Friday, January 27, 2023
Jan. 27, 2023

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Jayne: Republicans need to redirect

By , Columbian Opinion Page Editor
Published:

There seems to be some cognitive dissonance, or maybe just a lack of understanding. Like hitting your face with a skillet and then wondering why your nose is broken.

As part of a concession statement following his defeat in the 3rd District congressional race, Joe Kent wrote:

“I promised during the campaign that I would accept the outcome of the election, now definitively determined as the recount has concluded. This morning, I called my opponent to concede and offer my congratulations on her victory. …

“In this loss is an important lesson. We’ve identified over eighty-one thousand Republicans who did not vote in the General Election. Democrats have taken full advantage of ballot harvesting laws in Washington state, but Republicans lag far behind.

“We cannot continue to lose the voter turnout battle. Our party must adapt and I look forward to helping lead this change.”

A couple things stand out. One is that Kent acknowledged reality and conceded. After he built a political name for himself by echoing Donald Trump’s lies about the 2020 presidential election, this was not a given.

A concession or lack thereof does not change the outcome of an election, and it is a sad commentary that we should laud a losing candidate for admitting they lost. But such is modern politics.

The more interesting part of Kent’s statement, however, involves voter turnout. It’s not clear how Kent’s campaign identified 81,000 Republicans who did not vote in the general election; Washington has voters, not Republicans or Democrats, because we don’t register as one or the other. But maybe Kent is better at math than I am.

Indeed, in the primary election, five Republican candidates culled 64.77 percent of the vote. That certainly made it appear that Kent had the edge in the general election against Democrat Marie Gluesenkamp Perez, but it ignores the fact that his pandering to the extreme fringe of his party likely turned off a lot of mainstream Republican voters.

With the extremists being the most visible members of the Republican Party and with moderates being dismissed as RINOs, the party has erected an ever-shrinking fence around its base.

Democrats have extremists, as well. But when the party was facing an existential crisis, it embraced normalcy in the form of Joe Biden; Republicans piled onto the Trump zeppelin, which always has been one spark away from exploding.

So maybe one reason Republicans didn’t vote is that Kent was more focused on national celebrity than dealing with issues that impact his district.

But another reason has to do with the dissonance, and that is solely a Republican problem. For two years, voters have been told that elections are rigged, that voting doesn’t matter, that fraud is rampant. They have been told that vote-by-mail is open to chicanery and that vote counts can’t be trusted.

Those are lies, of course, trumpeted by a charlatan, but some people believe them. And the people most likely to believe them are the people Kent needed to vote.

In the end, Kent was a victim of the philosophy he chose to embrace. In 2021, for example, Trump declared, “If we don’t solve the Presidential Election Fraud of 2020 (which we have thoroughly and conclusively documented), Republicans will not be voting in ’22 or ’24. It is the single most important thing for Republicans to do.”

It is not clear whether that was a threat or a promise. And it is not clear how many would-be Republican voters took it to heart. But if you spend two years telling people their vote doesn’t count, they are less likely to partake.

Which brings up the most important facet of Kent’s statement. He is right about Republicans needing to adapt, but he is wrong about the direction.

Because rather than focusing on specious culture wars or repeating lies about election fraud, the solution is rather simple. Republicans could try supporting policies that the American public actually likes. That’s better, after all, than smacking yourself in the face and wondering what went wrong.

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