to retain control of Congress in 2022. The incumbent president’s party normally loses ground in midterm elections, and Democrats have little margin for error.

Lose a half-dozen House seats, and the Biden administration will find itself stymied. Lose the Senate, and total paralysis will set in: zombie government personified by Sen. Mitch McConnell.

It’s been reported that President Joe Biden believes that when people understand all that Democrats have done for them — bringing the COVID-19 pandemic under control, restoring the U.S. economy, bringing unemployment down, passing long-delayed, badly needed infrastructure repair — things will take care of themselves at the polls.

With all respect, if Biden thinks that, he’s dreaming.

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What got Biden elected, what drove the voter turnout that won him an extraordinary 81 million votes, was the majority’s revulsion and fear regarding Donald Trump. If Democrats want to prevail in 2022, good government won’t be enough. They need to turn the midterm elections into a referendum on the Trump cult and GOP sycophancy toward his alarming assault on democracy.

“Here in the U.S., there’s a growing recognition that this is a bit like [WWE] — that it’s entertaining, but it’s not real,” Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, said recently. “I think people recognize it’s a lot of show and bombast, but it’s going nowhere. The election is over. It was fair.”

Would that it were so.

Anyway, only a bit like the World Wrestling Entertainment? Not for nothing is Trump a member of the pro wrestling Hall of Fame. As I pointed out in 2016, he basically stole his whole act from Dr. Jerry Graham, the bleach-blond supervillain of 1950s TV rasslin’ at Sunnyside Gardens in Trump’s native Queens. The swaggering, the boasting, the pompadour hairdo — “I have the body that men fear and women adore,” Graham used to say — it’s all the same.

Asked the subject of Graham’s doctorate, his manager once confided, “He’s a tree surgeon.” Smashing rivals with balsa wood chairs, bleeding copiously from chicken blood capsules, the Graham Brothers drew 20,000 fans to grudge matches in Madison Square Garden. Riots broke out among those naive enough to believe the mayhem was real.

But few confused pro wrestling with a real sport. In the eighth grade, I thought it was the funniest thing on TV. Trump appears to have drawn a different lesson: The bigger the lie and the more flamboyant the liar, the more some people will believe it. Hence his “Stop the Steal” rallies this summer. And yes, most of the costumed bumpkins in the red MAGA hats believe Trump’s preposterous falsehoods about his landslide victory.

He’s turning the GOP into an anti-democratic cult of personality. Precious few Republicans have the political courage of a Mitt Romney, a Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., or a Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill. Trump’s doing his best to purge any Republican who’s ever crossed him. This is providing Democrats with a political opportunity not to be missed.

Polls show that upward of half of GOP voters believe that “audits” like the farcical spectacle under way in Arizona will reverse the 2020 election; fully 3 in 10 expect that Trump will somehow be “reinstated” as president this summer. It’s beginning to appear that the Big Man with the bouffant and the diseased ego may actually believe this fantasy, too.

Two thoughts: America being America, some form of ritual violence will almost surely result. Something like Jan. 6, except with guns. Second, 3 in 10 Republicans amounts to maybe 10%, give or take, of the national electorate. (The party’s been shrinking since Trump took over.) That’s roughly the same proportion that pollsters say subscribes to the QAnon delusion that Satan-worshipping pedophiles control the Democratic Party.

No doubt there’s significant overlap.

So they say they want a culture war? Democrats should give them one. Have you noticed that for all the determination of Georgia Republicans to suppress voter turnout, nobody has seriously challenged the accuracy of that state’s two 2020 U.S. Senate races?

That’s because once the Big Loser and his surrogate candidates turned the runoff into a referendum on Trumpism, Democrats and Independents turned out in record numbers to defeat them. Fear and anger drove them. If that can happen in a Deep South state like Georgia, what’s apt to happen in swing districts across the country?

So by all means, run on good government bread-and-butter issues. Remind people of the good things the Biden administration has done for them.

But also nationalize the election: Blanket the airwaves with TV ads showing before-and-after footage of GOP Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and McConnell first condemning the Jan. 6 insurrection, then making weasel-worded alibis for Trump’s role in it. Tie bizarre figures like Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene, Lauren Boebert and Matt Gaetz around their necks like anvils.

Give voters a clear choice: Trumpism, or democracy?

Gene Lyons is a columnist with the Arkansas Times.

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