Elections have consequences, but campaign season is forever.
We are over a year away from the mid-term elections, and yet they are just around the corner. They are, in many ways, already happening.
For down-ballot Democrats facing a tough election cycle this term, the signs aren’t good.
Governor Gavin Newsom, elected with over 60% of the vote in deep-blue California not all that long ago, is a facing a serious recall effort. At first, the recall was considered the usual Republican histrionics, a doomed fever-dream unworthy of much Democratic concern.
Then, it was viewed in mild askance as Democratic Party operatives in the state tried various half-hearted methods of derailing it. Now, the Newsom recall effort, and the growing specter of its success, have become a matter of gravest concern for Democratic Party officials in California and beyond.
The situation has become so dire, the Los Angeles Times recently twisted itself into a rhetorical pretzel calling conservative radio personality Larry Elder- an African-American man from South Central L.A. who is Newsom’s major challenger in the recall and who would become California’s first Black governor, if elected- the “Black Face of White Supremacy”.
That Newsom is facing a serious recall effort at all is reason enough for Democrats to start panicking about 2022. In California, registered Republicans comprise only about 24% of the electorate.
This, of course, can mean only one thing: Moderate Democrats and Independents are turning on Gavin Newsom, and by extension, the Democratic Party he represents.
In Connecticut, another troubling scene just played out. In a place Joe Biden carried by 20 points in 2020, a seat on the state senate was flipped from bright blue to red.
And this was all before Afghanistan.
“Turnout was high, for a special, and turnout was much higher than we thought it was going to be,” said Blake Reinken, campaign manager for the defeated Democratic candidate. “It was much higher than anyone thought it was going to be because their base turned out, and we had to push our base to turn out as well. But it was clear there was a lot more enthusiasm, not among the activists necessarily, but among the voters than there was on our side.”
There are other troubling signs as well.
“Defund the Police” has gone about as well as most seasoned Democratic strategists insisted it would. In fact, the policy, and the rising crime rates perceived to be related to it, have proven such a political liability, instead of proudly laying claim to it, Democrats are attempting to paint Republicans as the would-be defunders of police departments.
In the tight gubernatorial race in Virginia, where Democrat Terry McAuliffe is in a statistical coin flip against Republican Glenn Youngkin, McAuliffe has resorted to putting uniformed police officers in his campaign commercials.
In New York, former police officer Eric Adams trounced other, far more progressive candidates in the recent Democratic Party primary for Mayor. Running on a tough-on-crime platform straight out of the Republican playbook, Adams carried every borough except Manhattan.
That is to say, every borough grappling with rising crime.
As Tom Wolfe once opined: “If a liberal is a conservative who has been arrested, a conservative is a liberal who has been mugged.”
Nixon said something similar. After being told student anti-war protests had devolved into violence, Nixon said, succinctly: “Good.”
Nixon and Wolfe understood a home truth: Violence, crime, and especially violent crime, makes people more conservative.
But Democrats don’t need to resort to changing their stance on criminal justice reform to win in 2022, and beyond. Criminal justice reform, however unfortunate the moniker “Defund the Police”, is still sorely needed.
The FIRST STEP Act, which was the first significant criminal justice reform measure in over a decade, was signed into law in 2018. There have been no additional steps since then. In spite of softening laws on drug possession which continue a steady, democratically-supported drumbeat state by state, tens of thousands, if not millions, of people are still languishing in prisons, serving unfairly long sentences for nonviolent drug offenses.
Looking to 2022, it isn’t so much that Democrats need to change their direction. To win in 2022, or even mitigate the losses the party holding the executive branch normally experiences during the mid-terms, Democrats need to do more of what they have always done; get back to basics.
Voters still need affordable health care; perhaps now more than ever. Cancelling student debt aside, the skyrocketing costs of higher education in America are a scandal, eclipsed only by the scandal of astronomically high health care costs and the precarious future of social security.
Wage gains, family income growth, low unemployment; these aren’t the glamorous and socially prestigious new obsessions of cultural influencers and media gatekeepers.
The cost of childcare continues to put an outrageous burden on working families, in particular working mothers ham-stringed by a lack of early childhood education opportunities for their young children.
This in spite of the fact that the we the people long ago determined that an educated populace is in the best interest of our communities, our country and all concerned.
“We have the right messages for many of these voters — child care and early childhood education, expanded community college, child tax credits for struggling families, direct care worker help for seniors, expanded Medicare coverage for dental care and prescription drugs,” wrote longtime Democratic strategist Peter Fenn for the Hill over the weekend. “This is a ‘pro-work,’ ‘pro-families’ and ‘pro-community’ agenda.”
That agenda is what carries Democrats during every election; 2022 is likely to be no different. Abandoning these core Democratic Party platform principles to ride the wild waves of the 24-hour news cycle is a far less certain strategy.
(contributing writer, Brooke Bell)