Do Candidates Matter? Or Is It Just About Political Parties Now?

Bonus: The End Of Ron Johnson?

"Fraternal Twins" by Nancy Ohanian

On aggregate, voters are telling pollsters they're not sure yet who to hand control of Congress over to in November. The Democrats suck so bad... but the Republicans are existentially worse. So much worse and in every single way. But voters are split. Does this make any sense to you-- even knowing how completely useless the Democrats are?

Today, two Washington Post columnists, Jennifer Rubin and Greg Sargent looked at Democrats prospects, Rubin for the midterms, Sargent for 2024. Let's begin with the midterms-- and our friend Rick Scott (R-FL), the gift that keeps on giving. Rubin is excited by his 11-Point Plan to Rescue America, basically a decision to say aloud what all Republican politicians and elites whisper out of earshot of the media: a plan to "raise taxes on as many as 100 million Americans; to sunset all federal legislation after five years (presumably including Medicare and Social Security); to build a useless border wall named after the former president; and to enact a theocratic vision on the country."

She contends Democrats are licking their chops over Scott's decision to make it all public, focussing yesterday on his tax proposal with a statement from the White House:

The President is fighting for tax cuts for the middle class and to ensure that the super wealthy and large corporations pay their fair share, while congressional Republicans, led by Senator Scott, are proposing big tax increases on middle-class families.

She wrote that "The White House stressed that one study found Scott’s plan would raise taxes on 'around 75 million American families-- 96 percent of them making less than $100,000,' who would pay 'an average of $1,480 more in taxes each year.' The White House also noted that the plan 'doesn’t raise a single penny in taxes from the wealthiest Americans or profitable corporations.' It might have added that the GOP doesn’t want to increase funding for the Internal Revenue Service so it that can go after rich tax cheats. By contrast, President Biden’s budget request would add a new tax on billionaires, raise taxes on big corporations and those making more than $400,000 while maintaining cuts such as the child tax credit first enacted in the American Rescue Plan."

Democrats will need to pound away at the radical agenda if they are to hold back the Republicans’ midterm onslaught. But pointing to a tax plan none of them actually have voted for, and some will renounce, will not be sufficient. Democrats would be smart to make a larger argument against a party masquerading as populist but aimed to protect themselves and their wealthy donors.
Democrats might want to remind voters that Republicans opposed raising any taxes on corporations, even on those that pay zero dollars in federal taxes; passing a $35 cap on insulin and a plan to allow Medicare to negotiate prescription drugs prices; funding to allow schools to reopen quickly and safely; and shoring up state financing to keep cops, firefighters and other state and local personnel on the payroll. Plus, most Republicans-- including 200 House members and 30 senators-- opposed the hugely popular infrastructure package. In short, they are willing to help the super-rich and big corporations but virtually no one else.
Meanwhile, Democrats may want to point out that Republicans want to insulate themselves from accountability (e.g., they opposed an independent commission to investigate the Jan. 6 insurrection and favor measures to make voting harder). Republicans also prefer to waste time on extreme schemes to solve fake issues instead of focusing on real problems. Where’s their inflation plan? Their energy plan? Their crime plan? Their education plan? Instead, they’re passing legislation to allow concealed gun possession without a license, harassing businesses and families, attempting to ban math books, and excising civil rights history from the classroom.
So while Democrats are sorely in need of an overarching message, the good news is they have one: “Republicans cater to the rich and the radicals. Democrats are for making your life easier.” And it has the benefit of being true.

The announcement this afternoon that the Department of Education "will retroactively help millions of federal student loan borrowers who have been hurt and held back by its troubled income-driven repayment plans..." will probably help with youth turnout, although if Biden was smart, he would wipeout all federal student debt before going to sleep tonight. This looks good though: "As a result of Tuesday's news, millions more borrowers will also receive months and, in some cases, years of new credit toward eventual cancellation."

Greg Sargent had a different perspective today, first introducing his readers to right-wing author Matthew Continetti, who warned in his new book, The Right, that "Republicans must wean themselves off the personality cult of Trump and fealty to his 2020 lies in order for conservatism to remain a viable ideological project. The 2024 election is a big test. 'Untangling the Republican Party and conservative movement from Donald Trump won’t be easy.'"

Continetti explains that through Trump's coup/insurrection "racist, white supremacist and alt-right elements sought to violently overturn democracy and 'all of the unreason and hatred that had been slowly growing in the body of the Right burst into the open.' Historically, conservatism has always been "marked by an elite inability or unwillingness to police extremism, and at times an active embrace of it".... largely because conservative elites (whose interest is primarily preserving the economic and social status quo) are drawn to the ability of "right-wing mass politics, to mobilize large popular constituencies. As John Ganz notes, again and again conservative intellectuals have 'fastened themselves like barnacles onto demagogic movements.'"

Trump had no understanding of the difference since everything is just about him anyway. Sargent wrote that Señor T erased the boundaries. with his unabashed nativism, racism, active flaunting of corruption and open contempt for democracy. As Continetti writes, many on the right are now in the grip of 'antagonism toward American culture and society' and even outright 'opposition to the constitutional order.' Which brings us to the GOP’s continuing embrace of Trump."

Continetti warns that conservatism cannot remain a viable ideological alternative to liberalism if it doesn’t decisively repudiate this turn away from liberal democracy and constitutionalism.
But one has to ask: Why are many Republican lawmakers so disinclined to take this same view?
One possible answer might be that, just as conservative elites have historically been reluctant to police extremism in order to hitch conservatism to mass political movements, something similar is happening again.
You can discern many signs that Republican lawmakers think the party’s future depends, at least partly, on sustaining the engagement of the voters that Trump brought into the GOP coalition, and that a full-throated repudiation of Trump’s contempt for democracy might imperil this project.
You see this in Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) explicitly declaring that the party “can’t grow” without Trump. You see it in Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) refusing to acknowledge Joe Biden’s victory for weeks to keep GOP voters engaged for the U.S. Senate runoffs in Georgia.
You see it in the GOP’s official censure of the only two House Republicans who want a full reckoning with Trump’s effort to destroy our political order. You see it in Pennsylvania Republicans telegraphing their belief that keeping the base engaged requires undying fealty to Trump’s 2020 lies.

Let's see what happens in November in Wisconsin, very much a swing state, that Trump won in 2016 and Biden won in 2020, each by the narrowest of margins.

  • Trump- 1,405,284 (47.22%) to Hillary- 1,382,536 (46.45%)

  • Biden- 1,630,866 (49.45%) to Trump- 1,610,184 (48.82%)

Wisconsin also performed in the swingy-est of way in the Senate elections:


  • Ron Johnson (R)- 1,125,999 (51.86%)

  • Russ Feingold (D)- 1,020,958 (47.02%)


  • Tammy Baldwin (D)- 1,547,104 (51.41%)

  • Tommy Thompson (R)- 1,380,126 (45.86%)


  • Ron Johnson (R)- 1,479,471 (50.17%)

  • Russ Feingold (D)- 1,380,335 (46.81%)


  • Tammy Baldwin (D)- 1,472,914 (55.36%)

  • Leah Vukmir (R)- 1,184,885 (44.53%)

That's what swing state elections look like. And with Johnson's approval ratings underwater, you might think he would move away from teh far right fringe towards teh center-- but you would be wrong. Instead, Holly Otterbein described him as a full-on crackpot this morning: Johnson "has become the face of conspiracy theories about Covid-19 and the 2020 election in the Senate. He has said that gargling mouthwash can kill the coronavirus, Jan. 6 was a mostly 'peaceful protest,' and unvaccinated people around the world are being sent 'basically into internment camps.' For a vulnerable senator staring down a tough campaign, the string of head-turning remarks seem to defy political logic. But it turns out that Johnson’s shoot-from-the-lip style is a feature, not a bug, of his campaign for a third term. GOP strategists and officials say his unfiltered remarks are generating enthusiasm among a party base conditioned by Donald Trump, and appealing to independents who loathe Washington."

...Democrats view the race as a top opportunity to pick up a Republican-held seat. After nearly a dozen years in the Senate, they think they can pierce Johnson’s image as an outsider businessman. In fact, they think it’s already been popped: Johnson is viewed unfavorably by 45 percent of voters, compared to 33 percent who see him favorably, according to the recent Marquette poll. Twenty-one percent said they hadn’t heard enough about Johnson or didn’t know.
“I think it is entirely possible that Democrats have a bad night nationally, and Ron Johnson still loses,” said Joe Zepecki, a Wisconsin-based Democratic strategist who is not working for any Senate candidate. “That’s how much trouble I really genuinely believe that he’s in here.”
Democrats have seized on a plan to paint Johnson as self-serving for pushing for a provision in Trump’s tax bill that benefited his own company and campaign donors. In 2017, Johnson held his vote for the legislation until he secured a bigger tax cut for “pass-through” entities, arguing that small businesses would be undercut at the expense of corporations otherwise.
...Charlie Sykes, a Wisconsin native and anti-Trump ex-Republican, previously supported Johnson but now compares him to Joseph McCarthy, the former Wisconsin senator who led a demagogic red-baiting campaign.
“Johnson should be the most vulnerable Republican in the country,” he said. But given the political mood, the race “leans Republican, even as unpopular as Johnson is, unless the Democrats can really get their act together.”