Design a site like this with
Get started

Are Losing Political Campaigns Always Useless?

A consensus is taking shape among anti-MAGAs about Beto O’Rourke of Texas, and perhaps as well about Stacey Abrams of Georgia: Go away, you losers, and stop sucking up valuable political oxygen, and cash. This sentiment is arguably a subtler example of democratic decadence than the far more florid manifestations now growing on the corpse of the Republican Party, but it is still wrongheaded. O’Rourke and Abrams have each lost two races in their respective states, but this is a far cry from turning into the renowned laughingstock loser of twentieth-century American politics, Harold Stassen, who first ran for president as a Republican in 1948, when he was considered a serious candidate, and made his last attempt in 1992, never once having achieved his own party’s nomination.

People who think you lose one or two elections and you’re done really don’t understand the basic nature of democracy, or American political history. It’s well known and has been the subject of recent books that conservative Republican Barry Goldwater’s landslide loss to incumbent President Lyndon Johnson in 1964 contained the seeds of both a right-wing takeover of the GOP and long-term Republican dominance in presidential elections within a very few years. How so? The few states that Goldwater carried in ’64, apart from his own state of Arizona, were all in the Deep South. This was an earthquake, because the “Solid South” had been under one-party rule by racist white Democrats ever since they had violently crushed Reconstruction and equal rights for Black people from the 1870s through the 1890s. But by 1964, Democrat Lyndon Johnson, who was from Texas, had made clear his intention to spend the political credit from JFK’s assassination on achieving civil rights for African Americans. So the racist White South was ready to jump ship, at just the moment that Goldwater’s candidacy gave them the signal that a transformed Republican Party would now be on their side. 

There are countless less significant stories in American political lore, and that of other democracies, of losing candidates later prevailing, sometimes in stunning comebacks. And in our two cases, there is a vital consideration, far more important than the future of O’Rourke, Abrams, or any other individual candidate: We cannot allow the creation of a new Solid South, this time under the unshakable one-party control of the MAGA-tized Republicans. The implications for the future of American democracy would be at least as dire as they were in the heyday of the old Solid South, when tens of thousands of Klansmen marched on Washington, D.C., and every federal anti-lynching bill was filibustered to death in the Senate. Preventing that requires brave and energetic young candidates like O’Rourke and Abrams to run and, yes, lose, until the tide turns. At the very least, it makes MAGA creatures like Greg Abbott realize that someone is watching, they are still accountable to the voters, and they cannot just do whatever they want like Huey Long in his heyday turning Louisiana into a dictatorship.

We have already seen from the still-incomplete results of the midterm elections that MAGA is far less powerful and popular than it made itself out to be, yet still extremely dangerous. Now is no time to grow weak and complacent and give up on whole swaths of the country.


One thought on “Are Losing Political Campaigns Always Useless?

  1. There might not have been a “red wave,” but they’ve still got fairly solid control of half the country, and if the runoff shakes out just the wrong way, they could have simple-majority control of both the House and the Senate (not to mention a 6-3 on the Supreme Court), all of which would make it super easy for them to wriggle Trump or DeSantis into the Presidency in 2024.

    People turn to fascism (and/or religious nationalism) when they’re unhappy and feel out of control… and I get the feeling the situations with dark money, oligarchs, international tensions, and coming climate shifts, are all going to get worse in the next couple of years.

    All this to say that I agree with you: the threat is not just present… but still much more likely than I feel even remotely comfortable with.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: