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OPINION | JOHN BRUMMETT: Not quite hell

by John Brummett | November 16, 2022 at 4:21 a.m.

I need to write a correction. It's of my column published the Sunday before the midterm election.

That column cited polls showing the electorate distressed mostly over the state of the economy. On that basis, the column declared Joe Biden's closing argument that democracy was at stake in the election to be a sad and desperate Democratic irrelevancy.

I wrote, quite cleverly, I thought, that Democrats needed to win first and accuse Republicans of trying to cheat only after forcing them to cheat because Democrats had beaten them.

I got a little national linkage on that column, which I'd like now to take back.

Other commentators were saying the same thing, but I don't have to write their corrections, just my own.

In my mild defense I did write on Election Day morning that I'd received some credible pushback. A local political animal, for one, had emailed to say that any Democratic hope in the midterm required not appealing to swing voters as I was suggesting, but inspiring base voters to turn out. He said invoking the threat to democracy was an attempt to alert that base as a component of Democratic motivation.

That evening, early exit polls came out and smug commentators--Republicans mostly--were with me in saying no one polled had cited the threat to democracy as their primary concern in voting.

Then the votes came in and eventually got counted and Democrats lost many fewer House races than expected and maintained control of the Senate. The biggest losers were those tied to Donald Trump's obsession on denying the election returns of 2020.

In time, it came clear: Democrats had done better than expected, and Republicans worse, primarily because the turnout of in-power Democrats had been stronger than expected. Informed speculation was that the turnout was driven by coalescing factors including abortion and, yes, fear of Trumpism's threat to democracy.

It appeared that, when voters told exit-pollsters they were distressed about the direction of the country, they weren't talking only about the economy, but also our political dysfunction.

Biden's speech turned out not sad. It indeed might have been desperate, but in a strategically valid way.

So, as an old dog tilting his head in curiosity at the idea of new tricks, I was intrigued as a guest Sunday morning on the local radio show of Republican politico Bill Vickery.

He analyzed that both parties had become so adept with data and analytics that the midterms are perhaps now changed--from natural advantages in motivation for the out-of-power party to a battle of base-turnout tactics driven by the new data-driven ability to identify base voters and communicate with them directly with specially designed messages.

Democrats may well have analyzed the data and said, yes, we may be about to lose, but it might stick a little if the president threw "threat to democracy" against the wall.

Finally, there is the possibility that, messaging and analytics aside, the handbasket into which I had placed American politics has not yet arrived in hell. It may be that there are plenty of people out there motivated to reject the madness of Trump and Trumpism.

It may be that the midterms of 2022 amounted to purgatory for America--a year of atonement to try to keep out of hell.

John Brummett, whose column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, is a member of the Arkansas Writers' Hall of Fame. Email him at jbrummett@arkansasonline.com. Read his @johnbrummett Twitter feed.



Print Headline: Not quite hell

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