In 2020, Democrats were given a chance to lead. And while it’s too soon to declare this presidency an abject failure, things are not looking good. Joe Biden continues to be plagued by COVID-19, disappointing jobs reports, and anemic approval ratings. If all goes as expected, the Republican Party will recapture Congress next year. But then what?
As long as Biden is president, Republicans can simply be the resistance party. But at some point, a political party has to lead. As far as I can tell, Republicans don’t have a proactive agenda—in part because they haven’t been forced to come up with a coherent program and get the rest of their house in order. This laissez-faire attitude toward leadership is a disservice to the American public and the GOP.
In a different world, the GOP’s recent behavior (starting with nominating Donald Trump in 2016) would have resulted in an enduring political backlash, much like the one Republicans suffered after the presidency of Herbert Hoover (the last president to lose re-election and both chambers of Congress). Republicans would have been chastened and forced to get serious and earn back our respect. Instead, for reasons that have little to do with deserving power, they are poised to take back Congress in the 2022 midterm elections. And as far as I’m concerned, the 2024 presidential election is a jump ball.
There are no “permanent majorities” in American politics (Ronald Reagan was elected just six years after the Watergate scandal forced Richard Nixon to resign), but what kind of message does rebounding so quickly (and easily) send to political parties?
A lengthy trial in the wilderness might have forced the GOP to up its game in order to compete. Instead, multiple factors, including the Democratic Party’s failure to lead, as well as a market distortion (structural biases in the distribution of population), have conspired to prevent the GOP from hitting rock bottom, depriving them of the opportunity to get clean and sober.
Ironically, Republicans are now the poster child for the perils of protectionist policies. In a free market, superior products get rewarded, while inferior and inefficient purveyors become victims of “creative destruction.” This process incentivizes innovation and quality, benefiting consumers. But what happens when, no matter how bad the service gets, a company becomes disconnected from this critical feedback?
We are seeing the political version of that right now; the GOP’s “mean girl” fights between Reps. Lauren Boebert, Marjorie Taylor Greene, and Nancy Mace are making headlines, on the heels of Boebert and Greene making racist comments about a colleague, Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar. It’s doubtful that either will be removed from their committees.
Meanwhile, the GOP is set to field a new crop of questionable candidates, like former football star Herschel Walker. And yet, Republicans continue to be the heavy favorites in 2022. These are not the behaviors of a serious party that fears being out of power and is doing everything possible to deserve victory. If and when Republicans win, despite failing to get their own house in order, it will only reaffirm their belief that they don’t have to.
Nobody wants to hit rock bottom, of course, but it is often the prerequisite for change.
Instead, like the man who gets paid just enough to keep him from quitting, who does just enough work to avoid being fired, the GOP remains mired in incompetence. It’s the Peter Principle for political parties.
The fact that the Supreme Court could be on the cusp of overturning Roe v. Wade is yet another indication that Republicans are making progress. Likewise, Glenn Youngkin’s victory in Virginia in 2021 and Trump’s surprisingly strong performance in 2020 (for a Republican) among minority groups, especially Hispanics, only serve to calm the nerves of any Republican who might otherwise worry about the electoral impact of the GOP’s erratic behavior.
Republicans’ lack of competence and sanity should have them reeling politically. Instead, the worst you can say is that they missed critical opportunities—like earlier this year, when (thanks to Trump) they blew both U.S. Senate seats in Georgia, costing them control of the upper chamber.
Of course, a similar criticism could also be levied against Democrats. For 10 months now, I have documented the mistakes Joe Biden and Democrats have made—mistakes that prevented them from capitalizing on the GOPs problems, seizing the abandoned middle ground, and becoming something akin to at least a temporary governing majority. Biden had a golden opportunity to incorporate disaffected Republicans into his moderate coalition, but he managed to piss it away in the matter of a few months.
Just as playing against a good tennis partner will raise your game, the opposite must be true. Both parties seem committed to minority status. Either party could, conceivably, capitalize on the other’s vulnerability. But why should they when they can often win without really trying and avoid ever hitting rock bottom. To paraphrase Leonard Cohen, one of them cannot be wrong.
I am reminded of an old joke about a farmer who buys a horse for $100. He puts new shoes on it and sells it back to his neighbor for $120. His neighbor adds a saddle, and sells it back to him for $140. This goes on several times until the original neighbor sells the horse to someone else for $500. The incredulous neighbor asks, “Why would you sell it to someone else? You and I were both making a good profit off of that horse!”
The obvious point here is that it is laughable to think that by going back and forth either party is really getting ahead. We just keep trading back and forth, occasionally making some small improvements, but mostly just kicking the can down the road.
America needs two strong and sane political parties; instead, we have none.