Rather than an election day, for most of the country, today is the conclusion of something resembling an election month. While one would expect any first-world nation to be capable of concluding an election on election night, the same institutions that fortified 2020 have already warned us that the official count could take days or weeks. It is, of course, the most important election of our life. Democracy itself is on the ballot.
While regular readers of the Mises Institute are right to read the last two lines with a proper amount of cynical sarcasm, perhaps even the most devoted anarchist may sense that there is something a bit different about this midterm season.
America is stumbling toward nuclear war in much the same way our president climbs the stairs of Air Force One. Almost everyone reading this has been made poorer in the past two years, factoring in the impact of inflation on your purchasing power, the current state of your 401(k), or the value of your home. In the past several years, the quality of your life has been dramatically impacted by the quality of your governor.
For quite a while now, America has enjoyed an existence of privilege, despite the true lunacy of our political system. As a result, our representatives in Washington have become increasingly mediocre and disinterested in policy. In their defense, most members have very little to say about legislation. Moreover, voting for president seems to have minimal impact on issues of great importance; antiwar presidents find new countries to invade—or at least bomb—while serious financial matters are either left to experts on Wall Street or academics handsomely paid for twenty-minute speeches.
The true distinctions between administrations are the smaller-scale ways they embarrass us. In that sense, the Biden administration’s habit of promoting freaks and fetishists to serious governing positions does help it stand out.
The result is a government that blunders from one debacle to another. No one can ever honestly claim to be in charge, so no one is ever honestly held accountable. The worst-case scenario for a Beltway bigwig is being forced out of the public sector earlier than expected, and always with a higher-paying gig waiting for them.
Have Americans had enough of this?
For the past few decades, much of the most explicit destruction of America’s buffoonish regime has been beyond our borders. Hundreds of thousands dead. Multiple nations thrown into chaos. Economic instability with consequences we will never truly understand.
The cost to Americans was less obvious. The brunt of military deaths, and survivors with trauma, falls on a small minority of the country. The damage that economic policies connected to the regime’s ambitions has done to communities took place over time—the politics of the boiling frog cliché.
But Americans are no longer dealing with gradual decay but an abrupt collapse of faith in our institutions. Rightfully so. We were lied into war. Lied into inflationary policies. Lied to about the value of college. Lied to about flattening the curve. Lied to about vaccines. Lied to in ways that we have completely forgotten.
In the future, more will come to recognize the degree to which they were lied to about Social Security. Lied to about Medicare and Medicaid. Lied to about the security of their pensions. Lied to about the quality of the future our vaguely defined social contract was supposed to guarantee.
Are Americans ready to hold people accountable for these lies?
If so, today’s elections are not enough. If anything, contemporary political history has repeatedly shown how little elections matter. Barack Obama did not bring change. Brexit did not restore British sovereignty. The election of Donald Trump and Jair Bolsonaro did not drain their nations’ respective swamps.
Elections are, at best, the beginnings of political change. But if not followed with deliberate action and a transformative ideological reprogramming of the institutions, elections’ lasting impact will most significantly be felt in the emotions of nostalgia from those who sincerely hoped a new dawn was about to emerge.
So, can this year’s midterms offer any hope of meaningful change beyond the joy of watching the hysterics of corporate journalists?
There is perhaps the most reason for optimism in a handful of states with intriguing governors’ races.
New York’s governor-imposed Kathy Hochul is in desperation mode in her election against (pro-Trump!) Congressman Lee Zeldin. This is even though thousands of would-be Zeldin voters have already escaped to Ron DeSantis’s Florida. This would suggest that concerns over rampant crime will remove Democrats from positions of power in both New York and San Francisco in 2022. If this removal doesn’t result in a serious reevaluation of how crime and the protection of property are handled in the dense urban areas Democrats almost universally control, there is a clear opportunity for genuine political realignment in American cities.
Speaking of crime, there are a variety of covid tyrants who deserve a fate worse than political defeat but certainly deserve at least that. The ghoulish Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan, Tony Evers of Wisconsin, and Steve Sisolak of Nevada are the three that seem to be the most vulnerable. In particular, Whitmer, who at one point made public service announcements in which she smiled while demanding mothers in labor wear a mask at all times, offers a perfect embodiment of the worst type of political sociopath. In a better world, she would face criminal charges—as the heroic Sheriff Dar Leaf of Barry County, Michigan has suggested—but a political defeat to the onetime vice presidential contender would be meaningful.
The biggest political problems, though, are the seemingly insurmountable cancers at the federal level.
While it appears inevitable that the House will swing back into the hands of the Republican Party, it seems just as inevitable that there will be no significant shake-up to Republican leadership. The optimism for anything positive emerging from a Red House, beyond the virtues of divided government, comes from the loudest parts of the MAGA Caucus. Here, firebrands like Marjorie Taylor Greene and Matt Gaetz have been pounding the table for the GOP to investigate Dr. Anthony Fauci, Attorney General Merrick Garland, Hunter Biden, and various other Beltway villains.
The integrity of the party demands their rhetoric become action.
If a Republican-controlled Congress can’t treat any of the villains of the administrative state as seriously as Democrats have treated Steve Bannon or Roger Stone, then the GOP’s legacy as controlled opposition continues.
Their other priority? Shaking up foreign policy, particularly the seemingly limitless appetite Washington has for unaccountable aid grants to the Ukrainian government. Both MTG and Gaetz have vowed to fight so that “not another penny will go to Ukraine.”
This is where things get interesting. It is not rare for there to be some vocal congressional critics of the uniparty foreign policy mission of the day—the late John McCain would call such colleagues “wacko birds.” In Gaetz and MTG, however, you have two of the most charismatic, Trump-y, and nationally recognized members of the Republican Caucus demanding a change in American policy in terms that resonate with average Americans. And it appears to be having an impact.
A recent Wall Street Journal poll showed that 48 percent of Republican voters have soured on America’s limitless support for the Zelensky regime, up from 6 percent in its last poll.
Some Republican candidates have understood this instinctually. Ohio Senate candidate J.D. Vance actively campaigned against US support during his primary in a state with a significant Ukrainian population. Very Serious Pundits suggested this would doom him. Instead, he won by almost 10 percent. Arizona Senate candidate Blake Masters, a noted Murray Rothbard respecter, also opposed any military aid while running for the seat that McCain once held. Even in the shadow of the Washington beltway, retired navy captain Hung Cao opposed Ukrainian support in a surprisingly tight race in a D+6 district.
The result is that even dull Kevin McCarthy has raised the alarm that future Ukrainian aid will face a battle in the House, evoking howls from Mitch McConnell and Mike Pence.
Of course, campaign rhetoric is easy. Follow-through is quite different. It is notable that this shift in Republican campaign rhetoric has followed a change within traditional Conservative Inc. institutions. For example, the Heritage Foundation, under Kevin Roberts’s leadership, has signaled a new foreign policy ideology opposing “hyper interventionism and soulless neoliberal globalism” and defending “what’s best for the American taxpayer.”
This is important. Elections come and go; the real battle is what happens in between.
There is broad recognition, including from Trump world, that the impact of Trump’s election was undermined by poor staffing—which was, in part, a byproduct of a lack of Beltway institutions reflecting a shift in governing ideology. Since 2016, organizations like the Conservative Partners Institute, founded by former Tea Party senator Jim DeMint, have risen to help address “America First” staffing. According to memos from the Trump world, the top priority of a potential Trump administration 2.0 is a massive purge of the federal bureaucracy. This rhetoric is also shared by Vance and Masters, both candidates who enjoyed not only Trump endorsements but Peter Theil’s funding.
The potential MAGA additions to the Senate have one other possible way to make a midterm red wave matter: removing Mitch McConnell from his position as leader. Cocaine Mitch was able to largely co-opt the Trump administration, only to publicly burn all bridges following the 2020 election. McConnell has been able to act unchallenged for quite some time, in part because his ability to fundraise and wield power was unrivaled by the Republican senatorial caucus. In 2020, however, in stepped a Florida man with an impressively effective record of his own: Rick Scott.
While ideologically DeSantis’s predecessor won’t excite many Austro-libertarians, he has the two most important assets to challenge the Senate leadership: money and ambition. He has also been a public defender of Trump’s Senate nominees, jabbing McConnell’s lackluster support for Blake Masters. However, Scott’s greatest vulnerability is publicly admitting that America’s social programs are financially unsustainable, potentially a deadly sin in Washington that will test the strength of Trump’s influence on the Republican caucus most isolated from popular opinion.
If, however, McConnell were somehow able to be dethroned as the king of the Republican Senate, it would reflect a seismic shift in the Beltway GOP, a change that would in many ways be more significant than Trump’s de facto hostile takeover of 2016. A change in actual party structure redefines what is politically possible. Whether or not this would reflect a genuine shift in ideology or simply the changing of nameplates on the board is an open question.
Of course, any discussion of the midterms themselves assumes that any degree of integrity remains in the election system. While many states have tightened up some of the most vulnerable aspects of the 2020 covid-impacted elections, already legal clouds are forming over Pennsylvania, a race to the bottom between a dual-citizen reality-show host from New Jersey and a mentally damaged thug in a hoodie. John Fetterman is already trying to sue improper vote-by-mail ballots into the count. There will be lawyers.
More troubling is the return of familiar rhetoric from all the usual sources. Don’t fall for a “Red Mirage,” says ABC. Election results will be delayed, reminds Facebook. Given the near-unanimously ominous state of polls for the Democrats, it seems alarming that President Joe Biden is warning of election deniers that won’t accept the result of elections they are favored in. Is the night already rigged for his party?
Of course, confusing, self-sabotaging rhetoric is what one should come to expect from our sunsetting commander-in-chief.
In conclusion, today’s midterm elections are most likely to produce little serious change beyond the feeling of satisfaction at watching bad people defeated. This does not, however, mean that there are no indications that there is the potential for something more. Any serious momentum against the regime requires more than replacing team blue with team red; it requires a serious ideological shift within the halls of power and the political will to purge, reform, and ideally destroy the administrative state.
Most Republicans elected today do not have the courage to do that. Their election, however, has the potential to elevate the few that do. Particularly if those few are supported by well-funded, influential institutions that are dedicated to the same ideological shift.
The threat of nuclear war, historic inflation, and spiritual decay are very serious issues.
America desperately needs a serious attempt at addressing them.