WHY REPUBLICAN CANDIDATES FACE A GRIM FUTURE

The Founders at that famous constitutional convention in Philadelphia in 1787 wanted their proposed Representatives to be very local, partly so that what they called “People of the Better Sort” could keep the more angry and uneducated divided. They had in mind districts containing about 30,000 people. After more than two hundred years each Representative now represents more than 700,000.

That number is large enough that very few personally know their elected member. The voters are voting for candidates who are advocates for a particular political tribe. By skillfully holding up cultural symbols and financed by political givers from far outside their districts, members are really set free. They can hold office and be reelected over and over while doing almost nothing.

Very few Representatives spend any time actually talking to ordinary voters in any meaningful way. And, if they do the result can be uncomfortable mutual confusion. If a member runs into voters at, say the county fair, and asks them what they would like done, they will have no idea. That allows both to retreat into fact-free generalities.

It is not that members do not return to their districts. In fact they will be home almost every weekend (they get free trips home, one of the perks of the job). And, they will interact with a few people back in the district. Those will be people who do know what they want and can be comfortable asking for favors. They will also be familiar enough with the way the system works to talk easily with “their member”.

That means that most members have no real connection with the vast majority of voters out there in their districts. In fact, beyond a faint residue of misty memories from high school most of those voters know very little about the government at all. What they do know as adults they learn from each other and what they learn may have very little connection with the way the political system actually operates.

There are, across the country, a great number of voters who rightfully have felt disconnected from the government and from the candidates some still vote for. Many of those voters are from areas where the advantages to be gained from the new digital economy are unavailable. In 2016 Donald Trump presented himself to those voters as their last best hope.

They hoped in vain. The truth was that when Donald Trump ran in 2016, he had very little understanding of the government that he was campaigning to lead. He did campaign to the left-out and the dissatisfied with his famous rallies. He, as they said over and over, spoke their language (their language included a great deal of swearing). Some have assumed that arousing those audiences was part of Trump’s tactical genius. It was also because, given his lack of real knowledge, those people were the only audience who would respond to him.

Donald Trump was effective in gaining the lasting personal loyalty of many of those voters. And, therein lies the great dilemma for Republicans now running for reelection in 2022. Donald Trump, from Mar-A-Lago, is trying to maintain himself in the public mind as leader of the Republican Party. He can do that and keep the financial contributions coming in by implying that he will once more be a candidate in 2024.

For Republican candidates it is the worst of all possible worlds. To please the Trump voters they will feel driven to emphasize “cultural” issues. There will be a good deal of support for gun rights. There will be more discussion of the “radical left” and the horrors of socialism. Voters will hear once more about Antifa (Antifa is the great ghost ship of radical organizations. Would-be radicals will claim to be part of it but it doesn’t actually exist. There isn’t any Antifa.).

Republican candidates who want to campaign about real issues will find by next year that their Democratic rivals have a monopoly on most positive programs. Republicans, hoping to win back suburban voters may feel it necessary to attack the very programs that might win those people back. And, because the Trump loyalists really respond mostly to cultural issues, Republicans running traditional campaigns may find themselves ignored.

The Republican’s problems will be most acute during the 2022 campaign particularly if Joseph Biden is perceived as having been successful. By then, if Donald Trump becomes entangled in financial and legal problems, or simply loses interest in politics, his followers may also lose interest in politics. It is traditional for the “out party” to regain seats in the House and Senate two years into a new President’s term. For Republicans next year, that will be a real challenge!

It should be an interesting year!

H.J. Rishel

4/17/2021