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Democratic election success: A conservative cautionary tale

What lessons do Democrats need to take from their successes in the midterms?

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[Warning: This column contains some information and an argument displeasing to some Democrats.]

Call me Joe Biden if you will, but today I feel like sharing some bi-partisan truth—this time coming from a conservative source, Yuval Levin. Levin is the American Enterprise Institute editor of National Affairs, who moonlights as a contributing opinion writer for the New York Times.

A few weeks ago, when we Democrats were still basking in the success we had during the mid-term elections, Mr Levin issued a warning contained in the title of his column: “Democrats Lost the Midterms, Too.” (NY Times 11-17-22). Naturally I was intrigued enough to click on this story.

Here is a brief summary of his argument, some Levin in our loaf, so to speak. After the defeat of Donald Trump in 2020, Democrats claimed a mandate and advanced ambitious programs without having the Senate majority necessary to pass them. They need to avoid any such overconfidence next year, when they lack control of the House and hold only a thin majority in the Senate.

Democrats do not have a mandate, Mr. Levin reminds readers, but achieved the victories they did on November 8 because swing voters, as well as some Republicans, joined Democrats in rejecting the lies and brutish behavior of Donald Trump and his election-denying disciples.

Then our conservative friend reminds us that in 2024, Democrats will have to defend 23 seats they hold in the Senate, while Republicans only have to defend ten spots; odds are that Republicans will take control of the Senate in two years. Maybe the Democrats should think twice before pushing for an end to the filibuster, given this likely Republican takeover.

Levin is not alone in predicting the loss of the Trump charisma, if I dare use that word. Almost every analysis I have read of this election comments on the decline of Trump and Trumpism demonstrated in the 2022 election, which saw election deniers defeated in all swing states.

We should also remember, Levin tells us, that Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, a Trump opponent, won reelection by 20 points. Although Mr. Levin does not say this, Governor DeSantis has many of the same goals as Mr. Trump, but without some of Trump personality negatives. Levin notes that Democrats do have a DeSantis-like success in the huge victory of Governor Jared Polis of Colorado in his reelection campaign. He adds that if our two parties were “up to their job, the 2024 election might look like a race between two such savvy, effective governors, both in their 40s yet already proven executives.”

He says this would be preferable to a rematch between an 81-year-old and a 78-year-old “who embody a set of options voters have repeatedly rejected,” referring to approval ratings for both Trump and Biden.

There is some wisdom in what this American Enterprise director tells us. He believes that America would be better off without the current deadlock in Washington. He would prefer a clear Republican majority while I would prefer a Democratic majority.

But to get past the current division in our federal government and secure a clear victory, we Democrats need to listen to the voters who last month rejected Donald Trump and his anti-democratic ways. They did not, however, express full confidence in the Democratic alternative.

Voters want a Congress that can actually govern the country and solve problems. This isn’t likely to happen during the next two years if House Republicans spend their time attacking Biden and wasting time with multiple investigations, toying with impeachment of the president, and shutting down the government, all things they threaten to do.

Democrats, for their part, need to accept their role as a party in the vital center of the American political spectrum, focus on policy issues, and nominate a younger person who can appeal to younger voters.

Gen Z might be the key to victory in 2024. One, Maxwell Frost, has been elected to Congress in Florida. Not only that, but if Republicans do make the mistake of nominating Trump for president, only a centrist appeal by Democrats will defeat him.

That is an important lesson to be learned from the midterm election.

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