by Earl Ofari Hutchinson
The GOP beat the pants off the Democrats in Virginia, maybe New Jersey. It does that in far too many off-year elections that shake the political tree nationally. The wins are no aberration. The party has been doing that for a long time. It has a focused, disciplined game plan that has never and won’t change for 2022.
The theories why the Democrats do so lousy in many off-year elections fly fast and furious. They lose because the GOP knows how to bend, twist, and manipulate voters with dog whistles, code words, or outright naked appeals to base race and gender fears. The latest is the bogus issue of critical race theory. It screams beware it is coming to your local neighborhood theater, excuse me school. Duck for cover.
They shamelessly rig elections by lying, cheating, and then follow that by massive voter suppression. It has a Trump-friendly media behind it to savage, hector, and belittle the Democrats openly and subtly. It’s the party of take no prisoners. It sticks by its agenda, does not compromise, or conciliate with Democrats. All this while the Democrats are timid, weak-kneed, and eternally trying to make nice with the GOP.
The example endlessly cited as a classic proof is then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell flatly saying no, no, no to then-President Obama’s constitutional right to pick a Supreme Court replacement. And then doubling down on that by watching as Obama meekly complied and did virtually nothing to counteract that.
There’s great merit in all these knocks at the Democrats. However, there’s more, far more, to it than that. Start with the GOP’s core base. There’s the great myth that is repeatedly shoved around to the point where many who should know better believe it and recite it as political gospel. The myth is that there are not enough less-educated, blue-collar, and rural Whites in the electorate to push GOP presidential and congressional candidates consistently over the top.
But elections are almost always won by candidates with a solid and impassioned core of bloc voters. In the GOP’s case, those voters, along with White males in general, and older voters, middle-income, college-educated voters vote consistently and faithfully. They vote in a far greater percentage than Hispanics and Blacks, and especially young voters. In 2016 and 2020, Trump secured the GOP’s base, non-college-educated blue-collar, and rural Whites. But he also got a lot of votes from middle-class Whites, both male and female, college-educated, business, and professionals.
They had two things in common and one wasn’t simply borderline bigotry, loathing of Clinton and Biden, or dislike and rejection of a Democrat. Many voters still wanted what powered Obama’s 2008 win—change. The other was a mistrust of Democrats. That they were the party that shamelessly pandered to minorities on spending and social programs at the expense of tax-paying middle class and especially working-class Whites.
There’s more. The Democrats are a coalition party. It’s been that way since 1932 when FDR cobbled together Blacks, Southern Whites, Northern blue-collar workers, immigrant ethnic groups, and farmers into a winning coalition. The composition of the Democratic Party coalition has shifted and changed over time. But not the nature of the party. The coalition players now are Blacks, Hispanics, LGBT, youth, and middle-class college-educated White suburbanites, particularly women, progressives, and beltway, corporate wheelers, and dealers.
They bring many different views, outlooks, and agendas to the Democratic table. That often ensures clash, conflict, and division. Those are the variables that far more than any naked GOP voter suppression don’t inspire a stampede to the polls in off-year elections.
The GOP by contrast has no such problem. It is a hard-nosed, disciplined, ideological party that maintains order within the ranks, and sticks to its agenda with no wavering. Even the mildest deviation from the party marching order brings instant reprisal.
Wyoming GOP rep Liz Cheney found that out the hard way when she took a few stands on issues counter to the GOP line. The punishment was the imposition of party pariah status on her, and the threat to run a GOP candidate with the full backing and resources of the party behind that candidate in a primary contest against her.
There’s one more reason the GOP wins. The GOP takes off-year elections deadly serious. It understands the ancient maxim: all politics ultimately is local. It engages its base not just during presidential election times but continually. Be it an issue with a local school board, water district, or taxing issue, it bombards its supporters with emails, texts, and social media messages. It holds town halls, and rallies to mobilize the troops to act. It does not rely on chance with the issues and its core supporters. It hammers them over the head with them on the importance of action.
Time is running out. November 2022 is just around the corner. The message for the Democrats from Virginia and New Jersey is simple: learn how to win off-year elections or watch as the GOP beats the pants off you again.
(Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst.)