Coy Knobel: Fear Is Partly To Blame for Lackluster GOP Election Performance

in Coy Knobel/Column

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By Coy Knobel, Cowboy State Daily 

The recent general election was not the “red wave” in Congress some folks hoped for and many predicted. Oh, our state remains staunchly Republican, and Wyoming even increased its number of GOP state legislators. 

In Congress, the GOP took the House, barely, but overall Democrats did a lot better than polls and history predicted. 

My Cowboy State Daily colleagues Bill Sniffin and Dave Simpson termed it a red “ripple” and “dribble” respectively. But whatever you call it, it was unexpected by most. Politicians and pundits of every denomination are trying to figure it out. 

When Democrats lose, they sometimes say they didn’t do a good job conveying their message. They didn’t “educate” people properly. To me that sounds like, “The voters were not smart enough to realize our party and the experts we put in place know how to run things (including individual lives) best. We failed to enlighten enough people to this truth.” 

But this time the GOP fell short. 

Conditions Were Ripe For Red Wave

Inflation is at a 40-year high. Crime is way up in big cities. We have a border crisis with illegal immigrants and deadly drugs making their way north into our country. 

We also have an unpopular president. It was a midterm election. In midterm elections, the party of the sitting president traditionally fares poorly. 

How could an election result like this happen? 

Some say former President Donald Trump, who announced he’s running for president once again, and his “election-denying” candidates were to blame for the GOP not winning as many races as predicted. Some say it was simply poor-quality candidates. Some say the GOP leadership was not organized and that the GOP was not prepared for new election realities like early voting. 

Many states no longer have AN election day. It’s election days, or even election weeks, now with some states’ early voting and mail-in ballots. 

Did abortion politics play more of a role than the GOP figured? Did the Democrats’ “democracy is in peril” strategy work? Were people really worried about President Biden’s proclaimed MAGA threat? 

Or what about the nearly $40 million that crypto billionaire Sam Bankman-Fried gave in support of causes helping Democrats? He founded FTX, a cryptocurrency exchange that suddenly and mysteriously went bankrupt soon after the election. As far as Democratic donors go, he was second only to George Soros this election cycle. 

Caring Too Much About The Wrong Thing

All of these factors and others may have played a role, but I think there is something else at work here, something more basic. 

Fear … the fear of losing the election. 

That is a big reason the GOP did not do as well as people thought they would. 

This is nothing new or localized to one party or region of the country. Officeholders of every party work hard to be where they are, and they want to keep and gain power. It’s a basic part of human nature, but it builds on itself year after year. I saw it increase during my years in Washington, D.C. I can see that fear continues to grow. 

Elected officials motivated by the fear of losing put most of their efforts into campaigning. Every day of the year, every year, actions are measured by how many votes they will win or lose in the next election. 

Do everything to win because after all, if you don’t win you can do nothing, right? The other side is free to wreck the republic if you aren’t there to stop them. There is logic and truth to that, until it becomes the end rather than the means. 

The majority in the House, no matter the party, has always run the show in that chamber and it carefully chooses which issues to bring up and how they are brought up. That’s the way the House was made. 

Unfortunately in the Senate, a body made to empower individual senators and states, the parties also have enacted a system that consolidates power in party leadership and is geared toward elections. The Senate has become more and more like the House. 

In exchange for the power given to them, the party leadership protects incumbents and recruits and supports candidates likely to help the cause. One of the ways party leaders protect members and the party is by avoiding direct votes on controversial issues. After all, votes can be used by the opposition in elections. 

When votes are unavoidable, issues are bunched together and massive “omnibus” bills are put together. Hundreds of pages and billions of dollars in one bill and it’s take it or leave it. The leader of the party allows only what the leader wants in that bill and does not allow changes. No amendments unless the leader approves. 

When the leader does allow amendments they are often just designed to embarrass the other party. They are for show and designed to help with the next election, to show the folks back home the senators are trying. Sometimes on the GOP side a rebellious senator is able to force the leader’s hand and get a vote on an amendment, but the leader slaps a 60-vote requirement on it to ensure it won’t pass. 

More show. But maybe voters know what’s show and what’s real. 

Democrats challenge their own leadership even less than the GOP challenges theirs because the Democratic leader in the Senate has more power to demote Democrats, to take away their committee positions. 

The leadership of both parties frown on senators cooperating with the other party at least when it’s close to election time and especially if the other party’s senator is up for re-election. Leadership will sometimes stop things from happening if credit will go to or have to be shared with members of the other party. 

A GOP Bright Spot In Florida

“Good policy is good politics.” I hear that said once in a while, but I don’t see it practiced that often, at least in Washington. 

I did see one example of this from the GOP, though, during this last year. It was in Florida where there was a red wave. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis campaigned hard and many of his policies purposely lent themselves to the election, but he did not forget to govern along the way. 

Since he took office, DeSantis has done what he thought was right without fear, knowing he would face reproach. He did it anyway. At least that’s what he says and the way it seems. That’s the way it should be done in a representative democracy. 

Those in office want to win the next election, to gain members on their side. They want to keep their jobs. But they need to do their job first. They may want to put messaging, demographic studies, focus groups and fundraising second. Perhaps they should be willing to lose to do what they think is best. 

Easier said than done, I know. But defying leadership, taking some political risks to do something they believe in, might end up paying off later. 

Campaigning should not stop. It’s necessary and usually helps separate the wheat from the chaff, but it would be nice if national leaders, especially in the Senate, would not let elections be the all-consuming reason for existence that they have become. 

Look for leaders who care about more than elections and keeping power. Look for problem-solvers. 

Voters Are Responsible Too

But this problem with our officeholders in Washington isn’t all on them. There is a reason they fear for their political lives with every word they utter, every gesture they make and every action they take. They represent a constituency that has the ability to mobilize in a heartbeat and spew vitriol and rancor like a Yellowstone geyser. 

And people have shown a willingness to do it. Everyone has a world-wide platform with social media. It’s never been easier to join ranks and target people. 

Just because one can do something doesn’t mean one should do something. Office-holders should be held accountable. People in our “free” society should be able to express their opinions, but it would be better if people went after policies rather than the people and personalities. 

Where To Spend New Capital The GOP Did Win

I think this latest election shows that putting getting elected as your No. 1 priority doesn’t always work out. Try concentrating on governing. 

I hope our new representative Harriet Hageman and the narrow GOP majority in the House remember this when they take control next year. Yes, there is plenty to investigate. There are lots of juicy subjects to tackle in hearings, wrongs to be righted, but I hope the new chairmen don’t concentrate too much on making the Democrats look bad even if the GOP can. They would be doing the very thing they complained about with the Democratic Jan. 6 “show trial” and various “witch hunts.” 

I would like to see Congress work hardest on finding ways to bring down inflation. I would like to see the GOP do all it can to convince people that an all-of-the-above energy policy is better for the country than a green new deal. 

I do want them to stop the policies most harmful to Wyoming and the country, and I don’t think they should compromise their principles by making deals to include things they don’t like. 

But they should be able to find areas of agreement with the opposition party and accomplish some things. It just may translate into better results at the ballot box too. 

Or not, but at least they will have done their job. 

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