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Ruben Navarrette: In midterms, Democrats dodge a bullet and step on a rake

From the commentary: The poor guy. Biden always sings the same song. He is convinced that he's doing all the right things, and he can't understand why he is not getting credit. So, he reasons, it must be because the messaging isn't working. The American people just don't know everything he's doing. Biden thinks his problem is communicating. It's not. It's competency.

U.S. President Joe Biden reacts as he departs for Indonesia, in Phnom Paenh
U.S. President Joe Biden reacts as he departs for Indonesia, in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, November 13, 2022.
REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
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SAN DIEGO — I used to love politics. At least until the wacky 2022 midterm elections came along and took all the fun out of it.

Ruben Navarrete column logo
Ruben Navarrete column logo
Kit Grode / Tribune graphic
From the commentary: Voters are not saluting the idea that Joe Biden should be the Democratic nominee in 2024.
From the commentary: Those of us who want immigration reform ... aren't supposed to express our frustrations out loud.
From the commentary: The Uvalde massacre was a test for the Texas Rangers, and they failed miserably.
From the commentary: Latinos needed a feel-good story, and we've been waiting for a hero we can be proud of. ... Rich Fierro is the one. His bravery helps the nation see who we really are and what we bring to the party. The story of Latinos in the United States must be told — in full. In a bloodstained crime scene at an LGBTQ club in Colorado Springs, an inspiring chapter was written.

It was in the fall of 1984, during my senior year in high school, that I first started paying attention to candidates, elections and issues. I loved the competition of ideas. Still do.

Today, as a journalist, I strive to put politics into context by simplifying the complicated and to hold the powerful accountable for their mistakes, lies and broken promises.

It's become routine for the sanctimonious to scold Americans and tell them to vote because, supposedly, it is their civic duty. The idea has taken hold that if you don't vote, you're not a good citizen.

I once believed that. But not anymore. Now I believe that what makes someone a good citizen is demanding more from the parties, the politicians and the process. Good citizenship is not achieved by settling for mediocrity and choosing the lesser evil.

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For the past few years, I have been on the brink of detesting politics. I'm fed up with falsehoods, hypocrisy, elitism, misinformation, situational ethics, short memories, rivers of cash, misleading ads and lame excuses from politicians about why they underperform. I strongly dislike both parties, and lately I can't tell them apart. Elected officials may push for different policies, but — as political operatives — their modus operandi to achieve their goals is pretty much the same.

Then came the 2022 midterm elections, which were full of surprises. It's not just that they didn't turn out the way most political observers thought they would and that the red wave dried up. Democrats tried to convince voters that there was nothing more important than preserving democracy and safeguarding the federal right to an abortion.

All the while, pollsters were finding that voters had more practical issues on their minds, such as inflation, gas prices and the cost of groceries.

When an NBC News exit poll asked voters which issue mattered most this year, 31% said inflation and 27% chose abortion. But "saving democracy" didn't even make it into the top five.

Leading up to Election Day, Democrats were so deep in denial about just how unpopular President Biden and his policies were that they fell even further out of step with voters — including many of their constituents.

When that same NBC News exit poll asked voters what effect, if any, Biden's policies were having on the country, 33% said the policies were benefiting the country, and 18% said they weren't making any difference. Nearly half — 47% — said that Biden's policies were hurting the country.

According to the poll, as many as 75% of voters think the country is headed in the wrong direction. Given that, it was absolutely surreal watching how Biden answered a question at Wednesday's news conference. The president was asked what he planned to do differently in the next two years to convince Americans that the country is headed in the right direction, especially if he planned to run for reelection in 2024.

"Nothing," Biden responded. "Because they're just finding out what we're doing. The more they know about what we're doing, the more support there is. … I'm not going to change anything in any fundamental way."

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The poor guy. Biden always sings the same song. He is convinced that he's doing all the right things, and he can't understand why he is not getting credit. So, he reasons, it must be because the messaging isn't working. The American people just don't know everything he's doing. Biden thinks his problem is communicating. It's not. It's competency.

If there is one group of Americans that understands this distinction, and that seems determined to hold Biden accountable for his failures and shortcomings, it is Latinos. Their gradual migration to the Republican Party is a real thing, and it continues unabated.

From the commentary: In another America where laws were once supposed to be equally enforced (the exception being the rule) and truth was not personal, this would likely not have been a problem.
From the commentary: (The judge) said he’d alert everyone when his ruling was coming. ... And that he would give everyone a chance to respond before he released the report, if (it was to be) released.
From the commentary: It's clear that whatever else happens, sets should be safer as a result of what Baldwin did.
From the commentary: By passing bipartisan laws and enforcing strong ethics, our elected leaders can once again demonstrate that they are working for the people and promoting the common good.
From the commentary: People who threaten to blow up an airplane if their political demands aren't met are political terrorists.
From the commentary: A policy of complete openness in most areas of information would lead to a more useful debate of national security issues and perhaps sounder policy choices.
From the commentary: More than anything else, Democrats’ current harmony reflects the fact that few party members now see themselves as facing such a dilemma (back home).
From the commentary: Every day is a new embarrassment, not just for (George Santos) but for the Republicans in Congress.
From the commentary: It is time to recognize obesity in childhood and adolescence for the complex chronic disease that it is.
From the commentary: To be clear, their questions are mainly about determining the best way to deliver care to teens — not about the value of treatment itself.

Just look at Florida. The big winner in the midterm elections was Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, who beat Democratic challenger Charlie Crist by nearly 20 percentage points — 59.4% to 40%. And, according to the Miami Herald, he won roughly 65% of the vote in majority-Latino precincts in the state.

What can Democrats do to reverse this trend? To borrow a phrase from Biden, the answer might be: "nothing."

Republicans got this far with Latinos only because Democrats neglected us and took us for granted. Unless and until Republicans make the same mistake, Democrats won't have the chance to win us back.

This commentary is Ruben Navarrette's opinion. He can be reached at ruben@wctrib.com.

© 2022, The Washington Post Writers Group

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This story was written by one of our partner news agencies. Forum Communications Company uses content from agencies such as Reuters, Kaiser Health News, Tribune News Service and others to provide a wider range of news to our readers. Learn more about the news services FCC uses here.

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