August 22, 2022

As primary season finishes up and yields to general election season, once overconfident Republican pundits are getting nervous.  Those concerns aren’t entirely unfounded: a recent poll finds that Democrats now have a slight lead over Republicans on a generic congressional ballot.  GOP alarm bells rang perhaps the loudest in a recent column by “conservative” Washington Post columnist Henry Olsen entitled “The GOP is blowing its chance to make the midterms a referendum on Democrats.”  Just a few months ago, in the aftermath of the Georgia primaries, Olsen wrote a celebratory column suggesting that Trump’s influence over the Republican Party is waning.  A few weeks later, he suggested that Trump’s stranglehold on the party could be further weakened after he made risky endorsements in the Wisconsin and Arizona races.  Instead, the Trump-endorsed candidates roared to victory in both states, leaving Olsen with no choice but to question the future — and electability — of the GOP.  He proposed a simple enough game plan for the conservative movement to follow:

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The Republican path to victory in November is easy to discern.  Nominate broadly acceptable candidates who can stroke the MAGA base while appealing to moderates who backed Joe Biden. Focus attention on the president’s perceived failings, especially on inflation and immigration.  Make the midterms a “change” election that lets conservatives and independents express their displeasure with the way things are going.  Defer important questions about what the GOP intends to do with its power until after the election and simply reap the rewards that accrue from running against an historically unpopular president.

In fairness, Olsen’s proposed strategy looks great on paper.  It is also extraordinarily naïve.  Like many of the GOP hand-wringers, he fails to identify exactly which type of unicorn Republican could appeal to seemingly opposing groups.  A moderate “electable” Republican?  The GOP tried that.  Twice.  There was John “Maverick” McCain, who was more than willing to reach across the aisle when he wasn’t busy writing songs about bombing Iran, followed by Mr. Milquetoast himself, Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), who pulled off the remarkable feat of governing deep blue Massachusetts as a Republican.  The result?  A 365-173 bloodbath in 2008, followed by a 332-206 drubbing in 2012 at the hands of Barack Obama.

Olsen mentions exploiting Biden’s failing on immigration but neglects to mention that no serious national Republican candidates made immigration an electoral priority before Trump.  Olsen fails to list a single example of an unsuccessful primary candidate who could appeal to the MAGA and moderate crowd alike this cycle.  It is also important to note that, should we believe polling data, establishment GOP incumbents are also in trouble: supposedly, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) are struggling just as much as GOP outsiders such as Mehmet Oz in Pennsylvania and Hershel Walker in Georgia, which would suggest that any Republican struggles are more about the party and less about the individual candidates.

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Olsen does name two candidates he views as flawed.  One is Tudor Dixon, who won the GOP nomination in the Michigan gubernatorial race.  Her chief drawback?  Being too pro-life, as she opposes abortion even in the case of rape or incest, a view Olsen attacks as “wildly out of step with popular opinion.”  Fair enough, although it seems like an odd criticism for a conservative, considering that pro-life sentiment has generally been a rock-solid plank in the Republican platform.

Olsen is right to note that public opinion obviously matters when it comes to running a campaign.  However, principles and authenticity also matter.  Some polling data indicate that socialism is becoming increasingly popular, for example.  Does that mean the GOP should embrace socialism to bring in new voters?  Political considerations aside, Olsen also apparently overlooked that fact that the Michigan GOP was left scrambling after five candidates, including presumptive frontrunner James Craig, were kicked off the ballot only a few weeks before the primary, which didn’t leave voters with many high-profile options.

The other candidate Olsen names?  Arizona GOP gubernatorial nominee Kari Lake, whom he attacks for being “steeped in election conspiracy theories.”  This is, again, a valid point: Lake’s suggestion that the 2020 election was stolen could turn off moderate or independent voters.  This brings up a larger point, however, that goes beyond any individual candidate: even the most far-right views on social issues or election integrity pale in comparison with the radical agenda being pursued by the current left-wing administration.  Consider which of the following is more radical:

1. Some in the GOP believe that mail-in balloting creates the potential for election fraud and want reforms such as voter ID and signatures to validate ballots.  Democrats have advocated for eliminating the Electoral College, abolishing the Senate, and packing the U.S. Supreme Court, turning our Constitution completely on its head.

2. Conservatives generally favor restricting or banning abortions.  Democrats now argue for legal abortion until the point of birth.

3. Republicans support the elimination of sexual and even pornographic content at the grade school level.  Democrats favor teaching LGBT lessons to kindergarteners and making pornographic material available to schoolchildren.