A War of Two American tribes: Republicans were Going for sweeping victory, but…

Supporters of both parties agree on only one thing: their political rivals pose a real threat to democracy and, if they are not stopped in time, they will “destroy America.”

Traditionally, as is the case every two years, elections to both houses of the US Congress are held on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November. Again, two great electoral blocs clashed, two political tribes: the Reds (the traditional color of the Republican Party) and the Blues (Democrats). Again, although symbolically, because this isn’t a presidential election year, it was a battle between two giants and party leaders on today’s American political scene: President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump.

Can we speak of revenge for the 2020 elections in light of the Republican victory? Democratic Party strategists wanted to put this choice before Americans. The problem is that Biden’s party actually has a much tougher and more pressing opponent: inflation.

Even though the Great Seal of the United States contains the Latin “E pluribus unum” (“From many, one”), the traditional motto of the United States, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to believe that we are dealing with one nation. It seems to be closer to the 45/45 formula, according to which supporters of both major political parties have a stable electorate of approximately 45% of voters.

The two political tribes are increasingly divided, and polarization is increasing year by year. President Barack Obama’s second term was already a sharp clash between Reds and Blues, where the stakes were “the continued existence of the American project.” In retrospect, the disputes of that time seem like child’s play.

The election of President Donald Trump and his tumultuous four years in the White House, aimed at the political and cultural establishment, and above all, the terrible consequences of the Coronavirus pandemic – according to statistics, 1.1 million Americans have died – only exacerbated the polarization.

Polarization is increasing

In the fall of 2022, we have a society struggling with the effects of long-term lockdowns: hundreds of thousands of bankrupted small and medium-sized businesses, school children two years behind in development, broken supply chains, increased mental illness and addiction, and a feeling of insecurity due to rising crime and a virtually unrestrained rise in illegal immigrants freely pouring across the Mexican border.

Finally, there is inflation – the effect of deliberate over-spending from the public purse during the pandemic. It’s estimated that since President Biden came to power, Democrats have signed off on $3.8 trillion in spending (that’s $3,800 billion). Such a sharp increase in the money supply, with a society immobilized by the pandemic, had to result in a sharp increase in inflation. According to government statistics, it is now 8.2%, but skeptics say that despite the manipulation of the data by the government and the Federal Reserve, we are already actually dealing with double-digit price increases. All of these factors mean that at the end of the second year of President Biden’s administration, despite his assurances about the need to “reconcile” Blue and Red America, the polarization is still increasing. Research on issues important to public opinion shows the existence of two electoral blocs with completely different values, needs, and even ways of perceiving the world.

For Republicans, the problems are: inflation, rising crime, the state of the economy (with a near-certain recession), but also parental control over education in schools. For Democrats, it’s the threat to democracy by Trump and his followers (a mainstay of Biden’s speeches warning of “MAGA extremists” – Trump’s slogan “Make America Great Again”), the possibility of limiting abortion access (after the Supreme Court ruling eliminating guarantees of availability at the federal level and transferring them to the competence of individual states) and climatic threats.
Former President of the United States Barack Obama addresses a Nevada Democrat support rally at Cheyenne High School on November 1, 2022 in North Las Vegas. Photo: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images
Supporters of both parties agree on one thing: it’s their political rivals who pose the real threat to democracy and, if not stopped in time, they will “destroy America.” Geographically, the division roughly looks like this: the left-wing “blue” states of the East and West Coast, the Republican center (especially the South) with metropolises like Chicago being Democratic strongholds. And thus divided, America will again fight a political battle on Tuesday, November 8, 2022, although – depending on the state – early voting or vote by mail, has been going on since September 23.

The pendulum swings every few years

The parliamentary elections in America’s constitutional republic are governed by cycles. When you get into the Senate or the House of Representatives – and the fight takes place in single-member constituencies – you gain the advantage of being recognized and belonging to a congressional group, being (a charm of a two-party system) in the majority or the minority.

  This is related to a structural advantage over potential competitors: access to campaign funds, support from national leaders, and in particular, using the image power of the president, if he is from your party. The support of the White House (let’s not forget that the presidency is the only office that all Americans vote for together, and only once every four years) for a congressman or senator gives other advantages, including in the local media market, sucking up almost all of the competition’s political oxygen.

On the other hand, the midterm elections to Congress – held in the middle of each president’s term – become a referendum on their politics. And although this year the fight took place in 435 single-member constituencies for the House of Representatives and in 35 states electing senators (34 for permanent, 6-year terms and one election to complete the term of a senator who resigned), as usual, they were also a referendum on just under two years of the president’s administration. And this year, it’s also a referendum on the entire Democratic Party, which controls both houses of Congress under the “winner takes all” principle and exercises total power over Washington politics.

Historically, midterms have always been a problem for the party in power as it tends to lose support due to the daily grind of governance. Sometimes, however, elections resemble a sharp “swing of the pendulum” (to use the term of electoral trend researcher, Larry Sabato) or an “electoral tsunami” that sweeps away politicians across the country associated with an unpopular president.

There have been three such waves in recent times. It brought the Republicans to power twice: in 1994 (they won an additional 54 seats in the House and 8 in the Senate, taking power in Congress for the first time since... 1953) and in 2010 (an additional 63 seats in the House, the biggest such change since 1948). Democrats had their wave during Donald Trump’s presidency when they took control of the House of Representatives with 41 additional seats in Congress in 2018. Polls predict that 2022 will be remembered in the annals of history as the time of the “red tsunami,” a huge victory for the Republicans. And yet, it turned out differently.

Instead of a big tsunami that was expected — it was a minor wave. The Republicans should have taken control of both chambers of Congress, but the poor quality of candidates (mostly supported by Donald Trump) allowed Democrats to limit their losses at the local level. This election only deepened the balkanization of the United States.

Inflation like a nuclear explosion

Why was victory forecast? If I were to use just one word it would be inflation. Soaring prices (the last time it was like this was under President Jimmy Carter in the 1970s) are like an atomic bomb exploding for those in power – the wave of responsibility sweeps everyone away.

The main reason is the declining purchasing power of the dollar, which affects all Americans, and especially those who earn the least. For them, each visit to the grocery store or gas station is a reminder of why inflation is called “the tax on the poor.” A look in your wallet or at credit card statements is enough to understand that with inflation at 8.2%, every working American essentially works a month a year for free. And election ads aren’t needed to understand this truth – everyone feels it in their day-to-day life.

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But, of course, the Republicans left nothing to chance, and the issue of inflation – along with rising crime and parental control over raising children (a reaction to increasingly persistent attempts to introduce LGTB+ ideology into schools) – was at the fore in their electoral campaigning. Moreover, election ad spending was another issue that showed the complete contrast of Republican and Democrat positions. The latter, having believed their own propaganda that the Supreme Court’s abolition of constitutional guarantees of abortion rights would ignite the electorate and ensure their victory, spent $320 million on advertisements for the right to abortion, that is... ten times more than on how to fight inflation ($31 million).

This strategic mistake cost the Democratic Party a great deal. It’s not just that for many women, especially those who already have a family, the issue of the increasing cost of living is definitely more important than access to abortion, but a large part of those for whom the right to abortion is more important than a healthy economy, live in states dominated by Democrats anyway, which guarantee this right at the state level.

Media disconnect from reality

When writing about the “two Americas,” it is impossible not to mention the role of traditional and social media in exacerbating polarization. Their contemporary nature, consisting of the need to constantly increase engagement and viewership, forces behaviors that play on divisions, intensifying party narratives. Modern mainstream media has practically given up its pretense of objectivity and has become (with the exception of Fox News, the conservative Wall Street Journal and the New York Post) the press agency of the Democratic Party or, more broadly, the left-wing establishment.

Someone who watches TV all the time might think that America’s most important problem is still... Donald Trump and the hordes of his supporters who are just waiting to overthrow democracy. Also, social media, with Twitter at the forefront, (which is dominated by users with left-wing and even extreme leftist views in America) promote the most radical message, because this is what algorithms pick up for dissemination.

It seems that the main challenge for Democrats and their media supporters is not worrying that their messages of the day (something like “Trump bad, democracy and access to abortion are at risk, and Trump, Putin, Trump, MAGA”) are less important to voters – as research confirms – than inflation, rising crime and the deteriorating economic situation.

A few examples from recent days? When Republican candidate for governor of New York, Lee Zeldin, citing a list of the city’s recent high-profile crimes, asked current Democratic governor Kathy Hochul, “why aren’t we talking about imprisoning those who committed these crimes,” she forthrightly replied, “I don't know why that’s so important to you.”

When one of the leading TV journalists tried to persuade Republican Governor of New Hampshire, Chris Sununu, that a more important problem for voters than inflation should be the fact that many Republicans are still “rejecting the 2020 election,” he shot back, “Let me tell you – you're in a bubble, man. I love you, Chuck [Todd of NBC], but you're in a bubble if you think anybody's talking about what happened in 2020... I know the press loves talking about it. People are talking about what is happening in their pocketbooks every single day when they have to buy groceries or fill up gas.”
Former President of the United States Donald Trump on October 8, 2022 during a rally of Nevada Republican candidates at Minden-Tahoe Airport in Minden. Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
The verdict of journalists and columnists of the The Phildelphia Inquirer, Pennsylvania’s largest newspaper, was a complete aberration, ruling that the Democrat John Fetterman (perhaps the most leftist-radical of all Senate candidates) won the senate candidate debate, although viewers could see with their own eyes that this politician – who suffered a stroke in May but hasn’t quit the race – is unable to speak cogently for more than a minute at a time.

The red tide rises

The key to the election result was the fight for the 10-15% (max), which – despite the growing political polarization – still resists sliding into the “America 45/45” division and doesn’t only vote for “their own” team, be it the Reds or the Blues. This group is open to split-voting, that is, not just voting for Congressional and state offices by party affiliation, but rather on the individual quality of the candidates.

This year it seemed that independent voters would stand firmly on the side of the Republicans. In keeping with tradition, a clear trend in the center’s voting began to materialize in mid-October. Persistent high inflation, the deteriorating state of the economy amid unbearable government propaganda, emphasizing its own successes and blaming Putin and “greedy” oil companies for the rise in prices, pushed the independents to vote for the Republican candidates. And yet…

How big of a “red wave” was predicted? Taking control of both houses of Congress seemed a foregone conclusion, it’s about the scale of the victory. This is best seen in Democratic strongholds. Polls indicate that left-wing Oregon may elect the first Republican governor since... Ronald Reagan’s presidency (1982), and Republican Lee Zeldin has a serious chance of taking the governor’s seat in New York (a Republican hasn’t run the state since 2006). Research has shown that support for Democrats is crumbling among the most important voting blocs, such as African-Americans and Latinos.

The change of beliefs by the group which paved the way for Donald Trump’s removal from power in 2020 – white women living in the suburbs –was supposed to be devastating. This group, totaling nearly 20% of the electorate, supported Democratic candidates by an 11% margin as recently as August. Now, they prefer Republicans by a 15% margin, a swing of 26% in just a few months.

“We tried to warn them about school closures, covid overreach, the sexualization of our young children, CRT [Critical Race Theory] and radical trans ideology in our schools. They didn’t listen. Now they will hear these women loud and clear from the ballot boxes across America,” wrote Megyn Kelly, former Fox News star and now a freelance journalist, in commenting on this data. And yet the election results didn’t confirm all these predictions. There was no political earthquake. The political pendulum remains slanted in one direction.

- Paweł Burdzy from New York

TVP WEEKLY. Editorial team and journalists

–Translated by Nicholas Siekierski
Main photo: The index finger raised by the participants of Republican meetings symbolizes the slogan “America First.” The photo shows a rally with Donald Trump in Ohio at the Covelli Centre in Youngstown on September 17, 2022. Photo: Jeff Swensen/Getty Images
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