Sarah Elliott: Biden might have won the US election, but Republican victories elsewhere will inhibit his presidency

9 Dec

Sarah Elliott is Chair of Republicans Overseas UK.

“The number one concern… was defunding the police. We need not ever use the words “socialist” or “socialism” again. And if we classify Tuesday as a success, from a congressional standpoint, we are going to get torn apart in 2022.”

These were the impassioned words said by Democratic House member, Representative Abigail Spanberger (D-VA), on the Democratic House caucus post-mortem election call on November 5. Not exactly the high-fiving debrief you would expect after keeping control of the US House and beating one’s favourite foe, Donald Trump.

It’s because it wasn’t a slam-dunk victory night for the Democrats. There was no blue wave in the legislative races of the House of Representatives or the Senate. The best they achieved on election night 2020 was a Democratic president in the White House, but one who will find it exceptionally difficult to pass an agenda.

The GOP actually had a great night for the legacy of the party, future elections and solidifying the electability of conservative principles.

In the US House of Representatives, Republicans flipped 14 Democratic-held seats, did not lose a single incumbent seat, and only lost three races, with a couple still too close to call but the Republican is leading. The Democrats, who came into this election cycle with a lead of 36 seats (after having won 40 in the 2018 midterms), have only a narrow lead of five seats, all within the taking for the Republicans come the 2022 midterms, when it’s typical for the legislature to switch to the opposite party of the White House.

In the Senate, the Republicans were defending seats in more Democratic-leaning states, where most analysts felt they would lose their majority. But tight races such as Joni Ernst in Iowa, Tom Tillis in North Carolina and Susan Collins in Maine all went to the GOP. Senators Lindsey Graham and Mitch McConnell survived a tremendous fundraising blitz, each being outspent by $30 million, and yet they won decisively. And now with the two run-off Senate races in Georgia, the Republicans have a strong shot at maintaining control of the Senate.

For Republicans, the best case scenario in a Biden administration is to control the legislature and paralyse him as president.

What should also be noted is that the Republicans maintained 60 per cent of the state legislature races. It’s the first time since 1946 so few chambers have switched hands, and this is massively important when it comes to the redistricting of congressional districts, which will take place in the next year or so. With Republicans in control of most state legislatures, it means that they will be responsible for determining the boundaries for 175 districts, whereas the Democrats only 47. This has long-term consequences on future congressional contests.

Thus, this sets up the 2022 midterms nicely, especially since the Grand Ole Party is not as white, male and stale.

The incoming House GOP class is the most diverse freshman class for the Republicans in history. The majority of those who won are female, there are 18 (at least) new GOP women members, and every seat flipped is by either a woman, minority candidate, and or a veteran. Six to nine of them will be a BAME representative. There will be a total of 28 GOP women in the US House and nine GOP women Senators.

All of this reflects a concentrated effort by Republican House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) and National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) Chairman Representative Tom Emmer (R-MN), instigated by Representative Elise Stefanik (R-NY). After the Democrats dramatically decreased the number of Republican women in Congress from 23 to 13 in 2018, and with the rise of “The Squad,” the very progressive-Left group of four House Democratic women (Omar, Talib, Ocasio-Cortez, Pressley), it was a wake-up call for Republicans.

Stefanik led the efforts in the 2018 midterms for female recruitment, and convinced 100 female candidates to run, but only one candidate made it through the primary. This motivated her to push the NRCC to get involved in the primary process, and make recruiting diverse women a priority for the party.

McCarthy followed her advice, and in an unprecedented move endorsed eleven female candidates during the primaries. The 2020 cycle saw ninety-four female GOP candidates through to the general election.

Political action committees (PACs) were set up to ensure the funding was there from the primary such as E-PAC, Winning for Women, RightNOW PAC and View PAC.

Now entering the halls of Congress in January are a Ukranian immigrant, the first female graduate from the military academy – the Citadel, single mothers, Greek and Cuban Americans, an Iranian American, and two South Korean immigrants. All Republican and all women.

Beth Van Duyane, a single mother of two, won her Dallas, Texas suburb seat even though it voted for Biden, and she was outspent by $1.5 million.

Maria Elvira Salazar, a former Spanish television broadcaster and daughter of Cuban refugees who fled Castro’s Cuba, flipped the Miami seat filled by Democratic-establishment representative Donna Shalala. Clinton won the district in 2016 by 20 points. Salazar ran on an anti-socialist and pro-America message.

Tony Gonzales, a Navy veteran, narrowly won a recount in the Texas-Mexican border district Texas-23, replacing the retiring African-American GOP representative Will Hurd. This district voted for Clinton in 2016, but with President Trump’s and Hurd’s endorsement, squeaked by with a win, despite being outspent by $4.2 million.

Young Kim and Michelle Steel are the first South Korean immigrants to serve in the US Congress, both women and both hail from California.

In California, the GOP won back four of the seven seats they lost to the Democrats in 2018. Representative elect Mike Garcia, a former Navy pilot and son of a Mexican immigrant, won a seat just north of Los Angeles, and David Valadao, a dairy farmer, reclaimed his seat that he lost two years prior.

These candidates were not just successful because of their stories, background, sex or ethnicities, but because of their message too. They are all staunchly conservative, anti-abortion, for securing the border, anti-socialist, for lowering taxes, and for keeping small businesses open during the pandemic. These messages worked with independents and Democrats alike.

When the Democratic message is “I’m not Trump,” to defund the police, keep the borders open and allow anyone in without due process, permit abortion up to the 38th-week, look at American history through race only, cancel anyone’s livelihood if they disagree with you, dissolve American energy independence, upend the American healthcare industry to a single-payer one, and not offer any new ideas except to tax, spend and keep your businesses shut, Democrats cannot expect to win. This is a good thing. These are bad ideas.

America is not a socialist country. We value our private property, our businesses, our country’s constitution, and our freedom. How refreshing to still see these values are appealing and electable across the party lines.

As Representative Spanberger said, socialism and defunding the police should never be uttered again. May that be the case and may all politicians take note.

Daniel Hannan: It’s time to explode the myth of Trump and his unique appeal

11 Nov

Daniel Hannan is a writer and columnist. He was a Conservative MEP from 1999 to 2020, and is now President of the Initiative for Free Trade.

Has Donald Trump permanently transformed his party? Has the old GOP – the party of limited government, low spending, free trade and constitutional rectitude – metamorphosed into something altogether more nativist, protectionist and autocratic? Will the next Republican presidential nominee inescapably be a Trumpster – or, indeed, an actual Trump?

Hmm. As T.S. Eliot nearly wrote: “Gentile or Jew / O you who turn the wheel and look to windward, / Consider Corbyn, who was once handsome and tall as you.”

Consider Corbyn. He, too, was said definitively to have refashioned his party. His eventual successor, we kept being told, would be chosen by the same Momentum-heavy electorate that had picked him. Communism was back, baby.

Yet here we are, less than a year on from his defeat, and Labour has swung so convincingly back to the mainstream that the Absolute Boy could be suspended with barely a ripple.

Trump and Corbyn have more in common than partisans of either man admit: outsiders who seized their parties by appealing to the base, but who never overcame the suspicion of their elected representatives; agitators who were more comfortable addressing rallies than working within democratic institutions; radicals who promised to bring down the old system; economic nostalgics who wanted to bring back manufacturing; political loners who were followed on their own account.

Might the GOP dump Trump as unsentimentally as Labour dumped Corbyn? Possibly. But there is a difference between what the two men stood for. Corbynism, although it had individually popular elements, was a fringe creed. Trumpery, by contrast – and I’m defining it loosely here as a combination of patriotism and economic activism with a dash of Führerprizip – has a certain appeal. Leaning Left on economics but Right on social and cultural issues is usually a vote-winner.

Most GOP Congressmen are uneasily aware that classical liberalism and strict constitutionalism have only limited appeal among their supporters. Almost every elected Republican I have spoken since the poll believes that Donald Trump lost, that his refusal to concede is petulant, and that his behaviour threatens their hopes of winning next month’s Senate elections in Georgia and thus keeping control of the chamber. But they won’t say so.

Why not? For fear of their base. Voice even the mildest criticism of Trump and his supporters will piranha-shoal around you in a frenzy (something else he has in common with Corbyn). I decided to test the premise while writing this article. Choosing my words carefully, so as not to be unduly provocative, I experimentally tweeted the following: “my hunch is that quite a few elected Republicans believe that Trump is behaving disgracefully, but won’t say so for fear of their audience.”

As expected, I immediately attracted 500 furious comments and lost a similar number of followers. But I have no real skin in the game: I am not an American politician. Perhaps we should feel some sympathy for those with actual votes to lose.

Still, Republican Congressmen and Senators cannot keep shtum forever. In the end, it is up to them to determine whether Trump will be an aberration, Corbyn-like, or whether the party of Reagan has gone forever.

Yes, Trump did some things that mainstream conservatives liked: cutting taxes, lifting regulations, appointing judges who ruled on the basis of what the law said rather than what they felt it ought to say.

But these are precisely the areas where he took little personal interest, and was content to leave the details to those swampy establishment Republicans he was so rude about. In exchange, traditional conservatives were astonishingly forgiving about every other aspect of his presidency. Foreign policy hawks overlooked his submissiveness before Vladimir Putin. Evangelical Christians ignored his lies and adulteries. Tea partiers did not protest when, pre-Covid, the deficit went above a trillion dollars.

With each passing month, the GOP attracted Trumpier representatives – for example, Josh Hawley elected to the Senate from Missouri two years ago, who blames what he calls “market worship,” for “the collapse of community.” At the same time, established figures, such as Florida’s Marco Rubio, began to shift their positions, dropping their former optimism and raging against the offshoring of jobs. The Coronavirus will almost certainly accelerate these authoritarian and anti-market tendencies: crises of this kind always do.

Yet the fundamental premise of Trumpism, namely that globalisation is bad for ordinary people, is false. Nothing has done more to boost the living standards of people on low incomes than the reduction in the cost of living brought about by the removal of trade barriers. Reagan knew how to win that argument. Who will make it today?

Let’s not fall for the idea, often asserted but never substantiated, that Trump has a unique capacity to reach blue-collar voters. This legend was born in 2016, as shell-shocked pundits scrabbled to explain why they had been wrong.

But it is impossible to reconcile with the way Trump was outpolled by down-ballot Republican candidates. This was clearest in the Senate races, where the electorates were exactly congruent. Trump did worse than Republican Senate candidates in almost all the swing states: Georgia, Colorado, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin. He was five points behind John McCain in Arizona, three points behind Marco Rubio in Florida and nine points behind Chuck Grassley in Iowa. Although we must wait for the final tally to be sure, early indications are that something similar happened last week.

The myth of Trump and his unique appeal to callused Pennsylvania steel-workers or stump-toothed Appalachian mountain-men or whatever is so widespread that it is hard to prise away. But there is a more plausible narrative. In 2016, it was the Democrats’ turn to lose, and they picked an unpopular candidate. Despite her disqualifications, she still won a plurality of the vote against a Republican who was less popular than his party. Four years on, with a mildly more appealing candidate, the Democrats scraped over the line.

If that analysis is right, it is good news for traditional small-government Republicans. But only if they man up and do something about it.

Trump is so cunning he has chosen, in Pence, a dull, loyal, evangelical running mate

27 Aug

Mike Pence. This name makes few hearts beat faster. Attempts by the Democrats to use Pence, the Republican vice-presidential candidate, as a stick with which to beat Donald Trump were not a success in 2016, and this year have been pretty much abandoned.

Kamala Harris, recently chosen as the Democrats’ vice-presidential candidate, has attracted more attention, in part because Joe Biden is 77, so might not see out a presidential term.

But Trump is 74 and looks less healthy than Biden, or indeed than Ronald Reagan, who at the start of his second term was 73.

If, as some commentators predict, Trump manages in November to defy the polls and win a second term, he may not survive to the end of it.

So Pence, who would then become President, ought to be of considerable interest. But he isn’t, and in that respect he is in accordance with the American tradition.

Running mates are chosen for their electoral value, their appeal to some group of voters, not because they possess the qualities needed to take over in a crisis. Pence’s speeches, including his address last night at the Republican Convention in praise of Trump’s handling of the economy, do not excite people.

They communicate instead a worthy, God-fearing, embattled decency: a calm determination to uphold the armed forces, the right to life, the right to bear arms, “the thin blue line…we’re not going to defund the police”, manufacturing jobs, the lowest rate of unemployment for women in 65 years, an America which “remains America” rather than giving in to “socialism and decline”.

Such rhetoric may be scorned by clever liberals, but millions of Americans still want to believe theirs is the kind of country described by Pence.

Although Trump at the end of February made Pence head of the federal coronavirus task force, the Vice-President has remained almost comically self-effacing in that role, and has never criticised the President for driving a coach and horses through the administration’s attempts to bring the pandemic under control.

Generally speaking, a dull performer tends to be preferred in the vice-presidential role, who will not overshadow the presidential candidate, who has himself usually been chosen by his party not because of his outstanding gifts as a statesman, but because he has the best chance of winning the election and rewarding his supporters with the fruits of office.

Pence is an evangelical, implacably opposed to abortion and to gay rights. This loyal and respectable figure, married to the same woman since 1985, in 2016 performed the invaluable role of reassuring the quarter of American adults who describe themselves as evangelicals that Trump, despite his scandalous private life, could be trusted to champion their beliefs.

The liberal mind recoils at such low calculations. It wants to see democracy as a noble contest between brilliant, high-minded figures, so ignores or downplays the many presidents who could by no stretch of the imagination be described as brilliant or high-minded.

John Nance Garner, the Texan who served as Vice-President for two terms under Franklin D. Roosevelt, is supposed to have warned Lyndon B. Johnson, who in 1960 was wondering whether to accept the invitation to become John F. Kennedy’s running mate, that the vice-presidency “isn’t worth a pitcher of warm piss”.

In a more respectable moment, Garner explained that “there cannot be a great vice president. A great man may occupy the office, but there is no way for him to become a great vice president because the office in itself is almost wholly unimportant.”

Except that eight American presidents have died in office, whereupon the vice-president has suddenly become very important. Jared Cohen says in his recent study, Accidental Presidents, that those eight figures “are all part of a history of presidential succession which has been frivolous and has left the country exposed to Constitutional crisis or vulnerable to luck and chance”.

He adds that “the matter of succession has been trivialised by voters, candidates and lawmakers”.

Stern words. But since so many of the elected presidents were ropy, or at least went through desperately ropy patches, it seems a bit unfair to single out the selection of the eight vice-presidents who succeeded to the highest office for criticism.

Two of those eight, Theodore Roosevelt and Harry S. Truman, became great presidents: about the same proportion as among those holders of the office who first entered the White House by winning a presidential election.

The American Constitution is remarkable not because it has ensured the election of an unending stream of world historical figures, but because it has survived the election, down to the present incumbent, of so many presidents who fall far below the level of events.

Gimson’s Presidents: Brief Lives from Washington to Trump is published by Square Peg (£10.99).