Rod Dreher is a writer of best-selling non-fiction books and a senior editor at The American Conservative magazine. Mr Dreher is currently a visiting fellow at the Danube Institute in Budapest. He was interviewed for Hungarian Conservative by Gergely Szilvay.
What are your predictions for the midterm elections?
I am a conservative, so I don’t want to get my hopes up too much, but it really does look like a Red Wave. I expect that the Republicans will have a comfortable majority in the House, and will also take the Senate, with a two-to-four seat majority. I also expect to see a complete freakout in the American media, and apocalyptic speculation about the end of democracy. The Left has come to believe that it’s not true democracy if voters choose the other side.
What are the main issues that will motivate voters?
The polls show that inflation is the most important issue, followed by crime. That’s for Republicans and independent voters. Abortion rights are also in the top three, but that concern is largely limited to Democrats. But there is something more subtle at work here. According to a recent Gallup poll, only 17 per cent of American voters believe the country is headed in the right direction. This is a catastrophic fact for Joe Biden, whose approval ratings are quite low. My sense is that many people feel that the country is rather unstable, and not just economically. There is a lot of anger at institutional elites. The way Covid was handled is part of that, but it goes much further. The elites—by which I mean not only governmental elites, but also in the media, academia, big business, the law, medicine, and other fundamental institutions—have all surrendered to wokeness. Many Americans are sick and tired of gender ideology and critical race theory being taught to their children in schools, with parents who question any of this declared to be the enemy. Critical race theory is accepted by elites, but not by ordinary people. Even racial minorities oppose it in higher numbers than white liberals. There is a general disgust with the leadership of the country, and a lot of mistrust.
One very important thing to watch is how the Latino vote goes.
Democrats have long depended on Latinos to vote for them without question, and it has been a pretty safe bet—until now. But Latinos tend to be more socially conservative than Democratic elites, and we are seeing now evidence that working-class and middle-class Latinos are angry at the radicalism of the Democrats on abortion, gender ideology, and other preoccupations of the progressive elites. There’s a very good story in The Atlantic, a centre-left magazine, in which a Latino Democrat expressed frustration with her party, explaining that immigrants come to the US from Latin America to work hard and build a better life for their families. They don’t care about the Green New Deal, or transgender rights, or any of that. Plus, the southern border of the US is de facto open—something that infuriates Hispanic Americans who live near the border. If the Republicans get a significant number of Latino votes, that will signal a major shift in US politics.
It will also be important to see how state and local elections in very liberal cities and states go. For example, New York is a strongly liberal state, but the Democratic incumbent governor is in the race for her political life against a Republican challenger. Why? Crime has a lot to do with it. Democrats are widely perceived as being weak on crime, in large part because after the 2020 Summer of Floyd, many progressive leaders endorsed calls to defund the police. Plus, George Soros funded the campaigns of liberal district attorneys in cities around the country—the same district attorneys who followed policies that allowed violent criminals to go free. The results have been predictable.
We might see a backlash even among liberal voters against Democratic leaders over crime.
Democratic Party elites wanted this election to be about January 6, the future of democracy, and abortion rights. They are not going to get their wish.
What about the internal divisions within the GOP?
This is the most complicated question of this election cycle. The only reason there won’t be a bigger Republican win on Tuesday is because the hardcore MAGA voters chose extreme Trump-endorsed candidates in state party primaries. Some of these Trump-endorsed candidates—like J.D. Vance in Ohio—are well within the GOP mainstream. But others are really problematic, like, for example, Herschel Walker, the GOP candidate for US Senate in Georgia. He’s a former star football player, but he has a very, very messy private life, and is not the most intelligent man ever to run for Senate. He still might win, but if the Republicans had a stronger candidate, this race would be an easy win. Similarly, in Pennsylvania, Dr Mehmet Oz faces a Democratic opponent who had a stroke earlier this year and has clear and shocking brain damage—and yet, that opponent might win, because voters in that centre-left state are likely to vote for Fetterman, the brain-damaged Democrat who struggles to speak English now, because the alternative is not great.
Nevertheless, this problem within the Republican Party will be minimized in the wake of a big win on Tuesday. But it will still be present, as we will see over the next two years, leading up to the 2024 presidential race. Many Republican voters think Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who will easily win re-election on Tuesday, is by far the best choice to be the party’s presidential nominee that year. But
Donald Trump is expected to announce soon that he will run in 2024.
Trump has so much devotion among hardcore MAGA types, and they are the most motivated to vote in primaries, that it is doubtful whether or not DeSantis could beat Trump. In fact, I think that the only Republican candidate for president that the Democrats might beat in 2024 is Donald Trump, given how intense the hatred of him is among liberals and independents.
The great promise of DeSantis is that we could have all the best parts of Trump’s policies without all the stupid Trump drama, and with the kind of executive skill that Trump did not have as president. Even so, there’s no doubt that the future of the party is toward Trumpism—which is to say, populism. Nobody is talking about a restoration of the pre-MAGA status quo, thank God.
There are three rising Republican figures I’m watching closely. First, Kari Lake is running for governor of Arizona. She is a former TV newsreader, and a Trump-endorsed, full-MAGA candidate. She is also very, very good at campaigning. The Democrats actually gave money to her primary campaign, on the theory that if GOP voters nominated the most extreme candidates, it would be easier for the Democrats to win. Now it appears that Lake will win that race—and if she does, she will instantly become a national figure, quite possibly the 2024 GOP nominee’s choice for vice president.
The two others are J.D. Vance of Ohio, and Blake Masters of Arizona—both Trump-endorsed.
Those men are relatively young, and are not shaped by Reagan nostalgia, unlike older Republicans.
Vance—who is a personal friend of mine—comes from a working-class family of so-called ‘hillbillies’. He knows personally what it is like to struggle to put food on the table, and he regards the old-school GOP worship of Big Business as a huge mistake. Plus, he is against America involving itself in so many overseas wars. Early in the campaign, he criticized Washington’s opening its checkbook for Ukraine, saying that he was more concerned about the suffering working-class people of Ohio. Lots of the liberal media criticized him, but if he wins on Tuesday, look for J.D. to become a conservative voice for peace in Ukraine, and strongly against woke capitalism. I have already invited him to come to Hungary, if he wins, and see how folks do things here. Both Vance and Masters, as newcomers, will face lots of institutional pressure from the Washington GOP establishment to conform to standard Republican positions on the economy, national security, and foreign policy. If they can stand firm in their beliefs, they could really spearhead a fundamental, and necessary, change in the party.