Democrats' Attack on Midterms' Legitimacy Shows They Know They're Losing | Opinion

Democrats staked everything on a doomed effort to end the filibuster and pass voting legislation. The results were no surprise. President Joe Biden's apocalyptic rhetoric cast opponents of federalizing elections as the moral equivalent of racist traitors ready to usher in "Jim Crow 2.0." This hyperbole won over no Republican votes in the Senate, and seemed to stiffen the spines of the two remaining moderates in the Democratic caucus—Sens. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) and Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.)—in their opposition to the effort.

The White House was already on a long losing streak after its Afghanistan disgrace and inability to cope with the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. But the Democrats' defeat in the Senate represents more than yet another setback. The claim—which Biden issued at his press conference last week—that the voting bill's failure casts doubt on the legitimacy of the upcoming midterm elections reveals how much the Democratic Party has become the prisoner of its leftist activist wing as well as of its own rhetoric.

Democrats spent the last year claiming that Republicans are racist "insurrectionists" seeking to suppress the vote of minorities in order to steal elections. That was part of a strategy to make the Jan. 6 Capitol riot a permanent issue in American politics and to keep the focus on former president Donald Trump and off Biden's failures. It also served as a rationale for Democrats' radical voting legislation, would have swept aside any measures to ensure the integrity of the vote after the chaos of the 2020 election.

Yet by demonizing the GOP, Democrats have doomed any hope of compromise and painted themselves into a rhetorical corner.

Since the president's presser, Biden apologists have tried to clean up the mess by drawing a distinction between expressions of doubt about the legitimacy of the midterms and Trump's sore loser routine. But the attempt to claim that Biden's doubts—and those of other Democrats—are merely a reaction to Republican "voter suppression" falls flat. Anyone paying attention over the last 12 months can see that Democrats are preparing to spin upcoming defeats as yet another "plot against democracy"—like their inflation of the Capitol riot into an "insurrection."

This isn't the first time Democrats have claimed that they've been robbed. They said the same thing about their defeats in 2000, 2004 and 2016, not to mention Stacey Abrams' refusal to admit that she lost the 2018 Georgia gubernatorial election.

Biden's public assertion that—unless Democrats can ban voter ID requirements, prevent the cleanup of outdated voter rolls and allow ballot harvesting and unlimited mail-in and drop-off voting—the legitimacy of the upcoming midterms is in question fits this pattern. The portrayal of anodyne Republican voter integrity legislation as part of an insurrectionist coup has become a standard Democratic talking point for the past year.

Joe Biden
US President Joe Biden speaks during a press conference on the eve of his first year in office, from the East Room of the White House in Washington, DC on January 19, 2022. - President Joe Biden holds a rare press conference Wednesday to kick off his second year in office, hoping to reset the agenda ahead of what could be brutal election reversals for Democrats. MANDEL NGAN / AFP/Getty Images

As Biden's poll numbers continue to plummet and his party struggles in the generic congressional ballot, a sense of impending doom is settling in among Democrats. As the party in power, they would be expected to lose seats in the midterms even if things weren't going as badly for them as they are. Yet now that they depict Republicans as foot soldiers in an authoritarian cult linked to "domestic terrorism," accepting the normal cycle of victory and defeat is impossible. The downturn of Democratic fortunes has ceased to be the natural result of an incompetent administration deluding itself into thinking its narrow majorities were a mandate for FDR-style transformation of the country. Instead, the return of Congress to Republican control next January, or the White House two years after that, means an end to American democracy.

Indeed, if a slew of opinion articles published in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Atlantic, New York Magazine and The Guardian are any indication, liberals are convinced that Republicans are halfway toward stealing the 2024 election already.

Rather than defending democracy, such arguments will only widen the partisan divide. Both sides may soon refuse to accept any election loss, no matter how great the margin of defeat—something that is incompatible with a functioning electoral system.

These arguments about a rigged system are bound to depress Democratic turnout in November far more than any campaign tactic Republicans could dream up. Trump handed two Georgia Senate seats to the Democrats in January 2021 by telling that state's GOP voters that their efforts were going to be rendered meaningless by fraud. The same thing is bound to happen on the other side—Democrats will claim that Republicans are suppressing the vote when it will actually be their own conspiracy-mongering that convinces their base not to bother.

The Democrats' conspiracy theories about GOP insurrectionists have also led the party to engage in a war on its own centrists. This is likely to reduce Democrats' chances of midterm success even further.

Biden's demonization of Sinema and Manchin is a natural corollary to the apocalyptic rhetoric about voting and insurrection. But this is a formula seemingly designed to turn off the independent and moderate voters that Democrats need to have any hope of salvaging their prospects this year or in 2024.

Refusing to accept the legitimacy of defeat is a way to avoid taking responsibility for mistakes or acknowledging that the voters aren't buying what a party is selling. In this midterm strategy, Democrats have found a way to both undermine their already dwindling hopes and to compound the damage they claim Republicans inflicted on the country on Jan. 6.

Jonathan S. Tobin is editor in chief of JNS.org, a senior contributor to The Federalist and a columnist for the New York Post. Follow him on Twitter at: @jonathans_tobin.

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