The Day After Democrats Lose | Opinion

The day after Election Day, once it's clear Democrats have lost seats in Congress, much of the media will undoubtedly lecture Republicans about the importance of embracing bipartisanship and moderation. It will advise Republicans to ignore the two years of Democratic overreach that fueled voters' frustration and that won the GOP so many races. It will also hector Democrats for not selling their policies aggressively enough—advice that would be dangerous for Democrats to heed.

Republicans would do well to ignore advice from those who never before cared for their welfare, and instead advocate conservative policies as the course correction demanded by voters.

Those eager to blame voters' ingratitude for the Democratic Party's dismal election performance ignore polling showing Democrats' approval numbers do not improve with more time spent talking about their accomplishments. Elections are about addressing challenges that lie ahead—Democrats only weaken themselves by trying to sell policy solutions that don't match the problems voters care about. Barack Obama was elected president to confront the housing crisis and resulting economic carnage, and instead spent his political capital on an unprecedented government intrusion into health care. Joe Biden was elected to contain the COVID-19 crisis and resulting economic damage, and instead spent his capital on record government spending to subsidize favored green energy purchases.

Democrats ironically did the very thing they accuse Republicans of doing: adopting extreme cultural positions that satisfy their base but alienate many suburban swing voters. Democrats went from saying abortions should be "safe, legal, and rare" to saying they should be championed without restrictions. They spent millions on abortion ads, ignoring the fact many voters living in blue states were not experiencing new restrictions. Democrats ignored student welfare to satisfy their teacher-union patrons, defended lengthy school closures and mandatory vaccination policies, and emphasized critical race theory lessons at a time of rapidly falling reading and math scores. Democrats, led by Bill Clinton and Joe Biden, fought to be the party of law and order in the 1990s, only to embrace calls to defund the police, end cash bail, legalize drugs, and empty prisons today.

Joe Biden democracy speech
WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 2: U.S. President Joe Biden delivers remarks on preserving and protecting Democracy at Union Station on November 2, 2022 in Washington, DC. Biden addressed the threat of election deniers and those who seek to undermine faith in voting in the upcoming midterm elections. Michael A. McCoy/Getty Images

Rather than trying to win arguments about the merits of their proposals, Democrats tried to avoid having the debate by claiming a vote for Republicans was a vote to end democracy—not a referendum on their own unpopular and disastrous policies. The media went along with this charade, implicitly encouraging Democrats to avoid critical self-examination. Biden unironically denied any connection between his exorbitant COVID spending—and extraconstitutional student-loan spending—and the nation's record-high inflation rates. He took steps to impede domestic oil and gas production and lectured exploration companies that they faced extinction, but admitted no connection to or responsibility for rapidly increasing energy prices.

Democrats ignored voters' anxieties. They told voters worried about rampant homelessness, open-air drug markets, random acts of violence, and shocking retail thefts to instead focus on overall violent crime rates. Democrats told voters worried about choosing between filling their gas tanks and buying groceries to blame Putin, buy an electric vehicle, and use public transportation. Democrats lectured voters worried about increasing numbers of migrants crossing the border, shrinking police forces, and radical school curricula to stop being racist.

Veteran Democratic operatives James Carville and Stan Greenberg implored Democrats to abandon identity politics and return to voters' economic concerns, but to no avail. The party's self-conception as an unadulterated force for good impedes its ability to conduct necessary self-examination, course correction, and compromise. Liberals see themselves as protecting the planet from the existential threat of carbon, and minorities from structural racism and sexism. They reject traditional religious beliefs, but redirect their fervor and faith to fights over climate change and election integrity. Their absolutism excites donors and the base, but alienates persuadable voters.

What they view as the self-evident righteousness of their cause serves as a convenient rationale for any apparent hypocrisy. Why was it ok for Stacey Abrams to deny her election loss and recklessly attack Georgia's voting rules? Why was it ok for John Fetterman to hide his medical issues? Why was it ok for Democrats to help fund the primary campaigns of Republican candidates they deemed threats to democracy? The ends justify the means for Democrats so obviously fighting on the right side of history.

Things are going to get worse for Democrats before they get better. Biden won his party's nomination by not being Bernie Sanders, and won the general election by not being Donald Trump. He appears less and less ready for another run, and Democrats lack an obvious alternative who can accomplish those two bare-minimum criteria. Who among them can win the primary by attracting older African-American and swing suburban voters not ready for the radical message offered by Sanders and Elizabeth Warren? Who can win the general by attracting working-class voters? Biden wielded his decades in party politics and loyal service as Obama's vice president to assure primary voters he was sufficiently liberal, and his personal biography and Catholic faith to assure general election voters he was sufficiently moderate. Many of the latter wanted the Trump economy without the drama.

Sympathetic media hurt Democrats by shielding them from the consequences of their actions, preventing them from following Clinton's example and learning from their all-but-certain midterm losses. Republicans will rediscover their zeal for fiscal responsibility, and it would be good politics and good policy for Democrats to work with them. Biden was uniquely positioned to bridge his party's extreme positions and voters' moderate expectations, though he has governed more in line with the former than the latter. Democrats are not well positioned to find his successor.

Bobby Jindal (@BobbyJindal) was the governor of Louisiana from 2008-2016 and a candidate for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.