Grab your pitchfork, your pine-knot torch, your tumbril, your hog-tying polyethylene rope, your denailing pliers, your cattle prod, and your tiger chair. Sharpen your scimitar, polish your penknife, dub your drubber, cosmoline your carbine… hold up. Maybe not that far, especially if any David DePapes are reading. But, after the last election stalemate, we’re mad as hell and jonesing to exact injury on someone. So don’t forget your pear of anguish. We’re goin’ a-scapegoatin’!
The French philosopher Rene Girard famously argued that scapegoating someone is an ancient, hardwired means of keeping society together. What better way to communally bond than frying the flesh off a threat? The right tribe is at war with itself over the massive midterms miss. Republicans came up short in the Senate; they won a House majority more scanty than stonking.
The internecine anger is understandable. We were promised a red wave, and were given a drippy pittle. Every TV talking head bet the farm on a resounding Republican rout. Democrats learned nothing about their economic mismanagement, COVID neuroticism, executive overreach, biological butchery, and undercutting parental authority. More so, the left managed to elect a crossbreed of orc-Sloth to the Senate—from my home state no less! Worst of all, the GOP’s bungle made me look improvident, stupid even. My late mother always insisted I was smart. And who are you, cruel reader, to question the deceased?
All that’s to say a bloody comeuppance is in order. It’s just a question of whose neck goes in the noose. We have candidates aplenty to pick from. And every election requires a post-vote knacker man to clean up the mess.
Opinions are like you-know-what-holes in politics, and there’s no shortage of either on Twitter—even with Elon’s new blue-tick fee. But, from the week or so of trolling the tweet streams, here’s a comprehensive list of who’s to blame for the red faceplant: Donald Trump (duh!), Mitch McConnell (double duh!), Rick Scott (who?), Mitch Romney’s niece (again, who?), the Republican Party apparatus (triple duh! When aren’t they to blame for everything?), election truthers, Jan 6th rioters, poor candidate quality, mail-in ballots, ballot harvesting, Democratic political machinery, misleading polling, slanted press (I blame this one for everything), and plain overconfidence, similar to how kids with exhaustive Christmas lists feel. (My oldest has taken to circling ergonomic equipment in the Sharper Image Christmas catalog, having already exhausted her Crayolas in a dozen other toy wish books. Little does she know her actual gift of a garage fridge is mostly for daddy’s beer.)
Many of the fault-camps are mutually exclusive. McConnell blamers won’t scarcely utter a word about Trump culpability; Trump haters pin the failure solely on the orange man. America-Firsters accuse the perfidious party apparatus for abandoning their paragons; party loyalists point out the kooky-dookness of MAGA candidates.
Just to show I’m not straw-manning, lacing in a few “people say”s in place of real quotes, here are a few enfleshed examples: “The ‘candidate quality’ and ‘it’s Trump’s fault’ canards are a smokescreen for the GOP getting its bell rung on ballot harvesting and the base mechanics of electioneering,” averred The Federalist’s Sean Davis. Marc Thiessen of The Washington Post points out that Trump spent a fraction of what McConnell’s super PAC dished out on MAGA candidates, before deadpanning, “But, yeah, let’s get rid of McConnell.” Fox News’s Brit Hume and radio jock Mark Levin traded Twitter barbs over Trump/Mitch culpability: “Liz Cheney was busily campaigning for Democrats and McConnell was undermining candidates in key Senate races,” Levin fumed. “And how much did Trump spend to support the candidates he endorsed? Practically nothing,” Hume countered. National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman Rick Scott schivved McConnell, blaming weak-kneed GOP leadership for the loss. (Funny, I don’t recall Republicans ever having calves made of anything other than aspic.)
Senator-elect Vance, the Trump tribune of Ohio, wrote a piece titled “Don’t Blame Trump,” which had me saying, “oh no, J.D. what izzz you doin’? Except the editorial was mostly about the Republicans’ lack of pooled small-dollar donor finances compared to the Democrat’s goliath ActBlue.
This blame game shows no signs of quieting now that Trump has thrown his red cap in the prez race. But most of it is off the mark, driven largely by ulterior-arguments stemming from the Trump vs. Establishment bouts of two cycles ago. The Faulknerian angst of 2016 never dies.
But amidst all the sniping, one reductive target remains invincible: the voter. No political operative ever blames the man (19th Amendment-edit: “or woman;” future 29th Amendment-edit for posterity: “or trans-non-binary-animal-kin-two-spirit sentient being”) in the voting booth. Politics is treated like business where the customer is always right. If your brand didn’t sell, that’s on the marketing team. The ads weren’t convincing enough, the tagline didn’t stick, batteries—e.g. dole buy-offs—weren’t included.
Such a comms strategy makes sense: insulting future prospects isn’t a great way to win the next go-around. But liberal-representative-democracy is premised on the theory that voters are self-interested, supporting whichever party improves living standards. And by any measure, the past two years of Democrat-rule have really done a number on household budgets. So why did voters opt for ballot-box masochism? Both governors Gretchen Whitmer and Kathy Hochul were handily re-elected. These tyrantesses flaunt their love of crushing the little guy—particularly the littlest, children—and safely won.
There’s no ‘22 tome to exact eisegeses from. Exit polling suggests voters are still dissatisfied with the economy, but also with rabid Trumpism and spotlight-lapping joke candidates. In the choice between shelling out an extra $100 for grocery staples and not voting for a Trump supplicant, voters saved face with the former.
For now. America’s largest companies are announcing layoffs in droves, just in time for the holly-jolly season. The Federal Reserve will likely lift interest rates again to quell inflation, which will only gut punch markets more. A Republican-led House will thwart any economic deleterious legislation hatched in the Senate. But it’s a folly to say Democrats learned anything from the election—if anything, they’re more emboldened.
Markets are self-correcting in a commercial republic; ideally, so are elections. But, as nationalist scholar Adrian Vermeule observed, “It’s funny to see GOP types debating which candidates or issues would have made a difference, when the simplest hypothesis is that there is a critical mass of voters who will support left-liberalism on essentially theological grounds, regardless of the conditions it produces.”
The electorate can be mistaken, blinded by emotive propaganda and pressured into voting socially rather than responsibly. The GOP has two choices to compete: battle it out on the battlefeelz, or appeal to a more rational view of governance.
So why don’t I think Republicans are up to succeeding in either? It probably has something to do with spray tanning in the Florida sun.