The best lack all con­vic­tion, while the worst
Are full of pas­sion­ate intensity.

–– William Butler Yeats,

Eighteen months can be an epoch in pol­i­tics. Situations and for­tunes can change so quickly.

In March 1991, for exam­ple, after a U.S.-led coali­tion drove Iraqi forces from Kuwait, near­ly nine in 10 Americans gave President George H.W. Bush high marks. But by August 1992, almost two-thirds dis­ap­proved of the job he was doing.

What changed was a reces­sion, which helped the Democratic can­di­date, Bill Clinton.

“It’s the econ­o­my, stu­pid,” Clinton’s cam­paign man­ag­er, James Carville, told his team.

But it wasn’t only the economy.

On open­ing night of the 1992 Republican National Convention, the con­ser­v­a­tive fire­brand Pat Buchanan declared what he called a “cul­tur­al war.” He denounced “abor­tion on demand” and “the amoral idea that gay and les­bian cou­ples should have the same stand­ing in law as mar­ried men and women.” He and oth­er speak­ers railed against envi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion, dis­crim­i­na­tion against fund­ing for reli­gious schools and denounced the 1992 Los Angeles riots, but didn’t men­tion the racism and police bru­tal­i­ty that sparked them.

President Bush may have want­ed a “kinder and gen­tler nation,” but the hard­lin­ers who scoffed at his civil­i­ty were ascendant.

In 1990, Donald Trump ridiculed President Bush, telling Playboy that “if this coun­try gets any kinder or gen­tler, it’s lit­er­al­ly going to cease to exist.”

Decades lat­er, President Trump demon­strat­ed an unkind and bru­tal approach to pol­i­tics. His strat­e­gy was to divide and con­quer by turn­ing white sub­ur­ban res­i­dents against peo­ple of col­or, blue-col­or work­ers against immi­grants, evan­gel­i­cal con­ser­v­a­tives against sec­u­lar lib­er­als, the afflu­ent against those need­ing pub­lic assis­tance, and vac­cine skep­tics against peo­ple try­ing to pro­tect their fam­i­lies from the dead­liest virus in a cen­tu­ry. He made scape­goats of antifa and Black Lives Matter pro­test­ers while call­ing on para­mil­i­tary groups with AR-15s to “Liberate Michigan” and oth­er states from pub­lic health man­dates. And he cast doubt on jour­nal­ists and schol­ars while spread­ing mis­in­for­ma­tion and con­spir­a­cy theories.

Trump’s reign of error cul­mi­nat­ed in the American car­nage of Jan. 6, 2021, when the domes­tic ter­ror­ists he had sum­moned to Washington as part his failed attempt to over­turn his lost elec­tion smashed their way into the Capitol, bat­tled police, and hunt­ed down mem­bers of Congress and the vice pres­i­dent with mur­der­ous intent.

It was an insur­rec­tion led by a nar­cis­sis­tic dem­a­gogue who would have become a tyrant if giv­en a sec­ond term — and who may yet return to pow­er unless Americans awak­en to the dan­ger our democ­ra­cy faces.

I’ve been think­ing about William Butler Yeats’ poem, “The Second Coming.”

Turning and turn­ing in the widen­ing gyre 

The fal­con can­not hear the falconer;

Things fall apart; the cen­tre can­not hold …

We were spared four more years of the rough beast by the unlike­li­est res­cuer, Joe Biden. The elder states­man had retired after half a cen­tu­ry in pub­lic life and had no inten­tion of run­ning for pres­i­dent a third time. But then Charlottesville hap­pened, and Biden heard Trump say there were “fine peo­ple on both sides” after one of the white suprema­cists drove his car into a crowd, killing a civ­il rights demon­stra­tor. That got Biden’s hack­les up, and he knew he had to take this guy out. The “soul of America” was at stake, he said.

Biden looked around and knew he was the only one who could do it. He was the only Democrat in the race that every­body knew, and the oth­er 26 can­di­dates were too lib­er­al to attract enough vot­ers in the mid­dle, includ­ing mod­er­ate Republicans, that any Democrat must have to win the White House and gain con­trol of Congress in what is essen­tial­ly a cen­ter-right country.

A strat­e­gy that seeks only to excite the Democratic Party’s base of pro­gres­sive activists and bring more inac­tive vot­ers to the polls is des­tined to fail. It always has. There sim­ply aren’t enough lib­er­als to make a majority.

According to a 2021 Gallup poll, only 25 per­cent of Americans call them­selves lib­er­als, while near­ly three-quar­ters con­sid­er them­selves mod­er­ates or con­ser­v­a­tives. Even among Democrats, those who iden­ti­fy as mod­er­ate or con­ser­v­a­tive make up about half of the total.

Although pro­gres­sives such as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Bernie Sanders can win con­gres­sion­al races in deep blue enclaves of the coun­try, it was cen­trist can­di­dates, such as Conor Lamb and Abigail Spanberger, who took back the House of Representatives in 2018 by win­ning in con­ser­v­a­tive dis­tricts. And red-state mod­er­ate Democrats like Jon Tester, Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema are the rea­son Democrats are tied with Republicans for con­trol of the Senate.

Still, the net­roots and par­ty activists who dom­i­nate the can­di­date selec­tion process and define the Democrats’ mes­sage can’t seem to fig­ure that out, or they just don’t care.

This year in Pennsylvania Democrats reject­ed Lamb, who would have been an ide­al can­di­date to win a gen­er­al elec­tion for the Senate, and instead chose John Fetterman, an ultra-left can­di­date who will prob­a­bly lose the seat to Trump’s pick, Dr. Mehmet Oz.

It’s almost cer­tain that Democrats will lose their 10-seat House major­i­ty in November. If they lose the Senate, too, which they con­trol now only because Vice President Kamala Harris can break a 50–50 tie, their agen­da is fin­ished for at least two years and prob­a­bly longer.

The Democratic Party has had some suc­cess­es. Biden was able to get his $2 tril­lion COVID relief pack­age passed. The pres­i­dent and con­gres­sion­al lead­ers also were able to nego­ti­ate a $1 tril­lion infra­struc­ture deal, but unbe­liev­ably, pro­gres­sives threat­ened to hold it hostage until they could get a gar­gan­tu­an Build Back Better grab bag. The left­ists final­ly relent­ed and took the win. Recently, con­ser­v­a­tives Manchin and Sinema have agreed to a small­er cli­mate change and social spend­ing pack­age that also includes some deficit reduc­tion pro­vi­sions. It isn’t the $3 tril­lion pack­age pro­gres­sives want­ed — it’s clos­er to $300 bil­lion — but it’s still a big deal.

A nation­al emer­gency like the coro­n­avirus pan­dem­ic is a legit­i­mate rea­son for deficit spend­ing, and both the Republicans and Democrats ran up large deficits to deal with the par­tial eco­nom­ic shut­down. The price tag has been cost­ly, and gov­ern­ment spend­ing on the res­cue and recov­ery has con­tributed to infla­tion, though it is not the main rea­son for it.

But here’s the thing. Americans didn’t vote for Biden to be the Second Coming of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Nor did they give con­gres­sion­al Democrats a man­date to run up tril­lions of dol­lars in debt on a wish list of things that aren’t urgent. They vot­ed for things to return to nor­mal and to bridge the chasm in our culture.

Those vot­ers who gave Democrats the win­ning mar­gin in 2018 and 2020 tend to be in the mid­dle on both social and eco­nom­ic issues. Most Americans now sup­port same-sex mar­riage, think abor­tion should be legal in some cas­es, and favor rea­son­able gun con­trol mea­sures, such as expand­ed back­ground checks and red flag laws. But most of us also favor sig­nif­i­cant restric­tions on abor­tion, are alarmed by pro­pos­als to make semi­au­to­mat­ic guns ille­gal and believe that reli­gious free­dom requires there be pro­tec­tions for peo­ple who hold tra­di­tion­al Christian beliefs on sexuality.

Rhetoric about de-fund­ing the police and abol­ish­ing immi­gra­tion enforce­ment, describ­ing expec­tant moth­ers as “preg­nant peo­ple,” advo­cat­ing for demo­c­ra­t­ic social­ism, remov­ing Abraham Lincoln’s name from schools because he wasn’t pro­gres­sive enough by 21st cen­tu­ry stan­dards, and teach­ing chil­dren that racism is the defin­ing theme of American his­to­ry won’t make Democrats more pop­u­lar among voters.

Let’s face it, Republicans don’t have an agen­da right now for deal­ing with the country’s needs. Grievance is all they’ve got. But it’s work­ing for them. Why add fuel to their fire by talk­ing about things the vast major­i­ty of Democrats, like the vast major­i­ty of Americans, don’t support?

President Joe Biden. (White House photo)
President Joe Biden was able to win the 2020 gen­er­al elec­tion despite the country’s cen­ter-right tilt because he was the most mod­er­ate of the 27 Democrats who sought the nom­i­na­tion and was able to pull enough dis­af­fect­ed Republicans and inde­pen­dents over to his side in an effort to return the coun­try to some degree of nor­mal­cy after four years of chaos under for­mer pres­i­dent Donald Trump. (White House photo) 

Last month, a New York Times/Siena College poll found that 64 per­cent of Democratic vot­ers pre­ferred anoth­er pres­i­den­tial can­di­date for 2024 instead of President Biden. His 33 per­cent job approval rat­ing is the low­est in half a cen­tu­ry for a pres­i­dent at this point in his first term. The only bright spot for Democrats is that in a rematch against Trump in 2024, a slight major­i­ty favor Biden, 44 to 41 percent.

The main con­cern about Biden is that he’s too old. He would turn 82 dur­ing the first year of a sec­ond term, and at the end of it, he would be clos­er to 90 than 80. But con­sid­er­ing every­thing that is at stake, do we real­ly want to change hors­es in midstream?

What I’m afraid of is that Biden may be the worst choice for the 2024 Democratic nom­i­na­tion — except for all the oth­ers. The names we most often hear men­tioned are Democrats who are even more lib­er­al, such as Harris, Elizabeth Warren, Pete Buttigieg, and Gavin Newsome. And while many Republicans say they would like to have some­one oth­er than Trump, those they men­tion are just as right-wing crazy as he is, includ­ing Rick DeSantis and Kristi Noem.

Why don’t both par­ties con­sid­er can­di­dates who are clos­er to the vital cen­ter and would have more cross-par­ty appeal, such as North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper for the Democrats and Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin for the Republicans?

After see­ing the results of the Aug. 2 Republican pri­maries, how­ev­er, I’m not con­vinced Republican vot­ers will choose rea­son­able can­di­dates for the White House or Congress this year and in 2024.

In Arizona, Trump-endorsed hard-right can­di­dates won every major race on the bal­lot against bet­ter, main­stream Republican candidates.

The GOP nom­i­nee for sec­re­tary of state, Mark Finchem, not only believes the lie that Biden didn’t win, but he was also part of Arizona’s fake-elec­tor scheme to steal the vote and wants to allow state leg­is­la­tors the author­i­ty to over­turn elec­toral votes. Finchem was part of the Jan. 6 protest in Washington, has close ties to the Oath Keepers, an extrem­ist armed mili­tia, and is a Q’Anon con­spir­a­cy theorist.

Democrats have been spend­ing mil­lions of dol­lars on adver­tis­ing to sup­port the most extreme can­di­dates in the Republican pri­maries because they think the extrem­ists will be eas­i­er to defeat in the fall. But they’re play­ing a dan­ger­ous game. Like Marjorie Taylor Greene and Josh Hawley, these can­di­dates could be elected.

Not only is this strat­e­gy risky for Democrats, but it’s also shameful.

Democrats call for bipar­ti­san­ship, but when an hon­or­able Republican, Peter Meijer of Michigan, did the right thing and vot­ed to impeach Trump, they med­dled in the GOP pri­ma­ry and caused him to lose the nom­i­na­tion to John Gibbs, a 2020 elec­tion denier backed by Trump. They’ve done the same thing to oth­er good Republicans in oth­er states.

Our coun­try faces a clear and present dan­ger from Trump and his tox­ic pol­i­tics, and from oth­er author­i­tar­i­an pop­ulists. It is only by empha­siz­ing coun­try over par­ty and build­ing a mod­er­ate, bipar­ti­san coali­tion of cen­ter-left Democrats and cen­ter-right Republicans that we may still save America.

If the cen­ter can­not hold, I fear that this may be the end time for our democracy.

  • Randy Patrick

    Randy Patrick is a deputy coun­ty clerk for elec­tions and vot­er reg­is­tra­tion and a for­mer reporter and edi­tor of The Winchester Sun.