Op/Ed

Editorial: Dems have unexpected hope as GOP’s Red Wave fizzles

ANGELO LYNN

The big news on the national front is two-fold: 1) the promised Red Wave fizzled, and 2) Trump is being blamed. And because politics in America is a “blood sport,” especially how today’s GOP plays it, the sharks within the GOP are after Trump like he’s chum in the water.

Fox News commentators pinned the GOP’s lackluster performance on one thing: in many of the races, Trump had championed inferior candidates with little political experience in the primaries because they pledged their allegiance to him and his Big Lie, instead of stronger candidates often preferred by the GOP establishment.

Meanwhile, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has shot to the fore of the GOP with a win of historic proportions and carrying Republicans in down-ticket races to victory, turning what had been a swing state into a solid red foothold for the party. With a new champion to adore (DeSantis), and a caustic force (Trump) to blame, the Republican Party’s landscape is what has flipped — suddenly becoming more uncertain than it has been since Trump beat Hillary Clinton for the presidency in 2016.

Apparently the rule of thumb in today’s GOP politics is that you can tell lies, cheat on taxes, deny public scrutiny of your income, steal top secret presidential records from the White House, have multiple sexual affairs (and be a sexist, homophobic, racist, white supremist pig), attempt to bribe foreign leaders to sully a political opponent, and still curry the party’s favor — but don’t ever appear weak.

But that’s the label the Fox commentators have pinned on Trump, blasting him as a weak leader, picking weak candidates with weak platforms. Weak, weak, weak. Rather than the perverted muscle-bound posters that had previously characterized Trump in his four years as president, today’s poster might better reflect Popeye’s hamburger-loving sidekick, Wimpy.

Is it, one wonders, the death-kiss to Trump?

One could hope.

But Trump understands the GOP populace better than most of us, and his fragile ego rests on his ability to reverse this political setback. That could mean duking it out with DeSantis if both opt to run for the Republican presidential nomination — a surefire recipe that will tar both candidates’ reputations and split the party ahead of the 2024 election.

Add that inter-party squabble to what appears to be a chance that Democrats will maintain control of the U.S. Senate (only the seventh time in the country’s history that the Senate hasn’t flipped in a midterm election) and held its losses in the House to a bare minimum, and you have what is almost a best-case scenario for Democrats coming out of Tuesday’s election.

Losing the House is not ideal, of course, but the margin of that loss, and the potential win in the Senate far beats pre-election expectations.

Furthermore, looking ahead to the probable Dec. 6 runoff in Georgia between Republican wildcard Herschel Walker and Democrat incumbent Sen. Raphael Warnock, a weakened Trump would still be needed to support a very flawed candidate (Walker) over the next four weeks — a high-stakes contest that would control the balance of power in the Senate. However, it would also put Trump right in the center of the blame-game if Walker loses. All of which gets even more complicated if Trump decides to go ahead with plans to announce his candidacy for president in 2024 next week. Will Trump continue to align himself with a possible loser; would Walker want him?

It’s a sorry state of affairs that the nation’s political sanity rests on whether Walker — a candidate with no political experience and little understanding of the issues — is defeated or not, but if you’re a Democrat, the GOP’s political conundrum is its own kind of sweet justice.

••••••••••

Vermont politics, on the other hand, have become too predictable. Gov. Phil Scott won by a landslide, besting Democrat Brenda Siegel, 69% to 23%, while Democrats swept the remaining statewide offices, maintained their supermajority in the state Senate (23 out of 30 seats), and gained a veto-proof majority in the House — going from 99 seats during the last biennium to 108 seats (out of 150).

Two points stood out in this election:

• The race for lieutenant governor was closer than expected. Democrat/Prog David Zuckerman bested Republican Sen. Joe Benning, R-Caledonia, by just 10 points — 51% to 41% — not the 20-point spread that some polls predicted early on, and not by the 30-point margins that other statewide Democrats beat their Republican opponents. Had Benning been able to raise money for a credible campaign, and had the party helped him do so, this could have been a close contest. That’s as much a reflection on Zuckerman’s lack of popularity as it is on Benning being a relatively strong Republican (that is, pragmatic and reasonable in the mold of Phil Scott) candidate.

The tight race also casts doubt on Zuckerman’s appeal at the top of the Democratic ticket and provides an opening for other Democrats/Progressives wanting to run for higher office.

• Of those other possible candidates, four Democrats crushed their Republican opponents by almost equal amounts, 65% to 35%, in statewide races for State Treasurer, Secretary of State, Attorney General and Auditor of Accounts. That bodes well for leadership within the Democratic Party, but it also points out a disappointing reality: about 35% of Vermont voters will vote Republican regardless of the candidate’s qualifications. In each statewide race, Democrats fielded strong, capable candidates. However, in two races, Republican H. Brooke Paige, a perennial candidate who is a conspiracy theorist with almost no qualifications for the two offices he ran for (state treasurer and secretary of state), received the same number of votes as did each of the four Republican candidates for those offices.

That’s a clear sign that those Republican voters are voting for the party without any thought of the candidate’s qualifications. Surely, voters can strive to take our elections more seriously by studying the issues, knowing the candidates, then casting a vote for who will serve the state best.

**********

In local elections, the sea-change in representation hit a high point as voters elected Democrats to represent them in every House and Senate seat in Addison County. Just 25 years ago, in the late 1990s after the Take Back Vermont tide swept the state, Republicans held most Addison County seats. The current sweep by the Democrats, however, doesn’t have to do with a single issue, but rather because Democrats have recruited quality candidates, while the state GOP party (and too many local Republicans) have followed a failed Trumpist agenda.

If Trump is dethroned, and DeSantis or others offer a new way forward, perhaps local Republicans can regain a political footing.

Angelo Lynn

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