Juan Williams: Republicans’ troubles start with failing to catch a ‘red wave’
What if there had been a “red wave” for Republicans in the midterm elections?
With a wave election that gave Republicans a larger margin in the House, Rep. George Santos (R-N.Y.) would be gone. But with today’s slim GOP majority, the mocking of Santos grows louder by the day, as stories pile up about the lies he told to win office.
If the expected wave had washed over the midterms, then House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) could reject as suicidal any Republican who would put the U.S. economy at risk by refusing to raise the debt ceiling. He’d say how silly it is to demand spending cuts without saying what will be cut.
With a bigger majority, McCarthy would have been spared an embarrassing week of reality-TV-like far-right bickering and threats verging on fistfights that led to his election as a weak speaker.
If there had been a red wave, the likes of Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.) and Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) would not be the poster children of the GOP.
In the first month of the new Congress, the absence of a red wave has unleashed self-destructive GOP politics. It is a perfect fit with President Biden’s description of Republicans as a party under the control of MAGA Trump extremism “that threatens the very foundations of our republic.”
And most Republicans in Congress, as well as the core of Republican voters, remain loyal to Trump.
Last week the Morning Consult 2024 GOP Primary Tracker had 49 percent of Republicans supporting Trump’s candidacy to be the party’s next presidential nominee. A trio of polls released in the past week — by Emerson College, Harvard CAPS and Morning Consult — all showed Trump leading Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.) by double digits for the nomination among GOP voters.
The GOP’s base of radical Trump voters can determine the outcome of Republican primaries, but three straight elections offer evidence that they weigh down Republicans in House, Senate and presidential elections. They are distancing the party from the future of American politics.
The few remaining congressional Republicans anywhere close to middle-of-the-road politics know they are at risk.
There are 18 House Republicans from congressional districts that Biden won in 2020. Their voters can see the nation’s economy is improving, according to economic data released last week. Their voters can see the U.S. is making a stand against Russian aggression in Ukraine.
But the far-right appetite for extremism and chaos leads Republicans in Congress to embrace bad behavior.
Last week, Rep. Cory Mills (R-Fla.) passed out dummy grenades carrying the GOP’s elephant logo. He had to attach a note saying the grenades do not contain explosives.
The temptation to match Mills’s behavior is a trap for Republican politicians.
If they condemn the conspiracy theories, the threatening behavior and the lies, they risk being condemned on many conservative radio shows and social media. Those programs are winning ratings and profits with programming that panders to the Trump base.
The success of the conservative-media echo chamber has convinced too many GOP politicians that a small but reliable, hard-core segment of GOP voters will similarly reward them for media-ready shows of rudeness and anger over a political system that defeated Trump.
As a strategy for winning elections in 2024, the current Republican bad behavior is comically bad news for Republicans. Exit polls from last year’s midterms showed moderate and independent voters effectively holding up a stop sign to all of that. Moderates, about 30 to 40 percent of the electorate, favor Democrats by 15 percentage points. Independent voters, about 30 percent of voters, favored Democrats by 2 percentage points.
These are the same moderate and independent voters who put Biden in the White House in 2020.
Republicans need to attract those voters. But the hard-right base of the GOP can’t move on from Trump-led radicalism based on the lie that the 2020 election was stolen from Trump.
Among Republicans planning to vote in November’s midterm election, 65 percent told NBC News they do not think Joe Biden was legitimately elected president. Among “Trump-first” Republicans, the number was 95 percent.
A majority of Republican voters — nearly 60 percent — said a year ago that it was not important to investigate the violent Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol by armed radicals trying to prevent Biden from replacing Trump. In fact, by June 2022, more than half of Republicans believed the Jan. 6 violence was led by liberals. In January, 75 percent of Republicans said it was “time to move on.”
Meanwhile, according to Politifact, 66 percent of all voters agree that Biden was legitimately elected president. What’s more significant is a majority of voters — including a majority of independents — thinks Trump’s actions after the 2020 election constitute a crime; significantly, that number increased among independents between July and December of last year.
The Republicans’ basic strategy for the next two years is to attack Biden even when the President has success. They can also see the party has opened itself to strong counterattacks by Biden and congressional Democrats, especially on the top issue for voters, the economy.
Biden is already making campaign-style speeches about Republicans who, he claims, “want to cut your Social Security and Medicare.” He also spoke about House GOP proposals to replace the current tax code with a 30 percent sales tax and do away with the Internal Revenue Service.
It all comes back to the GOP’s failure to produce a red wave. Without a strong majority, Speaker McCarthy is in a position where he cannot afford to alienate any of the extremists in his caucus or even free himself from the mockery of Santos.
McCarthy embodies today’s GOP as a captive of kooks, grifters and aspiring authoritarians — and as a result, he may very well be leading the party to defeat in 2024.
Juan Williams is an author and a political analyst for Fox News Channel.
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