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.
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.
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.
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."
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.
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 email@example.com.
© 2022, The Washington Post Writers Group
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