Perhaps America’s second-best columnist (next to George F. Will), Kimberly Strassel, wrote in the Wall Street Journal Nov. 11, “Want to win elections? Run competent leaders.”
I would add to that, “with support from responsible political principals.”
I was little surprised that across the country and in Maryland when Democrats did better than expected in the midterm elections.
In Maryland, Dan Cox, he of the “Mike Pence is a traitor” and impeach Gov. Larry Hogan ilk, opined in his concession speech with unique chutzpah that his loss was partly attributable to “Hogan’s failure to step up to support his party’s nominee.” Following his lopsided defeat, predicted by everyone and his/her mother, Cox yielded his reflection that “the outcome was a complete surprise.”
Donald Trump-supported candidates were closed-minded on all things consensually settled, such as who won the 2020 presidential election (hint to any Republicans who remain uncertain: It was Joe Biden).
They typically won primaries but lost general elections because it is possible to energize an atypical plurality of the primary electorate to get weak, insufficiently supported nominees in the general election.
As with Cox in Maryland, Trump-aligned gubernatorial candidates Darren Bailey in Illinois and Doug Mastriano in Pennsylvania were soundly defeated. Trump-endorsed Senate candidates Mehmet Oz, Don Bolduc, Blake Masters and Adam Laxalt were rejected by voters in Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, Arizona and Nevada, respectively.
Donald Trump, until recently, has had quasi-plausible but false explanations for his deceptions: Speaking about the August 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville led by White supremacists, he said there were “very fine people on both sides.” A year later he tweeted, “I condemn all types of racism and acts of violence.” He has denied accusations of antisemitism and points out that he has Jewish members of his family, but he meets with Ye (formerly Kanye West), who has repeatedly expressed antisemitic views, and Nick Fuentes, who has expressed his hatred of Jews in unambiguous terms. Trump claims that the former has mental problems and implausibly that the latter was unknown to him. I could give more and more examples, but people such as Cox, who lost by more than 20 percentage points, never challenged Trump.
In the interest of personal disclosure, concerns arose recently at Towson University, where I teach, regarding my role advising the campus chapter of Turning Point USA. Members of the organization exchanged messages in a chatroom with homophobic and racist language, according to a report in The Towerlight, the independent student-run newspaper. I told the Turning Point leaders that they must remove from the group people who participated in the ugliness online and must publicly and firmly apologize, which they did.
A decade ago, I advised a group headed by Matthew Heimbach that billed itself as representing traditionalist views. But in fact, the group espoused white nationalist views. The Southern Poverty Law Center describes Heimbach as “a gadfly within the white power movement.” I immediately quit the Heimbach group upon finding out its radical, racist points of view.
I am a Howard Baker conservative and have long written that Donald Trump is stylistically an embarrassment to conservatives, and therefore, I have never supported him for any office. I do not ask as advisor whom the students support; if they support Trump, so be it. They know I have no respect for him.
In practical terms, as Mitt Romney said, a Trump endorsement at this time is the “kiss of death” for Republicans.
Del. Kathy Szeliga echoed these anti-Trump sentiments to me when she spoke to my class earlier this term.
Republicans lost across the board in statewide and congressional races in Maryland, with Rep. Andy Harris being a rare exception.
It was no surprise to some of us pundits that Trump-supported Herschel Walker lost to Raphael Warnock in the Georgia U.S. Senate race. Walker, a likeable-enough public persona, with hypocrisy abounding regarding his views on abortion and his rhetorically challenged speech and debate inabilities, could not pull off a victory even with new support of the previously reticent Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp.
Trump has now announced for 2024, but all the evidence is that his influence is in decline, and he announced, despite his manifest failure to carry his acolytes, such as Arizona gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake, to victory.
Competent and good judgment leaders, such as former U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan, are getting energized again, and there is growing realization that Trump is an albatross around the necks of Republicans and that he can help only those who are odds-on favorites.
“We lost the House, the Senate and the White House in two years when Trump was on the ballot, or in office,” Ryan opined. “I think we just have some Trump hangover. I think he’s a drag on our office, on our races.”
The Strasselian “competent leaders” theory almost says it all for the midterm elections and all elections henceforth.
As one who will soon be retiring, I recognize when the time has come to reduce one’s obligations. Trump’s only power remaining is to dilute Republican opportunities to win general elections or, better, to take advantage of deficient Democratic leadership and do, as Strassel lists, what putative “red wave” elected leaders did without the burden of Trump adherence: “They did the people’s business. They reopened their states amid Covid, cut taxes, expanded school choice, axed regulations, enacted voting reform, managed border crises, stood up for parental rights, handled hurricanes, tackled crime, and fought against Big Tech censorship.”
Ah, yes — responsible policymaking. The Maryland and national Republicans have leaders who support good conservative positions, but they can be defeated when irresponsible candidates wrest nominations from them, supported by self-obsessed leaders who care only about their own significance.
Richard E. Vatz is professor of political communication at Towson University and the author of “The Only Authentic Book of Persuasion: the Agenda-Spin Model” (Authors Press, 2022).