These Midterms Belong to the Freaks
Republicans are betting it all on a pack of mutants—and their plan might work. Brace yourselves.
Well, here we are, standing at the precipice of another one of those elections which Democrats are once more calling “the most important election of your lives,” just like they seem to do every two years. Is it annoying? Sure. But it’s not wholly inaccurate
Republicans have made little secret of their extremist plans should they regain control of one—or, god help us, both—chambers of Congress. From weaponized investigations into political enemies real and imagined to codifying their Christian nationalist domination over womens’ bodies into law to whatever the hell it is they’re going to do with elections, a conservative majority in Washington would be a catastrophe for millions. Meanwhile, Republicans running for state-level office are working to ensure the party’s permanent minority rule, bolstered in no small part by the unchecked acceleration of the violence they’ve embraced and enabled.
Yeah, it’s not great. And by all indications, it’s going to get a whole lot worse after polls close on Tuesday. Republicans are heavily favored to regain the House and have an increasingly good chance of taking the Senate as well. (And that’s before you get to the thousands of local races across the country where the GOP can further cement its grip.)
That the Democrats even have a minimal chance to mitigate their presumptive losses is a less a testament to the strength of their candidates this year, and more a byproduct of the sheer craziness being put forward by the GOP in several key races that could very well decide the balance of power in Congress. Ultimately, the 2022 midterms aren’t so much the Democrats’ to win as they’re the Republicans’ to lose.
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Consider Georgia, where incumbent Democrat Raphael Warnock is running neck-and-neck with former college football star Herschel Walker, Trump’s hand-picked candidate. You might expect Walker to have cruised to victory in a Southern state during a horrible year for the Democrats—and I should stress that there is a very, very good chance that he still beats Warnock. But the entire campaign has been defined by Walker’s lifetime of habitual, easily disproven lies, and an overwhelming inability to put together a coherent sentence.
In a just and perfect world, Warnock—a relatively understated, subdued senator—would be cleaning Walker’s clock without having to lift a finger, but in our reality, the fact that this same understated, subdued senator might actually beat back a Georgia superstar bearing the imprimatur of the most influential Republican on earth is a sign of just how risky a choice Walker was to begin with.
A similar dynamic is playing out in other key Senate races as well. In Arizona, boring centrist Democratic incumbent Mark Kelly might survive an astonishingly well-funded challenge backed by a GOP kingmaker, thanks in no small part to Republican candidate Blake Masters’ penchant for palling around with full-blown Nazis, and sharing cringy pics of himself posing next to other people’s guns.
Masters’ weakness is highlighted by the relative strength of the potentially more extreme, more insane GOP candidates running for statewide office in Arizona, where both a conspiratorial militia member and TV anchor-turned January 6th truther are leading their Democratic opponents — even as the Senate race remains in a statistical dead heat.
Over and over the same pattern is playing out: in Pennsylvania’s race between populist leftist gargoyle John Fetterman and gazillionaire snake oil salesman Dr. Oz; in Ohio, where dullest man alive Tim Ryan is hoping to keep moon-faced fascist J.D. Vance from screwing Ohio even worse than Ron Howard screwed his book; in Nevada, where Republican dynast Adam Laxalt’s familial bona fides should have seen him topple Democratic incumbent Catherine Cortez Masto in a walk, but instead yielded an attack ad by his own family.
It’s not so much that Democrats are running electrifying candidates whose messages are resonating with voters (save Fetterman, who actually seems to give a passing damn about his constituents) as the Republicans couldn’t help but turn what should have been an easy sweep into an ahistorical slugfest.
But none of this is to suggest that you should go into Tuesday night assuming that Democrats can pull off what would be as close to a miracle as exists in modern politics. Far from it. Republicans could wind up winning every single one of the Senate races I just mentioned—along with close contests in places like New Hampshire and Wisconsin. The combination of high inflation and racist propaganda around crime has tilted voters towards the GOP across the country. (Abortion—something a competent party might have tried harder to connect to the concepts of economic and personal security—has seemingly receded as a top issue.) Even governors’ races in blue states like Oregon and New York are much closer than they have any right to be.
So we should be bracing ourselves for an election evening of abject disappointment, horror, and—if the spirit moves you—self-medicating. Democrats need a cascading sequence of things to break their way if they’re going to defeat the historic headwinds that would otherwise put the GOP firmly—and, perhaps irrevocably—in control. Republicans, meanwhile, only need to keep doing what they do best: scare bigoted white people. Added to that are the threats of violence that Republicans continue to stoke, and it becomes conceivable that Tuesday will end not only with votes counted, but a casualty count as well.
This, perhaps above all else, is the foundational gamble the Republicans have made for the election: by running the most extreme candidates in race after race after race, they are betting that voters are more susceptible to an imaginary narrative of fear and a tangible threat of violence than they are turned off by the sheer lunacy of the GOP. If that gamble is successful — and polling increasingly indicates it will be — then there’s the ballgame for a generation or more. Buttressed by decades of gerrymandering groundwork, and the GOP’s newfound zeal for declaring any unsatisfactory election “stolen,” the freaks will have it for years to come. Worse still, next time around they won’t even be the norm: they’ll be the outdated models for a whole new iteration of whatever sort of self-serving mutant comes after the Dr. Ozes and J.D. Vances of the world.
That’s what this election is about: the freaks. And it might not be enough that Democrats’ best line of defense is simply being the “normal” ones. Sure, it could win a few races on Tuesday, and maybe even stave off this latest swing at a conservative perma-majority, but until Democrats can give voters something better than “at least we’re not that” then it’ll be freaks again, and again, and again—until something gives.