The 2014 midterm elections were a dark week for the Republican party.
Waitaminute! Am I crazy? The GOP by all accounts dominated the 2014 election! They picked up 12 more House seats, won a Senate majority, picked up some gubernatorial seats, and upped their majorities in state legislatures across the country! How could you call that a “dark week”? Yes, I’m a progressive, a liberal, a lefty – whatever you want to call me (and some of you might prefer unprintable terms) – but I’m not crazy enough to call the 2014 elections a “dark week” for Republicans.
You see, I didn’t really pen that opening line. I stole it from a Republican strategist and columnist for the Houston Chronicle, Chris Ladd. That’s what he said, not me.
So, why would a Republican write something like that?
For one, argues Ladd, the 2014 election saw Republicans deepen their support, not broaden it. They saw support increase from aging rural white voters, but made no inroads among Democratic constituencies, especially in the most heavily populated areas of the country – the Northeast, West Coast, and parts of the West. That’s Ladd’s “Blue Wall,” an area that contains so many Electoral College votes that it makes a Republican presidential victory in 2016 nearly impossible. Despite the GOP sweep this election, for example, no Republican candidate won a Senate seat behind Ladd’s Blue Wall.
Second, GOP success was in large part a result of low turnout. Ladd noted that the Republican victories rested on winning 52 percent of those that turned out in 2014. Given only about 35 percent of registered voters turned out, which translates to 17 percent of the registered electorate. Hardly a “mandate.”
Ladd also admits that turnout success was due to “vote suppression” – the crazy patchwork of new voter registration laws – but thinks that’ll bring advantage in only one or two low-turnout elections, but at the cost of losing any hope of winning minority voters “for the foreseeable future.”
But the kicker is what Republicans will do with their Congressional advantage between now and 2016. Expect more stupid. “This is an age for Republican solutions,” claims Ladd. “[But] what are we hearing from Republicans? Climate denial, theocracy, thinly veiled racism, paranoia, and Benghazi hearings.”
According to a July New York Times report, Congress has spent more than $3 million on hearings around the attack on the Libyan embassy in an effort to tie it Obama administration incompetency. To date, there has been no evidence of intelligence failures, delay, or political cover-up – at least according to a Nov. 21 House Intelligence Committee report, which came to the same result as five previous government reports.
You don’t have to look much further than Erie’s own House representative, Mike Kelly, for evidence of how the emerging GOP majority will play out.
After the Pennsylvania state assembly gerrymandered Kelly’s House seat into a safe Republican stronghold, Kelly rewarded the electorate by turning his House seat into a guest seat on Fox News and Friends. Railing against the Obama administration on Ebola, coal, the IRS, immigration, Obamacare, and the Keystone Pipeline on Fox News, Kelly in Congress has done...nothing. Assigned to draft legislation in 2013 that would trim $380 million from the federal budget in loan guarantees to clean-energy companies, Kelly never turned in his homework.
“Mike’s efforts shifted when he chose to focus more on holding the administration accountable with regards to [Operation] Fast and Furious,” explained Kelly spokesperson Tom Qualtere. “And then when the Benghazi tragedy occurred, that took the cake.”
Real issues need to be addressed – climate change, the Syrian civil war, increasing inequality of wealth, the deficit – but Benghazi!
It’s a pattern among Republican politicians and the media that supports them, this increasing disconnect from reality. Conservative politicians and the media that supports them are creating their own version of reality that’s politically motivated to consolidate their base and immunize themselves against rational counter-responses. That’s how they were able to drive the Benghazi scandal for a year and a half, how they create “controversy” out of thin air – Fast and Furious, IRS corruption, death panels, Obama-is-a-Kenyan. That’s how they keep issues of scientific certainty – climate change, evolution – “controversial.”
They’ve done this by painting the mainstream media as “liberal” – when it’s anything but – and the scientific community as a secret society engaging in vast conspiracies. There’s no such thing as a nonpartisan authority over reality, posit conservatives. Everything is political, even facts.
Dave Roberts, a blogger for Grist, summed up the disturbing trend of conservative rhetoric in a series of 36 brilliant tweets.
“[The] right has systematically and progressively destroyed the very notion of a nonpartisan arbiter of information,” he wrote. “It’s like pointing to an apple and saying, ‘this is an orange.’ It takes practice to train your mind to be able to do it. [O]n the question of what the object is, there are only competing answers — no objective fact of the matter. ”
Conservatives have taken out any sense of authority over facts. As such, “every dispute, even over matters of fact, becomes a contest of power – loudest, best funded, most persistent voices win.” Which is readily apparent, especially in the political battles over climate change. As the globe warms and we’re wracked by extreme weather events (like five feet of November snow in Buffalo), conservatives are still disputing of any of this is actuallyhappening.
The “danger for the right,” tweeted Roberts, “is that once you lose your mooring to nonpartisan epistemological standards, you are at sea. You start thinking you really can ‘make your reality,’ forgetting there’s anything rigid in the world that can’t be wished away.”
That sense of fantasy will have two results. First, it will hinder us from coming to any political solution to any problem. Second, it will damage the Republican Party as its policies, rhetoric, and agenda drift from the problems people are actually encountering. And that’s why Chris Ladd thinks the 2014 midterm elections represents a “dark week” for the GOP.
“It is almost too late for Republicans to participate in shaping...our economic and political transformation,” writes Ladd. “The opportunities we inherited coming out of the Reagan Era are blinking out of existence...while we chase so-called ‘issues’ so stupid, so blindingly disconnected from our emerging needs that our grandchildren will look back on our performance in much the same way that we see the failures of the generation that fought desegregation.”
I am a liberal, a progressive, a goddamned Commie pinko, but I am not crazy. I know there are millions of bright, energetic minds in conservative ranks that want to provide real and conservative solutions to real problems. I believe the world needs them.
Jay Stevens can be contacted at Jay@ErieReader.com, and you can follow him on Twitter @Snevets_Yaj.