Those expecting a Red Republican Wave were either disappointed or relieved by the results of the US midterm elections. At the time of writing, it appears likely that the Republicans will claim a very modest majority in the House of Representatives, but control of the Senate is still up for grabs. A thin Democratic majority has likely been replaced by an even thinner Republican majority, and the pundit class will proceed to read the tea leaves. But the real significance of this election is, for the most part, to be found at the state level, and these trends are encouraging for both conservatives and classical liberals alike.
Unlike the European variety, American conservatism is imbued with a liberal mentality , due to the influence classical liberalism exercised over America’s eighteenth century founding fathers. The United States of America has a political culture which values and unites individualism, egalitarianism and populism more so than that of the political cultures of Europe. Despite being an intensely religious nation, the USA embraces an institutional separation of Church and State. This separation is not based on devaluing faith, but rather in an extreme valuation of sincere faith and freedom of conscience, which accommodates believers (of all types) as well as sceptics and nonbelievers. American conservatism is impossible to separate from liberalism, at least without drastic alterations in American political cultural life.
The re-election of Georgia’s Republican governor, Brian Kemp, will likely promote an upswing in leftist election denialism
With this in mind, it is interesting to consider the midterm results. The re-election of Georgia’s Republican governor, Brian Kemp, will likely promote an upswing in leftist election denialism. Two years ago, Georgia passed an electoral reform that triggered Democrat histrionics, caused woke corporations to boycott the state, and drew criticism from President Biden (who memorably claimed that the reform was worse than Jim Crow). The reform instituted Voter ID (a policy measure supported by a supermajority of Americans, including a significant majority of African American voters) and made early voting easier in Georgia than in Joe Biden’s home state of Delaware. Clearly the reforms didn’t suppress voter turnout—Georgia experienced record levels of votes—and Kemp handily won re-election, nonetheless. Whether or not Democratic candidate Stacey Abrams accepts this result gracefully remains to be seen, but should she start singing the tune of ‘stolen election’ the mainstream media will gladly hand her the megaphone. Nonetheless, the key takeaway here is that Georgia-style electoral reforms, which make it easier to vote but harder to cheat, offer a practical way to secure election integrity.
Brian Kemp, interestingly, was also among the first governors to re-open businesses during the pandemic. This relative liberalism during the COVID-19 pandemic was also shared by Ron DeSantis in Florida, who was re-elected by a landslide. Also winning re-election was Colorado’s Jared Polis—a Democrat but one with noted libertarian sympathies and substantially less enthusiasm about lockdowns than California’s Gavin Newsom. In the Senate, re-elected Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky used his victory speech to promise he would continue to pursue Dr Anthony Fauci—arch advocate of lockdowns (and, allegedly, gain-of-function research). These lockdowns were an affront to the most basic civil liberties, and the successes of DeSantis, Paul and Kemp show that vast swathes of American opinion still treasure those liberties.
Indeed, Ron DeSantis was the star performer of the evening, winning 59.4 per cent of the vote in generally purple Florida. This is the same man who, due to his unwillingness to impose economy-destroying lockdowns (and instead pursuing a strategy of Targeted Protection), was referred to by the mainstream media as ‘DeathSantis’ and accused of conspiring to kill everyone’s grandparents. The evidence, however, ultimately vindicated the Targeted Protection strategy—Florida’s COVID death rate was comparable to California’s despite the latter having a lockdown policy so strict that only Governor Newsom and his friends were allowed to go out to dinner.
His liberty-preserving response to COVID demonstrated an ability to attract the votes of ethnic minorities
DeSantis humiliated the establishmentarian COVID narrative in real time and won vindication at the polls in a purple state. This kind of performance is a clear harbinger of a 2024 presidential run. His liberty-preserving response to COVID demonstrated an ability to attract the votes of ethnic minorities (particularly Latinos), and willingness to play culture war politics (for example with the Parental Rights in Education bill) whilst also being able to credibly claim a more moderate stance (for example, the state of Florida does permit elective abortion within the first 15 weeks of gestation, similar to most European nations) has at least some appeal for libertarians, populists, religionists and centrists alike. The only other Republican Governor who can hold a candle to this is Virginia’s Glenn Youngkin, who would certainly make an appealing choice of running mate.
Other notable performances of the evening were the better-than-expected showings of Lee Zeldin in New York (who gained some 47 per cent of the vote in a deep blue state) and Christine Drazan in Oregon (who may theoretically still win). In Nevada, Republican candidate Joe Lombardo seems likely to win over Democrat incumbent Steve Sisolak. Another notable, if notably negative, Democrat performance was that of Beto O’Rourke, whose popularity among the media class never seems to translate into popularity among voters.
Although the most interesting events of these midterms were at the state level, on a macro scale the Republicans’ recapture of the House of Representatives (and possible recapture of the Senate) represents a return to divided government. The appeal of divided government is based in the thoroughly American view that too much power in one set of hands is inherently dangerous and that it is best when different loci of power act as checks on potential abuses committed by other power centres. This viewpoint is shared by investors—American markets tend to perform better under divided governments.
The question of why the Red Wave did not happen has frustrated many conservative election commentators already, but it is hard to ignore the likelihood that the repeal of Roe v. Wade diminished enthusiasm for Republican candidates. Even though Roe v. Wade was a metaphorical abortion of jurisprudence, and its repeal makes the question of abortion policy one for state legislators rather than governors or federal representatives or senators, it is plausible that anger at the repeal manifested at the ballot box. Even deep red states like Kansas and Kentucky have rejected attempts to eliminate or further restrict abortion. Clearly many Republicans are less pro-life than the rhetoric of the religious faction of their party suggests.
It certainly didn’t help that Democratic-affiliated groups often ran television ads attempting to promote ‘more extreme’ candidates
Another plausible reason for the attenuation of the Red Wave into a red ripple was that many of Donald Trump’s endorsed candidates were simply inadequate. Take, for example, Herschel Walker, who pushed a hard pro-life stance yet was discovered to have a history of bankrolling abortions for females he had impregnated. Then there was Dr Mehmet Oz, a television personality with a history of promoting ‘miracle cures’ who proved unable to defeat a stuttering stroke victim (the conservative satirical news website The Babylon Bee suggested a head of cabbage would’ve beaten Oz). It certainly didn’t help that Democratic-affiliated groups often ran television ads attempting to promote ‘more extreme’ candidates (and/or diminish ‘more moderate’ candidates) to Republican primary voters. The party that cried the loudest about an imminent threat to democracy was more than happy to assist the manufacture of such a threat. ‘Ultra MAGA’ won’t go away—the Democrats need it too much.
The surprising flaccidity of the election result really is a surprise given how terrible the Biden presidency has been. Inflation is at levels that haven’t been seen in decades, the President is clearly suffering from dementia, the President’s son stands accused of being both a crackhead and running a pay-for-favours-from-daddy scheme, the Justice Department is used to punish the administration’s enemies, war rages in Europe, gas prices and food prices are increasing, several of Trump’s good policies (tax cuts, regulation cuts, Title IX due process reform) have been abandoned, violent crime is on the increase, immigration law is neither reformed nor enforced, small businesses are crushed and children have suffered years of learning loss due to pandemic panic, transgenderism has become a fashion trend, recession nips at the heels of the US economy, and the press/media class proves its naked partisanship by attempting to redefine ‘recession’ to pretend it is nothing of the sort. And yet Biden now seems encouraged to run again in 2024.
America, then, remains bitterly divided, with hatred of the outgroup cementing loyalty to the ingroup. Policing one’s own side is treachery and cherry-picking the very worst extremities of the other side has become a form of entertainment. It does not help that these extremists do in fact exist and, at least for those on the Democrat left, wield genuine social power and influence. There are, of course, crazy pastors who believe that sexual minorities should be executed. Yet, there are far more crazy teachers who belong to Antifa, and teach children that they can identify as trans, and think that The 1619 Project is actual scholarship. A midterm election is perhaps the last thing capable of healing America’s partisan divisions.
However, the Republican party is still in the business of winning the midterms.
How could the upcoming 2024 election pan out given current trends?
Those who desire a ‘Don vs. Ron’ primary are just sabotaging Republican chances. Justifiably or otherwise, Donald Trump has been rendered unelectable. Ron DeSantis, on the other hand, is a successful purple state governor with both minority appeal and genuine populist credentials. In this context, Trump was merely a symptom of an underlying energy that DeSantis can successfully harness just like Trump himself did, especially with Glenn Youngkin as a running mate. Youngkin is a Republican governor of a Democrat-leaning state who got elected because of his stance on radical woke ideology (critical race theory) in K-12 education. A DeSantis/Youngkin ticket could combine anti-woke credentials, bipartisan and multi-ethnic appeal, social moderation and reasonable economic perspectives, without the electoral baggage attached to the name ‘Trump’.
Gubernatorial elections for 11 states will also occur in 2024. North Carolina, which currently has a Democratic governor, could turn Republican due to woke overreach similar to Virginia. All of the other governorships are held by Republicans already or are very safe Democratic states (such as Delaware, Washington and Vermont). As for the House and Senate, it may be too early to start forecasting. What we can say is that in America, lockdowns are unpopular, wokeness won’t win elections, election integrity cannot be dismissed as ‘racist’, and the future of the Republican Party is DeSantis.
After the disastrous failure of the Bush-inspired neoconservative project (to remake nations in the image of the USA using military force), Americans revolted. They first elected Obama, who campaigned on a strident anti-war message but ended up giving the military-industrial complex whatever it wanted. Because Obama delivered none of the change his voters hoped for, Trump was elected (and unlike Hillary Clinton, Trump was willing to concede that the invasion of Iraq was a waste of money). Trump gave war a cost-benefit analysis that included average Americans, not just defence contractors, and consequently he did not get the US involved in any new wars during the course of his administration. Trump was a nationalist, but no ‘authoritarian’—he was a liberal nationalist who rejected the neoconservative project precisely because it was not in America’s interest.
And why was this project not in America’s interest? Because nations differ. Each nation has its own culture and, consequently, its own political culture. Even the more liberal Anglosphere nations have differing political cultures (compare Australia to the USA for an example). This is why the neoconservative and Biden Democrat belief that any culture can become the spitting image of the USA through ‘the power of democracy’ was and is false—not all nations are the same, just like not all people or not all demographics are the same. The reality of diversity is much deeper than the left likes to admit.
Supra-national governance projects like the EU should be questioned
And this is why supra-national governance projects like the EU should be questioned. Diverse nations are not standardized parts for a machine. Just as the USA is indeed exceptional (in the sense of having a unique and historically unprecedented political culture), all nations are unique. Each nation has its own history, demography, geography and economy, and both US Democrats and central planners in Brussels need to wrap their heads around this social fact.
Andrew Russell is an independent economic consultant and Lana Starkey a doctoral candidate at the University of Queensland. Both are based in Brisbane, Australia