It may have been the Republicans’ assault on abortion rights that made the difference in this election. Or perhaps it was the obvious, unmistakable threat that Republicans posed to our democracy by their enthusiastic embrace of Trump’s Big Lie. Or can it be simply the fact that they fielded some really, really lousy candidates. Those are all good, plausible explanations for the complete absence of the much-anticipated “red wave” that was supposed to have summarily swept Democrats out of power in 2022, paving the way for a brave new Republican Congress. And those are the reasons being cited—more or less collectively—by the media, as they struggle to explain away the GOP’s abject, unprecedented failure here.
But those explanations, while certainly valid, all skate away from a more imposing elephant (no pun intended) in the room, one that’s been treated with curious diffidence by the beltway press: the reality that the Republican Party has at this point in time transformed itself into a soundboard for some of the ugliest, nastiest, most hate-driven people in the country. People who literally make your skin crawl with their performative cruelty and sheer meanness. People who no decent human being would want their children to emulate, let alone associate with—or vote for.
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A lot of those people gathered on election night at the McCormick Ranch resort in tiny Scottsdale, a suburb of Phoenix. Dubbed an “Election Night Watch Party” by its organizers, including Arizona gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake and soon-to-be failed Senate candidate Blake Masters, the soiree that took place there was originally intended as a triumphant celebration of Republicans’ anticipated smashing electoral success. As the night wore on, however, and as it became obvious that things were not unfolding as planned, the now familiar, trademark GOP ugliness surfaced almost immediately.
As reported by Dana Milbank in his column for the Washington Post, as the “wave” failed to materialize, the event’s planners soon turned off Fox News’ election coverage (which is, of course, the only coverage that the guests would watch) and substituted music. Whatever that music was, however, was soon drowned out by those who, one by one, took their turn at the stage microphone. As Milbank reports, the tone was set from the beginning:
They eschewed basic decency. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is “losing the gavel but finding the hammer,” Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.) told the crowd, joking about the attack on Pelosi’s husband that left him with a fractured skull — just as GOP gubernatorial nominee Kari Lake did a week earlier. The crowd laughed. [...]
They hurled insults every which way. “Merrick Garland needs some new pantyhose.” “Beto [O’Rourke] is a furry.” Sen. Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.) is a “little man” whose “ears don’t match.” President Biden is a “lost child” with a “very dirty diaper.” Democrats are “lunatics.” [...]
At a time that typically calls for magnanimity and reconciliation, they instead cried out for vengeance. When Anthony Fauci’s name was invoked, they chanted “Lock him up!” They vowed to be a “nightmare to Joe Biden” and to impeach his aides. “Sorry libs,” sneered the emcee. “Sucks to suck.”
As Milbank reports, state party Chair Kelli Ward declared, without a trace of irony, that her fellow Republicans had “remade the party in our image.” Even as beleaguered election workers in Maricopa county performed the tedious task of counting all the votes, they were slammed with insults accusing them of fraud and criminality.
Then Kari Lake, the former anchorwoman and newly rising Republican star, chimed in with her own nasty invective:
A few minutes after 10 p.m. local time, Kari Lake took the stage with a fresh stream of invective: “Corruption.” “Cheaters and crooks.” “BS and garbage.” “Incompetent people running the show in Arizona.” “Propagandists.” “Fake media.” “Incompetency.”
As Milbank observes, “It was an appropriately ugly end to this grotesque campaign, just one last attempt to generate disgust—not just toward Democrats but toward the democratic process.”
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This kind of rhetoric from Republicans has been the salient feature of the entire 2022 election. Inspired by Trump’s lies about nonexistent election fraud, and by Fox News’ continuous demonization of all things Democratic, it’s understandable why Republicans would think it might be effective, no matter how ugly or dangerous it became. But as it turned out, the voters did not direct their disgust at Democrats. Rather, they directed their disgust toward the GOP, in the clearest way imaginable. And although Milbank doesn’t mention this, the most pathetic aspect of this display was the fact that every single one of those speakers would doubtlessly call him/herself a “Christian.”
It may be the case that the Republicans who spoke at that resort were simply reflecting the values of their constituents. If so, that suggests some truly awful things about the average Republican voter. But most people still expect at least a modicum of decency in their political leaders. They expect them to model their behavior in such a fashion that reflects their own values. That was why the majority of American voters threw out Donald Trump in 2020, four years after those same voters failed, only because of the Electoral College, to prevent him from becoming president in the first place.
The resistance to Trump was not only a reaction to his policies, but to the nastiness and repulsiveness of his entire persona, his complete lack of empathy, his racism, and his performative cruelty. That same reaction resulted in the election of a Democratic House in 2018 and a Democratic president in 2020. Now it’s resulted in what we’re seeing unfold in the 2022 results, with Republicans outdoing each other in their efforts to be as nasty as possible, and the Democrats winning yet again.
So, if Republicans want to know why they failed so spectacularly, they might first try listening to what comes out of their mouths.