One of the reasons for the Republicans’ poor showing at the polls last week was poor candidate quality. If the GOP is to win the White House, the Senate, and the House of Representatives, it must do a better job of recruiting quality candidates while minimizing the ability of the Democrats to sabotage Republican recruitment efforts.
Although Republicans did well in Texas, winning all statewide races with healthy margins while expanding their majorities in the state legislature, elsewhere they underperformed, to put it mildly. Political history shows that normally the party that controls the White House loses seats in Congress during the midterms. Besides, public opinion polls showed President Biden’s approval ratings at historic lows, while the public trusted the GOP more than the Democrats to address the problems of inflation, rising crime, and the border crisis. Everything was in place for a Great Red Wave that would wash Democrats out of Congress and statehouses this year while inspiring President Biden to take a much-needed retirement in 2024. Yet the Democrats will retain and possibly expand their majority in the Senate while the Republicans, if they capture the House of Representatives at all, will do so only by the thinnest of margins. The Great Red Wave became a Tiny Pinkish Ripple. So what steps should the GOP take to get started on the road to recovery? Herewith are a few suggestions concerning candidate quality.
Voters consider party more than any other factor in determining whom to vote for. Voters who know nothing about candidates other than their party affiliation will still vote for the candidates of their own party over those of the opposition. For most voters, party affiliation is the only fact they need for decision making.
But while party is the most important factor, it is not always all-important. As Senator Mitch McConnell has said, candidate quality matters. Voters in the general election prefer moderate candidates to extremists, competent candidates to incompetents, and honest candidates to the dishonest. If a voter thinks the nominee of his own party lacks one or more of these qualities, he may choose to either vote for the opposition’s candidate or not vote at all. Hence Georgia’s Republican governor, Brian Kemp, easily won re-election. But enough of Kemp’s supporters withheld their support for Republican Senate candidate Herschel Walker to put him into a runoff election with Democratic Senator Rafael Warnock next month. Ohio’s Republican Governor Mike DeWine won re-election in a landslide, but GOP Senate candidate J. D. Vance won his election by only a narrow margin. Both Kemp and DeWine were seen as effective conservative problem solvers. But enough voters saw Vance and Walker as obdurate election deniers. No doubt Walker was also hurt by questions raised about his alleged conduct in abortion cases.
Unfortunately, the GOP had too many candidates running for office with little relevant experience and no discernable qualifications other than their assertions of election denial. When real evidence of election fraud exists, those who’ve attempted to perpetrate it must be investigated and, if guilty, punished. But to make accusations with little or no evidence, and to keep pushing these accusations even when they’re rejected by Republican election officials and Trump-appointed judges, is a losing strategy. The Republicans who did worst were those who harped on election denial almost to the exclusion of everything else, while those who fared best were those who credibly argued they were more competent to handle inflation, crime, and the border crisis. It is those latter men and women whom Republican party organizations and officials need to recruit for 2024.
To that end, the professional associations of Republican governors, senators, and representatives must scout for talent and offer generous financial and technical support to the men and women they find. And the support must begin in the primaries to help the voters choose the candidates most likely to win the general election should they be nominated.
Indeed, Republicans—and Democrats, too, for that matter—must be especially vigilant during the primary season. Those who vote in the primaries are more ideologically motivated than general election voters. Republican primary voters are more conservative while their Democratic counterparts are more liberal. There’s always the danger that one or the other party’s primary voters will nominate someone too radical to win the general election.
Moreover, the Democrats showed they had both the desire and the ability to sabotage GOP primaries by advertising the conservatism of the most radical and inexperienced Republican candidates for nomination, thereby enticing Republican voters to nominate them. As the Democrats hoped and expected, those Republicans on whom they spent their funds (about $53 million in thirteen House, Senate, and gubernatorial primary races), lost their general election campaigns to stronger Democratic nominees. Therefore, if it is determined that Democrats again begin sabotaging Republican races in 2024, Republican organizations must increase their financial support to better qualified Republican candidates to combat Democratic influence. And perhaps the GOP can also show that two can play this game by promoting looney leftists of the AOC-Bernie Sanders persuasion as well.
Of course, candidate recruitment suggestions don’t begin to cover all the issues the GOP must address if it wants to make its way back to power. What about former President Trump’s role in the future? How should the House Republicans conduct themselves assuming they win the majority there and elect Kevin McCarthy their speaker? And what should the Republicans do about the Democrats’ strongest issue—abortion. We’ll try to discuss these matters in future columns.
Malcolm L. Cross has lived in Stephenville and taught politics and government at Tarleton since 1987. His political and civic activities include service on the Stephenville City Council (2000-2014) and on the Erath County Republican Executive Committee (1990 to the present). He was Mayor Pro Tem of Stephenville from 2008 to 2014. He is a member of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church and the Stephenville Rotary Club, and does volunteer work for the Boy Scouts of America. Views expressed in this column are his and do not reflect those of The Flash as a whole.