Last October, the cover of TIME magazine forecasted a gloomy picture for the Democratic Party. The apparatus had shrunk to its worst shape and size since 1929, TIME editors argued, with no relief in sight. My, what a difference a few months make. After a resounding defeat last November, the Democrats are still flailing and continue their desperate search for a meaningful message and platform. However, it is the Republican Party that is on a collision course with American voters come this election cycle.
Many pundits in Washington are rightly predicting a "wave election." This occurs when the party of the president currently in office loses seats during the first term. The election of Donald J. Trump upended many traditionally held maxims regarding elections and voters. As such, surprises could be in store this election cycle. But there's something deeper at work here: "The Stormy effect," "the tax cut yawn" and "the rise of isms". Left to themselves, each current lacks the political punch necessary to change the current power structure in Washington. Yet if these three currents converge and subsequently move across the country, with no counter-response from Republicans, then the party's majority in both the House and the Senate are in perilous jeopardy.
The Stormy Effect
News surrounding Stormy Daniels, a former porn star, and allegations of an affair with Donald Trump landed with a dull thud in the weeks and months leading up to the 2016 election. To me, the reason was evident: no one believed that Trump was a choirboy when it came to his personal life. Yet we are gradually seeing the effects of his behavior surface in the political atmosphere. Sitting members of his own party are retiring altogether, seemingly to avoid a messy and awkward forum where they are forced to explain to parents and children the predilections of a man expected to lead a nation -- a man who seemingly lacks a moral compass. Trump's random personal conduct, which is regularly manifested in his tweets, causes many to visibly wince. After a while, it undoubtedly takes a toll and becomes a distraction even to the very electorate that put him into office.
The Tax Cut Yawn
Right or wrong, the root word of politics today is "new." As a conservative, that truism causes me great concern. We cannot, as a country, keep writing checks that our children and grandchildren will inevitably be expected to cash. Unfortunately, that seems to be the political reality today. With that in mind, the Republican Party is relying on old news to spur voters toward the polls this year. Let's start with the tax cut package passed last year. A year is an eternity in Washington -- most politicians cannot remember the bill that they voted on last week. While the tax cut was one of the largest in history, will it really make a material difference in the lives of voters -- so much so that they are willing to treat the tax cut as a one-issue reason for re-electing a Republican Congress? Early indications are no.
Excuse me, but haven't Republicans had multiple chances to address significant policy items in the national conversation today? Or at the very least to hearings on them? What happened to the good old days, when the GOP would dwell on a topic, deconstruct an issue that was seemingly intractable, such as welfare reform or saving Medicare, and then fix it? Today it seems the GOP leadership is more interested in sequestering behind closed doors and working on flawed spending bills. There is nothing for the average voter to seize upon and nod his/her head in affirmation toward; instead, they are continually distracted by a Twitter presidency. A distracted voter is almost as useless as a non-voter. If Americans lack a clear reason to show up at the polls to elect a local congressman or Senator, then they may not show at all.
The Rise of "isms"
Individually, the problems of "isms" is nothing new. However, we have not seen them to such a great degree. Protectionism, isolationism, populism and now tribalism have, in one form or another, permeated sections of voters, spurring political nods to those blocs. In the past, however, they never really forced the GOP to do much more than that. The dynamic is different today. The pandemic threat of these "isms" is the third current that, when linked to the others, represents a clear and present danger to Republicans. Here again, the word "distraction" plays a part. Too many voters are drawn to political poles, with random, disorganized and distracted messages that the Republicans have shown zero capability of harnessing and channeling together into a larger movement. What occurs instead is just noise. Folks get louder; fake news becomes the battle cry; and those who truly wanted to make America great again fall prey to a hysteria that they never fully appreciated in the first place. Insulting to the average voter? I don't think so. I think they're more disillusioned than offended, and if left unchecked by GOP Party leaders, that mindset could spiral into a minority status that lasts for decades.
These three currents that, if allowed to flow together, will promise only one outcome in November -- major losses for the Republican Party. The challenge is that these currents are not easily addressed as some deal with a political rhythm and national psyche more than specific policy. Yet the lack of a concrete agenda with clear wins for American workers and families promises to only exacerbate the Grand Ole Party's chances this year.