Fri Feb 03, 2023
February 03, 2023

U.S. | Midterm elections: Expected Democratic rout falters

By John Leslie

Originally published by Workers’ Voice/La voz de los trabajadores

As this is being written, some U.S. House races are still too close to call. Either the Republicans or Democrats need 218 seats to control the House, and neither party has crossed the bar yet. Projections are for a GOP-controlled House, but not the decisive “Red Wave” the right had hoped for. The balance in the Senate also appears close, with a couple of key races, Arizona and Nevada, still undecided. One key race, Georgia, is headed for a run-off election between GOP candidate Hershel Walker and incumbent Democrat, Raphael Warnock. Traditionally, midterms are a loss for the party that holds the White House, but the expected rout failed to materialize.


In Pennsylvania, MAGA gubernatorial candidate Doug Mastriano, a retired army officer, Christian nationalist, election denier, and abortion extremist, lost by a large margin to Democrat Josh Shapiro. One of Mastriano’s campaign promises was to void all voter registrations in the state, forcing everyone eligible to re-register to vote. Surprisingly, Pennsylvania voters chose Lt. Governor John Fetterman for the open Senate seat over television personality and Trump acolyte Dr. Oz. The GOP and Oz ran a dirty campaign, trying to link Fetterman to “extreme left” politics and painted him as soft on crime. There were billboards along I-95 in Philadelphia sporting pictures of Fetterman alongside political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal. The crude racism of this attempt to “Willie Horton” the Fetterman campaign also coincides with a GOP attempt to impeach the democratically elected district attorney of Philadelphia, Larry Krasner.


It’s interesting to note that in four states where abortion rights were on the ballot in some form, pro-choice positions prevailed in the popular vote. A Montana measure that “would impose criminal penalties on health care providers who do not act to preserve the life of infants born during the course of an abortion” appears to be on the verge of rejection, as this is being written.


The Democrats are claiming this result as a vindication of the Biden agenda and of the party’s messaging about the GOP threat to democracy. Biden still has low polling numbers, even among Democrats, as the advent of the 2024 election cycle begins. With a divided legislative body, there are few prospects for any Biden initiatives in the waning years of his administration.


In a post-election news conference, President Biden stated his opposition to a national abortion ban and a measure that would cut Social Security and Medicare, but added, “I’m ready to compromise with Republicans where it makes sense on many other issues.” He closed his remarks with an appeal for an end to “endless political warfare.”


Although some 180 election deniers were elected to various offices, the election results still seem to indicate a widespread rejection of more extreme GOP candidates by voters, with some Republicans crossing over to vote for more moderate Democrats. GOP pundits on news programs are already talking about the need to “moderate” the party’s stance on abortion, backing away from positions offering no exceptions for the life of the mother or in cases of rape or incest. The rejection of MAGA-endorsed Senate and gubernatorial candidates is a real blow to Trump’s expected presidential bid. While these defeats weaken Trump’s hold on the party, they by no means indicate that he has lost control of his base on the right wing of the GOP. Trump’s biggest rival inside the GOP, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, won reelection by 20 percentage points without Trump’s endorsement. This sets the stage for a contest between Trump and DeSantis in the 2024 primaries.


Perhaps more concerning for future elections is the fact that four election deniers have won secretary of state races in Alabama, Wyoming, South Dakota, and Indiana, setting the stage for a rerun of 2020 election denialism in 2024, especially in close races.


The 2022 GOP array of candidates was dominated by far-right Trumpist candidates. Even candidates who did not get the coveted endorsement of Trump made sure to brand themselves as being in the mold of Trumpism. Meanwhile, the Democrats failed to resonate with voters. The Democrats, hoping to capitalize on the overturn of Roe, ran campaigns mainly centered on social issues and offered little to attract working-class voters. The GOP used the economy and inflation as a cudgel against the Democrats, who had no real program to address economic concerns aside from boasts about Biden’s economic package. The Democrats cannot and will not raise any real program to help the working class because their paymasters on Wall Street wouldn’t like it.


An article in Jacobin made this point clear, “While a small group of Democratic senators is pushing the Federal Reserve not to further wreck the economy one week before the midterm elections, party leaders remain silent on the matter—suggesting that top Democrats are more eager to maintain good relations with powerful corporations and the ultrarich than preserve their congressional majorities.
“The Fed has repeatedly hiked interest rates to constrict wages and therefore supposedly help ease inflation. But that relief hasn’t happened, largely because the primary driver of the higher costs Americans are experiencing is markups: companies, particularly those with market power, are raising prices because they can. … The Fed’s actions suggest that the only inflation that really matters is workers’ real wages—not corporate profits, which have contributed about 40 percent to price growth since spring 2020, well above historical averages.”


Economist Michael Roberts wrote that “it is the economy (stupid!) that matters for most of those likely to vote over any other issue. According to the polls, the economy and inflation is seen as the top issue by 51% of likely voters, much higher than the tortuous issue of abortion (15%) where the rights of women to choose have been emasculated by a right-wing Supreme Court and various Republican states. And the so-called conspiracy over vote rigging that the Trumpist right reckons is the key issue is only important to just 9% of voters; followed by gun policy 7% and immigration 7%. Climate change, the issue for the whole planet’s future, is most important to only 4% of voters.”


Roberts notes that with inflation at 8% and interest rates rising, real working-class income has been falling. He further states that “living standards for the average American have now been flat for nearly three years.” While the unemployment rate is low, income is failing to keep up with inflation in expenses like rent, fuel, and food. Supply-chain problems continue to plague the economy as well.


Democrats boost the right


Democratic operatives actually helped finance far-right candidates on the theory that these candidates would be easier to defeat in November. “Political groups and nonprofits aligned with the Democratic Party have spent nearly $44 million on advertising campaigns across five states’ Republican primaries to boost the profile of far-right candidates in California, Colorado, Pennsylvania, Illinois and Maryland” (https://www.opensecrets.org/news/2022/07/democrats-spend-millions-on-republican-primaries/).


This ludicrous strategy only served to elevate and strengthen the right while exposing the cynicism and ineptitude of the Democrats. This can only reinforce the further evolution of the GOP, which has increasingly become the home of conspiracy theorists, anti-Semites, Christian nationalist,s and white nationalists. Political notions that were only spoken in conferences of the isolated far right, like the “Great Replacement” theory or the idea that the U.S. is a Christain nation, are now more mainstream. The mainstreaming of political violence has continued. An article in The Guardian reported: “Among all US citizens, 43% said civil war was at least somewhat likely. Among strong Democrats and independents that figure was 40%. But among strong Republicans, 54% said civil war was at least somewhat likely.”


The growth of far-right militia groups and their penetration of the Republican Party reinforces this dynamic. The GOP, going back at least to the Gingrich “Contract on America,” have increasingly rejected the idea of compromise with the other party of capitalism. This was evident during the Obama years when the GOP became the “party of no” and determined to hobble Obama at every turn. While the GOP has evolved towards a “total war” of “rule or ruin” ethos, the Democrats continue to play by the rules of a bygone era when the two parties worked in tandem to serve the interests of the ruling class. Certainly, the attack on Speaker Pelosi’s husband, which became the subject of “jokes” and conspiracy theories by rightist candidates, has to be understood in the context of an increasingly violence-prone far right.


This election was also marked by voter intimidation carried out in the name of “election security.” In Arizona, militia groups tied to the rightist Oath Keepers surveilled ballot drop boxes wearing camouflage uniforms and in California, GOP canvassers wearing reflective orange vests and official-looking badges that read “Voter Taskforce,” went door to door demanding information from voters. Truthout reported that in Georgia, under a law “signed by Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp last year, self-appointed vigilante vote fraud hunters have, for the first time, the right to challenge an unlimited number of other voters: ‘There shall not be a limit on the number of persons whose qualifications such elector [voter] may challenge.’” This meant that GOP challengers knocked out more than 149,000 voters. One GOP official alone challenged some 32,000 voters without even attempting to speak to them first. It’s not too surprising that the majority of the victims of this Jim Crow-like effort are  young and Black. The GOP ran a campaign based on fear mongering about crime and not-so-subtle racist talking points. They tried to double down on election fraud claims and pushed hard on the abortion issue.


The most important election of our lifetime™


Lacking any real answers for the electorate on questions like inflation, wages, climate crisis, or job security, the two capitalist parties rely on sensationalized claims or on culture war narratives to win elections. The truth is that they can’t and won’t offer anything to workers and oppressed people. Both parties serve the interests of capital in different ways. Think of it like the “good cop, bad cop” in crime dramas. One cop threatens you and pushes you around while their partner, the “good” cop, offers you a cold drink and talks softly. They both have the same goal and it’s not to help you.
The system offers us a “choice” between political servants of capital. V.I. Lenin put it this way, “The oppressed are allowed once every few years to decide which particular representatives of the oppressing class are to represent and repress them in parliament.” This holds true today.


Certainly, the statistics on wealth distribution points to the fact that the twin (fraternal, not identical) parties of capital have been doing their jobs. Michael Roberts wrote, “inequality of income and wealth has never been so extreme in modern US history. The top 1% of American wealth holders now take 31.8% of all household wealth compared with 23.5% in 1989, while the bottom 50% of wealth holders have just 2.8%—down from 3.7% in 1989. According to the Federal Reserve, inequality of household wealth in the US has never been higher during and since the COVID slump.”


The Democrats are remarkably skilled at taming the energy of social movements and channeling that energy into electoral action. They pretend to be friends of labor or the oppressed, but they fail time and again to produce real progress. To underscore this, we note that, shortly before the election, “friend of labor” Labor Secretary Marty Walsh called on Congress to avert a rail strike in the event that the unions and management fail to reach a deal on a contract. Walsh stated that if “for some reason [one of the unions] doesn’t get to an agreement with the companies, then … Congress will have to take action to avert a strike in our country.”


For a workers’ party


U.S. politics continues to lurch to the right despite public opinion. Most people favor progressive programs like national health care, union rights, or abortion rights, but a large percentage of the U.S. electorate doesn’t bother to vote because they see nothing to gain from voting. In 2020, for example, more than 80 million out of 240 million eligible voters did not bother to vote. The Democrats are not the alternative we need, despite the fantasies of the social democrats and liberals. To the Democrats, the “left wing” of the party is a vestigial organ. It exists but will play no real role in the future of the party.


To advance the struggles of workers and the oppressed, we need an independent mass workers’ party that fights every day, not just on election day. We need a party that holds its leaders and “electeds” to a strong standard of political behavior. Such a party won’t be wished into existence. It has to be consciously fought for in the unions and elsewhere.


Photo: Reuters 

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