DESPITE WHAT CONSULTANTS SAY, some of us suspect that politics happens all of a sudden — bang, it’s on your doorstep, it was this way right up until it wasn’t.
For instance, one day in the early 1960s it was not OK for an able-bodied man to receive welfare. The next day it was OK, changing everything. And it wasn’t that long ago when we were arguing about whether to relax the cadence of our alma mater’s marching band to accommodate the pace of female musicians. Now the commanding general of the U.S. Air Force intends to sexually balance the commissioning of fighter pilots. Big change.
This status quo ante was famously described by the late M. Stanton Evans as rule by an evil party and a stupid party. “Occasionally, the two parties get together to do something that’s both evil and stupid,” he said. “That’s called bipartisanship.”
Up until now the formula for winning election certainly has been bipartisan. It is to amass a campaign fund three to four times that of your opponent, craft policy statements that can be muddied, promises that can be reneged, then overwhelm the voters with media buys, billboards and yard signs, finally pandering to ethnic groups and interest blocs.
So, are things about to change? Are voters getting wise to this game? Will the guys with fewer yard signs start winning?
Alright, my evidence for electoral calamity is skimpy and anecdotal, and it may apply only at the most local level, but here goes . . .
For three decades, Indiana’s Religious Right has taken in millions to fund the most professional lobbying and campaigning organization that its money could buy. It told donors it was building an unassailable moral supermajority. But last week, on the day that counted, it did not have the votes to satisfy its core conviction, i.e., that life is sacred without exception.
And on the Democratic side, the examples are too numerous to list. The turn toward ethnic identity, woke classrooms and socialism are not playing well in the Biden era. Ask Terry McAuliffe.
That all happened rather suddenly.
In the last general election cycle, a councilman in my city won re-election despite being censured by his own party and dismissed by the local newspaper. His opponents, representing crony capitalist interests, raised $100,000 against him — all for a district council seat. Elsewhere, a friend, a former newspaper publisher and longtime political observer, called from Missouri to report that his candidate in a GOP primary for the state legislature won in a landslide last week after being outspent 10-to-1. His analysis of the election:
“Local conservative voters have had enough. They accept they’re unable to hold federal officeholders accountable because money still matters in federal campaigns; the amounts are too staggering. Conservative voters simply vote for the best of the worst statewide and federally. These same conservatives, however, frustrated by do-nothing politicians at home, are becoming laser-focused on local elections that actually make a difference in their lives.”
His cites two other winning political campaigns in his state over the last four months. The leading newspaper there pooh-poohed the results as the work of rich, white, Trumpian racists. “Conservatives know this is a media lie,” the friend says. “It’s much more nuanced. Conservatives don’t trust liberal media and they’re suspicious of ersatz media like Fox. Local conservative candidates understand they must win their elections without a political press that supports them.”
And the friend’s candidate did not need expensive tracking polls or high-paid consultants: “We visibly monitored our campaign’s growth by monitoring the number and placement of yard signs. It was interesting to note that few of our opponent’s signs penetrated our neighborhoods. Overwhelmingly, he relied on locations provided by wealthy land developers wanting TIFs and lobbyist influence, and he illegally placed hundreds upon hundreds of signs on public thoroughfares.”
My friend realizes that the election industry, the PACs and the lobbyist class will call his victory a one-off, but he disagrees: “The signs are clear, local conservatives aren’t sitting back to be abused and forgotten. They’re protesting in a very civil way — at the election box. They’re observing globally and acting locally.”
The consultants in both parties will be working hard this next cycle to prove my friend wrong. If he is right, though, there’s not much they can do about it. — tcl