The midterm elections nationally this year were supposed to be a “red wave” election in which the Democratic Party would be vanquished and reduced to hopeless minority status by the Republicans. The GOP would win control of both houses of Congress, and the Democrats would henceforth be unable to enact a single substantive legislative measure. During the rest of his term, President Joe Biden would be permanently weakened into an impotent lame duck status. He would have no realistic chance of reelection – in fact, it was unlikely he would choose to seek a second term.
The MAGA goal was to end constitutional democracy as we know it in America and replace it with an autocratic fascistic regime. The American Il Duce was Donald Trump himself, and his vanguard was the MAGA movement, this American equivalent of the Italian Blackshirts of the Mussolini era.
The 2022 appeal of the MAGA movement was focused on two issues: 1) inflation, an international issue whose origins were in the economic policies of the Trump administration; and 2) Crime, which was with regard to MAGA and the Trump administration a false and fraudulent issue. Throughout the nation, Democrats in recent years have supported increased funding for police and police recruitment, while Republicans have voted against it.
The reason for the Republican emphasis on the crime issue was to frighten suburban women into continuing to vote for the GOP by falsely portraying the Democrats as soft on crime. Suburban women left the GOP in droves in this election because of the US Supreme Court decision in the Dobbs case, which set aside the Roe v. Wade federal guarantee of abortion choice. The Dobbs decision also precludes federal courts from setting aside as unconstitutional any abortion ban passed by the Congress, such as that proposed by anti-abortion extremist Lindsey Graham.
The major Democratic issue in these elections, both federal and state, was the protection of American democracy from the threat to it posed by Donald Trump, Trumpism, and the MAGA movement. And the nature and extent of the threat were obvious throughout the first two years of the Biden administration.
On January 6, 2021, Donald Trump became the first and only American President to attempt to supersede the will of the people by planning, fomenting, and directing an armed insurrection against the government of the United States. While this attempt failed, Trump would be ready with something much more sophisticated and dangerous this time.
The core of the Trumpist 2022 attempt to eliminate American democracy was the politics of election denial. The goal was to elect election deniers to those state offices involved in the election result certification process. These officials would refuse in all cases to certify any winning candidates who were not MAGA approved. At the same time, Republican statewide leaders would make loud accusations of election fraud in order to incite their base voter to violence.
The chief advocate for making the Trumpist threat to democracy the central issue in the campaign was Joe Biden himself. He was mocked for this by self-anointed savants in both parties who contended that the threat to democracy was not a “kitchen table issue,” like inflation.
“Kitchen table issues” are defined as those issues that “ordinary folks” confront in their daily lives and are likely to discuss at the kitchen table. What Biden understood better than almost anybody else was that kitchen table issues do not have to be economic matters. The frightening insurrection of January 6, 2021 was not a one-day story, and it continued to be discussed at kitchen tables for a long time.
So on Election Day, November 8, 2022, Republican election denier candidates for higher level offices involved in the election certification process were defeated across the board in virtually every battleground state. Democracy is not just a process issue. Democracy is cherished by Americans and in this election was saved and reaffirmed.
For the Republican Party, Election 2022 was a catastrophe. The Republican Party which was a center-right shining beacon of democracy with leaders like Dwight Eisenhower, Ronald Reagan, the Bushes, Bob Dole, John McCain, and Everett Dirksen no longer exists. It has become a hopeless personality cult, with a leader like Donald Trump incapable of being elected and dragging everybody down ballot to defeat.
American democracy has been saved. Yet American democracy needs two vibrant parties to flourish, preferably healthy center-left and center-right parties. The further descent of the Republican Party into Trumpist MAGA culthood is an unwelcome development for America.
Alan J. Steinberg served as regional administrator of Region 2 EPA during the administration of former President George W. Bush and as executive director of the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission.