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Resist Electoral Doomism
Responsible conservatives—as opposed to alarmists—always understood that the American political system remained fully operational
The Republican Party just had itself a very good election cycle.
Glenn Youngkin became the first Republican to win statewide (commonwealthwide?) office in Virginia in over a decade, the New Jersey gubernatorial race was far closer than it should have been, and Joe Biden's favorables sank further underwater.
Just a year ago, Biden won Virginia by nearly 10 points and New Jersey by 16 points. Well, Virginia just elected a Republican governor, and while the GOP ultimately fell short in New Jersey, the race was too close to call on election night.
This must have come as a serious shock to Jesse Kelly’s Twitter followers, to Blaze Media listeners, to the Claremont Institute’s readership.
Had your exclusive source for understanding the political moment been the typical right-wing fever swamps, you would've never imagined the GOP could still enjoy a week this good. You would’ve been convinced that electoral politics, post-November 2020, were now a permanent dead-end.
But responsible conservatives—as opposed to Trumpian populists, national divorce fetishists, neoreactionary basement dwellers, illiberal integralists, 1/6 apologists, and so many others on the deranged right—always understood that the American political system remained fully operational.
After Biden won, antidemocratic doomism packaged as solemn patriotic lamentation dominated these spaces. You couldn’t go five seconds without hearing that “conservative values are no longer welcome,” “the right would never be allowed to win again,” and “all that was left was formalizing our break-up,” and so on.
It was all so embarrassingly juvenile. Trump was defeated at the polls, sure, but Democrats had failed to seize the sort of advantage that could make their congressional majority midterm-proof. It was obvious then, and it remains obvious today, that the GOP would always be mere inches away from recapturing power.
I wrote the following in a fit of frustration in the days following the 2020 election:
Consider that after everything that’s happened in the last four years, after 240,000 Americans have died from an incompetently managed plague, after the economic cataclysm that followed, after the president’s four-year abduction of every single news cycle, after yanking kids from their parents’ arms as a technique of immigration dissuasion, after sacrificing the national interest in pursuit of personal favors from foreign countries, after hosting a years-long Griftapalooza festival on the White House grounds for his comrades and cronies, after the installation of Jared Corey Kushner to manage literally anything of national consequence, after ensuring the degradation of our global image, after chipping away at a postwar order responsible for beating back communism and entrenching American hegemony, after portraying his own intelligence agencies as X-Files-level conspirators, after portraying actual conspirators as vox populi, after the cascading waterfall of lies, after everything we’ve seen, Joe Biden had to rely on mail-in ballot advantages, tallied up across multiple days, in a couple of toss-up races around the country in order to clinch a victory against the person responsible for all of the above.
Years of rising anti-Trump animus, of Democratic activists cultivating electorally powerful anti-Republican sentiment, of pulsating regime change energy, of supposedly snowballing resentment . . . and when the Day of Judgment came it passed us by entirely. We could not even deliver a Trump loss in regular time—we needed multiple overtime periods to finish him off. Over 72 million Americans considered all of the above, plugged the information right into their political calculus, and then said, “You know what? Trump has earned my vote.”
Trump lost. I am not claiming he won. But an unnerving number of Americans bore witness to the chaotic wreckage of Trumpian governance, and nearly half of them said, “keep going.”
Does ours seem like the kind of country where Republicans no longer have electoral channels open to them? Does ours seem like the kind of society where conservatives are so oppressed that the only path left is to seek revolutionary dissolution of our national bond?
Bush won, then Obama won, then Trump won, then Biden won—this is the ebb and flow of electoral politics, the most democratically-valid channel through which responsible citizens seek social change.
The voices taking our current moment’s slightly more pronounced level of national disunity and shaping it into an apocalyptic message of irrevocable civil hostility are doing so because it is lucrative. It is also deeply irresponsible. Yes, polarization is up, but no, our electoral system has not been captured—if anything, the structural advantages principally benefit Republicans.
Moving away from electoral doomism will be difficult given our informationally balkanized epistemic environment. Unlike past eras, every prominent subculture is now able to exclusively glean information about the world from ideologically like-minded sources. That’s a major problem since these are sources incentivized to amplify their audience’s fears and sell it back to them as analysis.
Given that losing the country or some fate along those lines is the Republican base’s deepest fear, and given the information environment outlined above, this seems like it will be a difficult problem to solve. But preventing baseless revolutionary sentiment from further unsettling society is an important cause, and if the alarmists are right about one thing it’s that our country is worth fighting for.