More Votes Than Protests

“I was Donald Trump before Donald Trump became popular.”

Progressives hate to admit it, but sometimes Gov. Paul LePage is right. He was spot-on: Maine offered a glimpse of what it’s like to elevate a blustery, aggressive, quick-mouthed bully to the most prominent position in government well before such elections went national. Not just for one term, but two.

Eight years. Think about that. Gov. LePage was authentically himself not once but twice, and he won election and re-election. Democracy facepalm.

I know what you’re thinking about split votes and 61 percent and so forth. But just like national arguments over the popular vote count versus the electoral college, these points ring hollow. America is a county built on the rule of law, and the system for deciding victors is clearly laid out. The winner must meet the standard, both in Maine and in America. The standard didn’t change. Republicans manage to win despite long odds and minority support. They win over and over.

Such upsets are now common enough that perhaps it should serve as a lesson to progressives. Something in their strategy isn’t working. And Mainers are luckier than most: Here progressives have not only 2016 to look to, but also 2010 and 2014 to for instruction on how not to run against campaigns steeped in misogyny and xenophobia.

It wasn’t so long ago that Barack Obama, the candidate of Hope and Change, swept into office. His stirring defeat of Sen. John McCain left conservatives nationwide on the defensive. But here we are eight years later, and the former opposition party holds not just the presidency, the House and the Senate, but also the majority of state legislatures and 33 governorships. That’s quite a comeback in two terms.

All this while progressives win popular votes? What makes Republicans so powerful?

I was working as a newspaper reporter in New Hampshire in 2009 when President Obama was sworn in. Remember those days? The economy had taken a cliff-jump, mortgage companies were folding, home foreclosures were sweeping nationwide, we were reeling from two wars, and with the inauguration of the first African American president came a new political wave: the Taxed Enough Already movement. It spilled out in loud protest all at once, a spontaneous eruption of right-leaning frustration.

There are echoes of the Tea Party movement today — in form if not in content: Constant protests against the president, the spontaneous upwellings of frustration at airports, schools and street corners in opposition to policy. The issues are different, but the reaction is the same — to take to the streets to make yourself heard.

That’s what progressives do well, far better and in far larger numbers than conservatives did back in 2009. But as a reporter I saw the other wave that came with the Tea Party. They brought more than just protests. Taxed Enough brought a conservative reinvigoration at every level of government. Candidates signing up for city council and school board were suddenly talking about the national debt and the federal budget. These were non-partisan positions, but there was no question where this political wave was born.

And that wave became a Republican boon, an injection into a political feeder system. While Tea Partiers protested in the streets, it was the swarm of new low-level political candidates that had lasting implications. These newly energized recruits were learning the ropes, practicing Robert’s Rules of Order and making connections within the Republican Party apparatus. Voices heard on the news stations and in the streets were one thing, but these conservatives were more focused making theirs heard in chambers of power.

Like progressives, conservatives spilled out into the streets, but they also took a long view, one intent on making their ideology more than just a slogan. The were determined to break into the halls of decision making. They fought their way into Congress and state legislatures, even school boards and select boards. No platform was too small for their fight.

I wonder how many progressives have examined that lesson. Or are they counting another 61 percent?

Last modified onMonday, 20 February 2017 10:53