The midterms have come and gone, and the predicted “red wave” looked more like a ripple.
Weak candidates appeared to be one primary issue.
Senatorial candidate Dr. Mehmet Oz, former snake oil salesman, and gubernatorial candidate Doug Mastriano, regarded as a Christian nationalist, in Pennsylvania are great examples. Putting policy aside, these Republicans were deeply flawed candidates that ran poor campaigns.
Recovering stroke victim John Fetterman should have been an easy target for Oz. Both he and Mastriano’s opponent Josh Shapiro endorsed very progressive policies and nevertheless cruised to a victory in a moderate state. However, neither Republican seemed to want to campaign at all.
Fetterman’s position on drugs may be more popular than law-and-order Republicans are willing to give him credit for, however, as even 63% of Millennial Republicans favor legalization of marijuana, and more likely favor decriminalization, which Fetterman has been outspoken on.
It is still unknown what the senatorial outcome in Georgia will be with Republican Herschel Walker facing incumbent Democrat Raphael Warnock in a run-off election. Accusations of hypocrisy have flown as both have flawed pasts.
The common thread between Oz, Mastriano, and Walker is that they were all endorsed by former President Donald Trump.
If the current feud between Trump and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis says anything, it is that Trump wants loyalists that will pay homage to him as the self-proclaimed leader of the Republican Party, or he is privy to allowing his narcissism to get in the way of a good long-term political strategy. Probably both.
If his endorsed candidates cannot stand on their own morals and their own competence, it stands to reason that they would depend more heavily on his support for victory.
Trump’s attack on a highly respected politician among the Republican base seems to have backfired, as influential conservatives have already started to blame Trump for failures in the midterms.
Trump also tried to take credit for DeSantis’s rise to political stardom. However, DeSantis’s substantial second victory in Florida despite having not received the official endorsement of Trump speaks to a certain political competence that the former president lacks. DeSantis represents a threat to Trump’s hegemony, especially as he has consistently polled as his top contender for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination.
However, DeSantis’s victory in Florida likely speaks more to the fact that the state as a whole has turned more conservative than anticipated, considering that many other Republican officials in Florida won their election by substantial margins.
Trump also quickly turned on former vice-president Mike Pence after he refused to cooperate with his plan to overturn the results of the 2020 election, despite many viewing him as having depended on Pence to win the trust of Evangelical Christians in 2016 because of his own flawed character. Notably, Evangelical voters did not turn on the former vice-president, like many so-called “MAGA” Republicans. Pence also seems poised to run for president in 2024.
Unlike Liz Cheney, who has made opposition to Trump an essential part of her identity, Pence has not directly confronted or condemned Trump for provoking the mob that called to hang him, which is perhaps one of the wiser political moves he has made. “Answer not a fool in his folly, lest thou be like unto him” goes the old proverb. An interesting thing about Trump is that the bigger platform he gets, the less popular he becomes.
Trump used his platform to sabotage the Republican Party in other ways as well after losing the 2020 election, especially with his role in the Jan 6 Capitol riot.
His divisive rhetoric, which often appears to lack compassion or humility, has alienated many young conservatives. No one really wants to be associated with an election denier, either. Which is probably part of the reason why so many in this category lost in the midterm election.
Some have been quick to point out that establishment Republicans were reluctant to fund the campaigns of some Trump-backed candidates, many of whom had only cruised to victory in their primaries with the help of Democratic dollars.
However, it seems more likely that this was based on their prospects of winning rather than a systematic effort to oust Trump from the Party.
Nevertheless, there is an aspect of truth to their complaints. The problem, however, was the focus of establishment Republicans, not their funding. The establishment GOP leaned hard towards the old, empty cries of “inflation and crime” this election season and ignored the issues of identity and culture that drive voter turnout.
One primary example is how many Republicans seemed to cower away from the issue of abortion as election season closed rather than confront the issue head on. Instead, they let their opponents craft the narrative and paint them as extremists.
Ignoring the deeper issues facing the American identity, many of which lie behind the surface of the abortion debate, has never been a path to electoral success. Except maybe for Bill Clinton in the era of “safe, legal, and rare.”
Trump certainly understood this, for better or worse, which probably led to his electoral victory in 2016. He appealed to a large portion of the population that previously felt disenfranchised by the political system, and who otherwise would not have been encouraged to vote.
As former Indiana governor Mitch Daniels put it in an interview with Politico reporter Adam Wren, “it’s not complicated. If you look down your nose at someone long enough, one day they will punch you in it.”
Nevertheless, the “Party of Lincoln” does not need a “savior'' or even a leader in the figure of Trump, or DeSantis for that matter.
Republicans would do well to remember the words of the Hebrew psalmist, who said “Do not put your trust in princes, in mortal men, who cannot save. When their spirit departs, they return to the ground; on that very day their plans come to nothing,” in Psalms 146.
Principled, competent and moral candidates that are committed to actually conserving something real and concrete about America would help, nonetheless. They should be committed to conserving something lasting. Something that includes all classes and the traditionally marginalized, much like Pat Buchanan and others have argued in a vision for “main street” conservatism.
A good standard bearer for the GOP could learn from former president Ronald Reagan, whose eleventh commandment was “thou shalt not speak ill of any fellow Republican.”
He too was faced with uniting many differing strands of conservatism.
The Republican Party needs to renew their focus on providing solutions and a unified vision for the future if they want any hope of waking the apathetic young conservative or independent.
It becomes significantly more difficult to defend the policies of your chosen candidate when voters become distracted by flaws in their character, especially when those policies deal so heavily with the American identity.
Perhaps that means Trump should retire from politics and make way for newer, younger candidates that will move the country in a more positive direction.
If disaffected voters want any chance at making this a reality, they need to show up en masse in the presidential primary elections.
Jacob Stewart is a junior majoring in neuroscience. He is also the campus editor of The Campus Citizen.