The election will be what you make of it
Erick Erickson | A midterm swing toward conservatism offers a social and cultural opportunity
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In 1992, James Carville and Paul Begala ran Bill Clinton’s campaign against President George H.W. Bush. “It’s the economy, stupid!” famously became their campaign theme. Conservatives can feel the cultural tide on their side this election season, with voter reactions against transgenderism, cultural indoctrination in schools, and critical race theory, but the 2022 midterm election is likely to be more about the economy.
Inflation rules the day. In the latest ABC News poll, 83 percent of Americans “say that the economy is either an extremely or very important issue in determining how they will vote.” President Joe Biden’s job approval hovers around 40 percent. Republicans lead on the generic ballot question of “which party should control Congress.” Republicans also should pick up a majority in the House of Representatives just on redistricting wins.
As voters prepare to vote out the Democrats over the economy, the same voters are also letting their rage out on issues of the culture war. While Democrats tend to call conservatives the culture warriors, it is the progressive left, comfortably at home in the Democratic Party, who are waging war against the American cultural status quo.
After a year of denying that liberal teachers are indoctrinating children into pagan sexual orientations, The Washington Post highlighted how some schools outside conservative states are now fully embracing sexual indoctrination. The tweet for this article sums it up: “In Florida and several [other] states, educators are restricted in teaching about gender identity, but elsewhere, teachers are embracing the topic as the number of transgender and gender nonbinary children rises.” They quickly changed the message from “this does not happen” to “it happens, and it is good.”
A backlash is building. Parents are furious that critical race theory is being woven into history lessons with their children being taught they are either oppressors or oppressed. Worse, the insidious nature of critical theory on public education teaches that the entire American enterprise is illegitimate and systemically racist. On top of that, children are being force-fed pronoun games to confuse and entice them.
Local boards of election are seeing the parental backlash firsthand. In Monroe County, Ga., a Republican-oriented county that increasingly serves as a suburb of metro Atlanta, parents just shifted the school board to the right. In San Francisco, not exactly considered a conservative enclave, voters recalled the wokest of the woke school board members. In Arkansas, Republican state legislators who opposed school choice lost their primaries.
As encouraging as these events are, Christians should exercise caution and not place too much hope in the Republican Party, or any political party. The U.S. Supreme Court will soon decide the Dobbs case and potentially end the era of Roe v. Wade. Once that happens, many Republicans will argue that the party should move on from social conservatism. Increasingly, some on the political right flirt with how to make peace with the LGBTQ community (sometimes minus the T). In so doing, more than one Republican has tried to thread the needle to support legislation like the Equality Act, which would mandate discrimination against Christian businesses and non-profits that are not explicitly church-oriented.
Also, many of our fellow travelers on the right are using issues like critical theory and transgenderism to advance a political ideology devoid of Christ. As Ross Douthat, the columnist for The New York Times, has noted, those who do not like the Christian right are going to really dislike the post-Christian right.
So long as Christians are seen as a dominant political force on the right, the GOP will cater to our values and agenda. They will affirm life. They will work to protect Christians from the excesses of pagan progressivism hostile toward the church. They will echo our calls for socially conservative values. But we should not be surprised to find that beneath the veneer there are more and more secular voices trying to drive the Republican agenda.
This election will be what the winners make of it. We can claim it is a parental backlash. There will be evidence. We can claim it is a repudiation of progressivism. There will be evidence of that, too. But ultimately and honestly, this is likely to be an election about the economy, and in a few years the very voters who side with us to toss the Democrats out could turn on us and toss out our candidates, regardless of the Democrats’ social values.
Our goal, through all the pendulum swings, must be consistency, clarity of conscience, and a willingness to show kindness, even if unreciprocated, in every direction. We have an opportunity now to use the coming wave to advance our social and cultural agenda. We will be most successful by being humble and focusing on the local level. At the national level, the economy is still likely to dominate the agenda. The political intensity is high, and so is the tension.
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