Should Democrats Look for a Local Angle?

I like to follow politics, but I’m not an expert by anyone’s standards.

For example, trying to understand the byzantine explanations of how Republicans in some states could simply change the result of a national election if they don’t like how it turned out makes my brain hurt.

On the other hand, I know a little something about the media, having spent over three decades writing for a couple of daily newspapers. True, these weren’t the New York Times or the Washington Post, but that experience was enough to make me realize that certain patterns extend to the media in general.

The media wants to get your attention, which generally means putting bad or alarming news front and center, especially if it involves conflict. In addition, news coverage tends to be all about the immediate, which leads to future projections based only on what is happening now.

At a conference on “futurism” I once covered, one of the participants made what I thought was an excellent point: “We can’t really predict the future in any definitive way, because there will always be some wild card that comes along and changes everything.”

For example, the experts in the 1970s who were predicting what things would be like at the turn of the next century generally failed to consider the impact of the Internet. That’s because it didn’t exist then.

Similarly, it seems unwise to predict what might happen in the 2022 midterm elections or the next presidential election in 2024, based on now. When it comes to politics, the landscape is even more jumbled and changeable than usual.

The national media created a binary America in which every potential voter is either a Trumpist or an admirer of Nancy Pelosi. In the process, it eagerly provides a microphone and a forum to basically anyone who says something outrageous. How else can you explain the high visibility of Marjorie Taylor Greene?

I had to smile at one interview with a Trump supporter at the former president’s recent rally in Ohio.

If Trump wasn’t “reinstated” as President this summer, the interviewee said, “We’re going to be in a civil war, because the militia is taking over.”

Really? Does his militia have any tanks? Missiles? Fighter jets? Armed drones? Does he really think a motley group of malcontents with AR-15’s and shotguns is capable of defeating arguably the world’s strongest and best-equipped military?

This could only happen if the entire Army, Navy, and Air Force went rogue. And why would they? The current government bestows trillions of dollars on the military and its toys and tends to let it do pretty much whatever it wants in the area of foreign engagements. Moreover, a significant percentage of the armed forces these days is composed of black and Hispanic members, including many high-ranking officers. Are these individuals really likely to turn the nation’s defense over to a disorganized “army” of angry white supremacists?

For that matter, Donald Trump can no longer summon the military to do anything because he is no longer its commander in chief.

A lot of the hand wringing and fear-mongering going on these days flies in the face of common sense. The Trump follower from Ohio who was predicting Civil War II, for example, was quoted prominently by several national news services, including CNN. But he was just a guy at a rally, apparently living in his own world. Although he has a vested right to say what he wants, who cares?

Meanwhile, a lot of Democrats are sounding an alarm because the state legislatures in some of the recent political “battleground” states have latched on to Trump’s “Big Lie” about the 2020 presidential election and passed laws designed to make it harder for anyone who isn’t a Republican to vote. Best of all, they are trying to set it up so that somebody — it’s not clear exactly who — will be able to stand up on the first Wednesday in November and say, if necessary: “You know, I didn’t like how that election turned out, so I’m giving it to our side.”

Somehow, this will enable the remainder of Trump’s followers to guarantee their hero’s victory in the Electoral College in 2024 (that is if he hasn’t already been reinstalled in the Oval Office). A fascist dictatorship will follow, and most of the country will have to move to Canada. Or so we hear.

But let’s step back a little. In the first place, it’s really a long time between now and November 8, 2022. Given the pace of events these days, it will undoubtedly be a different world by then.

Trump has managed to keep his base engaged by teasing them with the “reinstatement” myth (while he’s collecting lots of money from true believers in the process). When that doesn’t happen in August, it will be yet another body blow to the QAnon crowd, and I would think there is only so much disappointment they can take before their solidarity begins to evaporate.

Now that he’s not president anymore, Trump is — like the Civil War II supporter — just another guy at a rally. He still holds sway over a certain subset of voters because they believe he will be president again. If that doesn’t come to pass and he can no longer do anything for them, he faces the very real threat of irrelevance.

Absent Trump, there are no apparent leaders in this “movement.” Can anyone figure out exactly what it is that they want, anyway?

One of the major problems with the Internet is that it can make the trivial seem monumental and the unlikely seem like a certainty. Sure, the Trumpists (America’s new third party) are trying to pull off some sort of power grab. Still, it seems obvious that those who oppose it have significant options.

The courts, for one thing. The ballot, for another.

Between now and November of 2022, a lot of wild cards might be slipped into the deck. Trump could be facing criminal charges for some of his financial adventures or shoved to the sideline by some future revelations that even he can’t shrug off. We could be in a war with somebody. Despite the rightward tilt of the U.S. Supreme Court, some of these new voting rules might be so outrageous that even Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Conan Barrett will turn thumbs down.

Who knows?

Remember, also, that while 18 states have passed restrictive voting bills, 28 (as of July 1) have enacted measures to make voting easier for everyone. Of the 18 “restrictors,” most are states that a 2024 version of Donald Trump would probably win anyway.

But not all. In Arizona, the GOP (which, in that state, is becoming synonymous with “Trump”) has just a 16-14 edge over the Democrats in the state senate, 31-29 in the House. Gerrymandering can not proceed, and this brave new world of election oversight installed if the Republicans lose. So beat them.

Similarly, the Republican lead in Michigan is 20-16 (Senate) and 58-52 (House), with two seats vacant. The State Senate numbers in Alaska, Pennsylvania, and even Texas are tight, as well.

A quick search of the Internet did not reveal any information about whether or not the national Democratic Party is planning to sink any significant money into state legislative elections. Maybe they should.

The thing is, voter turnout in these midterm elections is typically much smaller than in years when the presidency is up for grabs. And if these proposed restrictions in some states hold up, there’s nothing that says the Democrats can’t use that to fire up its supporters, reluctantly agree to play by those rules, and still outnumber the other side — especially if Trump has lost relevance by then.

Also, there seems to be a qualifier in the “let the state legislature determine the ultimate outcome of the election” proposals: This can only come to pass if some irregularities turn up. But if everybody follows the new rules, how can there be an irregularity? Beat them at their own game.

It’s true that the 2020 election was conducted differently because of COVID-19, allowing individuals to cast absentee ballots who would never have been allowed that privilege before. If they were smart, the Republicans would have used that as a reason to bring back the old rules, rather than invoking a rationale (Trump really won the election) that is easily disproven by the facts.

Every race in every state election is different, and a scattergun assault from national party headquarters won’t work. The Democrats have lots of time to find and build up strong candidates in races that can be won, rather than wasting time and money on those that can’t. Politics aside, some state officeholders are highly respected by those who elected them and are unlikely to be dislodged.

It might also be best to stay away from “culture war issues” and focus on the relatively non-partisan local ones. Local candidates too often allow themselves to be drawn into arguments about abortion rights, gun laws, and, most recently, “critical race theory,” none of which come under the jurisdiction of local governments. Most potential voters don’t care about critical race theory one way or the other, unless it (and they) become polarized by a particularly strident campaign in which that suddenly becomes a litmus test.

Because the lines tend to be firmly drawn between those who disagree on such issues, there is little chance of a candidate pulling votes from across that philosophical barrier. So rather than preaching to the choir, or stirring up the other side unnecessarily, perhaps it would be best to find some local issues with a positive spin (this community really needs … and I’m in favor of making that happen.”)

Perhaps a good line to use might be: “I do have some personal opinions about that, but it has nothing to do with local government.”

Maybe the best thing about local elections is that the national media doesn’t cover them.

Darrell Laurant
Founder at Snowflakes in a Blizzard | + posts

Darrell Laurant is a veteran journalist who previously worked at the News & Advance (Lynchburg). He published over 7,000 pieces in three decades. Darrell has covered papal visits, the Olympics, American sports, and political issues in Virginia. He has also written a variety of books, including "Inspiration Street: Two City Blocks that Helped Change America."

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