Is the GOP losing because of… obnoxiousness?: Why have Republicans had so many bad election performances lately? Because many of them are jerks, and they assume voters are jerks too, David Frum argues.
The GOP’s Problem
Why did the Republican Party perform worse than expected in the 2022 midterm elections?
Was it because the issues they concentrated on didn’t have the salience that they thought?
Was it because they were too tied to Donald Trump?
One longtime Republican has another theory: That the GOP is being hurt by “obnoxiousness.”
The Jerk Problem
David Frum, a longtime conservative intellectual who served in George W. Bush’s White House and has since largely broken with his longtime party over Donald Trump, wrote a piece for The Atlantic this week with a blunt headline” “The GOP is Just Obnoxious.”
One example he gave was the Pennsylvania Senate race last year. The Democratic candidate, John Fetterman, suffered a stroke just before the Democratic primary. Ahead of their only debate, staffers for Fetterman’s Republican opponent, Dr. Mehmet Oz, released a tongue-in-cheek list of “concessions” for the debate, which included that Fetterman would “have all of his notes in front of him along with an earpiece so he can have the answers given to him by his staff, in real time.”
Frum noted that this attitude appears to have backfired on Oz, as Fetterman won the race by 250,000 votes in the only 2022 Senate race in which a seat changed hands from one party to the other. The result helped cement the Democrats’ Senate majority.
It’s not clear how big a part the debate memo played — I live in Pennsylvania, followed that race closely, and I barely remember that – but clearly, voters sympathized with Fetterman after the stroke, rather than considering it disqualifying, even after Fetterman gave a subpar debate performance in which he appeared confused.
“Oz’s decision to campaign as a jerk hurt him,” Frum wrote. “When his opponent got sick, Oz could have drawn on his own medical background for compassion and understanding. Before he succumbed to the allure of TV, Oz was an acclaimed doctor whose innovations transformed the treatment of heart disease. He could have reminded voters of his best human qualities rather than displaying his worst.”
Frum’s point is that, as demonstrated by the 2022 election results, there is mounting evidence that large parts of the electorate are rejecting the modern-day Republican worldview as cruel, bullying, and, yes, obnoxious.
And that went far beyond Dr. Oz, to many other candidates in 2022 who lost in swing states.
“Many of the unsuccessful Republican candidates in 2022 offered voters weird, extreme, or obnoxious personas. Among the worst was Blake Masters, a candidate for the U.S. Senate in Arizona. He released photos and campaign videos of himself playing with guns, looking like a sociopath. He lost by nearly five points.”
Here Comes Donald Trump
And that will be an issue in the 2024 contest, presuming that it comes down to former President Donald Trump and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.
The two candidates bring different things to the table, but both are associated with a certain obnoxiousness.
And it’s clear that this style of politics appeals to the GOP base. Whether it flies with the general electorate is another question entirely.
“A generation ago, politicians invested great effort in appearing agreeable: Ronald Reagan’s warm chuckle, Bill Clinton’s down-home charm, George W. Bush’s smiling affability,” Frum writes. “By contrast, Donald Trump delighted in name-calling, rudeness, and open disdain. Not even his supporters would have described Trump as an agreeable person. Yet he made it to the White House all the same—in part because of this trollish style of politics, which has encouraged others to emulate him.”
Frum noted that the “Citizens for Sanity” ads from a Stephen Miller-affiliated group, which ran heavily in the closing weeks of the race, may have turned off lots of voters.
And Republicans continue to push the Hunter Biden laptop story, despite a complete lack of evidence that it’s a winning political issue.
“It’s all pushing conservatives and Republicans back onto the same doomed path they followed in the Trump years: stunts and memes and insults and fabricated controversies in place of practical solutions to the real problems everyday people face. The party has lost contact with the sensibility of mainstream America, a huge country full of decent people who are offended by bullying and cruelty,” Frum writes.
Expertise and Experience: Stephen Silver is a Senior Editor for 19FortyFive. He is an award-winning journalist, essayist and film critic, who is also a contributor to the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Broad Street Review and Splice Today. The co-founder of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle, Stephen lives in suburban Philadelphia with his wife and two sons. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenSilver.