Republicans may as well abort their chances for the White House next year.
Heh heh heh…
Anything? No? Ugh. Fine, stuck-up reader.
For the fourth cycle in a row, and a smattering of special elections and ballot plebiscites, Republicans have managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. The losing Trump years had the excuse of a fired-up opposition—the sitting president’s party always takes a pulping. But what of the Biden era? Republicans can’t catch their footing against… a somnambulant head of state presiding over a teetering economy, two intensifying wars, an illegal immigration overrun, internal bureaucratic dissent, and weekly marches in praise of Holocaust redux across major metros. Every election should be a chip shot against the bungling Biden backdrop. Yet the GOP is a hapless cartoon character, faceplanting, pratfalling, slipping, turkeying, tumbling ass-over-teakettle in trying to maintain the slimmest of majorities, from Washington to Waukesha.
Or, since it’s nearly Turkey Day, a football analogy: Republicans are playing as well as my beloved New England Patriots, with the RNC as its unavailing offensive line.
That’s a pat explanation, wrapped nicely with an easy-to-unslip bow, which means it’s mindlessly regurgitated in Beltway trade pubs. “For more than a year now, if the issue is abortion, the Democrats win,” writes Matthew Continetti in the latest Commentary. “Democrats see abortion wins as a springboard for 2024 as GOP struggles to find a winning message,” reports the Associated Press. The Atlantic spotlights: “Why Abortion Rights Keep Winning in Red States.”
It’s a convincing argument—helped by the neat fact that it’s true. (Not all political explanations have such veridical benefit!) But public fear over abortion-on-demand access isn’t entirely to blame for Republican woes. Virginia governor Glenn Youngkin’s merry band of Old Dominioners outperformed expectations while sticking to the poll-tested 15-week ban. Yet they still fell shorter than the sleeves on Youngkin’s finance-bro vest.
So if it’s not all abortion, why can’t Republicans capitalize on widespread voter despondence? What narrative can Frank Luntz spin to suckers at the Georgetown Four Seasons over plates of re-microwaved chicken fricassée?
As the old joke goes, elections come down to turnout. More people, more votes; or as it’s known in Chicago, more cadavers, more votes. The only demographic who reliably turns out for off-year elections are civically engaged citizens. That means retirees and well-to-do white-collar workers who can excuse themselves from their desk job 15 minutes early to hit the polls.
The difference is that in the last decade or so, what Ed West calls the “respectable middle class” has effectively swapped parties. Dockers-and-button-down men and blouse-sensible-skirt women no longer vote Republican. The managerial takeover by Democrats has upended the old Rockefeller coalition of steady suburbanity.
As one Twitter prophet put it: “The problem with ceding all the educated inner-ring suburban moms who have the whole month charted out on the refrigerator to the Dems, and winning over divorced, personally messy laborers in the sticks is that the neurotic planners always show up.”
In simpler terms, the GOP is déclassé. The party’s gone from Mitch McConnell to a sitting senator threatening to wallop a union executive. (My money’s on the MMA guy.) The post-liberals, or nationalist cons, or whatever they call themselves are getting their wish: Republicans are becoming a de facto multicultural working-class party. And the working class stays busy either working a job, working to filch the unemployment office, or working to score some percs or ludes from their guy.
The new pachyderm partnership isn’t that sharply delineated, of course. No political coalition is cut and dry. The Democratic Party remains, as Micah Meadowcroft describes it, a “high-low alliance against the middle,” with the deep-pocketed elite and no-pocketed poor teaming up to despoil the between.
The Party of Lincoln isn’t composed purely of Amazon warehouse grunts. Republicans still command the sub-class of “high proles,” who are, as Matthew Walther elaborates: “plumbers, electricians, contractors, farmers, who have essentially the same cultural habits, tastes, etc., as the lower middle class but incomes comparable to those working in the professions.”
Technical laborers make a comfortable living and have the financial leeway to be civic-minded, but don’t have the time to doomscroll CNN for the next “threat to democracy” between Excel sheet updates. For the white-van-workers, non-presidential Election Day is just another Tuesday.
The only real way to activate the kind of loose alliance Republicans win off of is a high-profile, high-turnout race. And, luckily or unluckily for the party, there’s one attention-sucking candidate topping its nominee polls, complete with ongoing headline-snatching criminal charges.
Donald Trump both repulses the managerial class and intrigues working stiffs. Voters may change parties, but they don’t change personalities. Republican Party poohbahs were willing to use Trump for his star power in 2016—now they’re grappling with the consequences of purring up to populism.
It could be worse. Had Republicans settled into being the party of Mitt Romney, they’d be going the way of the Whigs. Relevance remains the coin of the political realm.