Just attacking Republicans on QANON won’t be enough for Dems in 2022.

Word in Washington is Democrats have a strategy for 2022's tricky midterm elections: brand Republicans as the party of insurrection and QANON. This is the right way to go, and I was saying it a matter of days ago. Republicans can’t be fought by “not embarrassing them”, they need to be smashed, but it is paramount it goes hand in hand with Democratic legislative results, or it’ll ring hollow with disillusioned voters. “These people staged an insurrection” is a potent and powerful attack line, but just “these guys are bad” never works as well as you’d hope; it needs to be the rocket boosters underneath an impressive record of progress these next 18 months.

Throughout US political history, certain key crises have doomed a party’s chances going forward, whether fairly or otherwise. From 1932 right up until the late 50s, Republicans were continually smashed, branded with the stain of the Great Depression that Herbert Hoover didn’t create, but presided over, the result being that voters abandoned the Republicans for a generation, and they became the “party of fiscal meltdown”; this anti-GOP consensus was locked in by FDR and the Democrats ushering in the big, bold, progressive New Deal consensus, with Republicans winning under President Eisenhower when they became notably moderate and liberal, swallowing much of the New Deal norms.

After 1980, right up until 1992, Democrats were the party of “stagflation” because the economy happened to remain dire under President Carter when he’d promised to fix it, with voters (however unfairly) rejecting Democrats as the party of “unemployment, inflation, and taxes”. President Reagan used this to usher in the era of neoliberalism, dismantling that previously untouchable New Deal consensus, and Democrats only won again when they’d digested the book of Reaganomics and spat out neoliberal third way New Democrats. Democrats had the opportunity to do another big shift under President Obama after the 2008 financial crash and the disastrous Iraq War, but they lost their nerve and the Tea Party, and later President Trump, took up the mantle of disillusionment instead and sustained the GOP.

2021 is one of those gifts, where Democrats can brand the GOP as the party of COVID, fiscal chaos, insurrection, extremism, and conspiracies; it’s right they want to factor this into their campaigning for 2022. But politics is vastly more polarised now, and most Republican voters wouldn’t budge if Eric Trump killed one of their relatives, therefore anything crafting a new consensus has to be REALLY powerful. The attacks will only be effective if Democrats show they really can keep their word, and really can materially improve working people’s lives. This is that chance, and Democrats should throw everything and then the kitchen sink at furthering their big, bold, legislative agenda, will reminding voters every day between now and election day November 2022 that it’s all no thanks to the obstructionist Republican party. There, in that mix, lies the strategy that’s required.

Can the QANON and insurrection based attacks really wound Republicans politically? Yes, they can. This is a unique time in US politics, and these events are getting so extreme that they really do risk tainting the GOP’s brand; not even close to in the way that may optimists might think, but it can certainly happen if the political stars align. However rightwing America and its electorate are, insurrection and QANON are extremely minoritarian positions, and people don't want to be associated with, or vote for them. We saw living proof of this when after the insurrection, Trump voters took their signs down; most of them likely not abandoning Trump, but all of them aware this wasn’t okay, this wasn’t normal, this wasn’t “respectable”. They didn’t want to be associated with the events that transpired at the capitol, and neither do Republican elected officials in swing districts.

In 2022, the good news is it looks like Dems may be able to hold, or even expand, in the Senate. They have a very favourable map coming up, and Chuck Schumer shouldn’t be going anywhere. The House is the big concern, with redistricting handing Kevin McCarthy a cakewalk to succeed Nancy Pelosi in the Speakership come January 2023. So right now, the smart bet would be on a divided government, with Biden-Harris obviously still in the White House, Dems holding and expanding in the Senate, and the GOP surging to control of the House by a healthy margin, maybe even an anti-Pelosi blowout.

Is a Republican revival unstoppable in 2022? Thankfully, no. Politics is so unplugged right now that conventional norms are meaningless. The likely outcome is divided government from 2023 onwards, with Democrats failing to deliver between now and then and flopping at the polling booth, but it doesn’t have to be that way, and the onus is 110% on the Democrats to change all our minds between then and now, by keeping their flimsy 2020 coalition together and utilising it to keep Republicans out of power. The negative 2022 expectations are premised on Democrat’s propensity to fuck this stuff up on a cosmic scale, all while scoring so many political own goals Republicans feel second fiddle in opposition to the Democrats, to, well, the Democrats.

So yes, Democrats have the right idea on the QANON attack line, but unless it goes hand in hand with those crucial tangible benefits to voter’s lives, then it’ll be no sufficient bulwark against the GOP. It’s always been a shaky strategy, but it’s absolutely the best they’ve got. Thing is, if they actually wanna make this the attack line, they've gotta start ATTACKING shamelessly like the GOP, get down in the mud with them, rather than collaborating with them or capitulating to them for the next year.

When Republicans vote to acquit the insurrectionist in chief, that’s when the attack ads on Republican representatives should begin. Don’t just think about governing, keep one eye on the elections.

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Toby Lipatti-Mesme

Toby Lipatti-Mesme

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Insightful and innovative UK journalism and commentary, from Toby Lipatti-Mesme.