The effect of toxic candidates

The author is an associate researcher at the Raoul-Dandurand Chair, where his work focuses on the study and analysis of American politics.

“I am not a witch. I am you. »

These words have been immortalized in the annals of election advertising 12 years ago. In those first midterm elections of Barack Obama’s presidency in 2010, the Republican opposition was heading for historic gains in the House of Representatives. She also hoped to regain the majority in the Senate.

However, the unexpected nomination of a skewer of candidates who can be described as toxic has derailed this beautiful plan of the Republican staff.

One of these candidates – the witch in question, Christine O’Donnell – had caused the surprise by defeating the most important Republican elected official in Delaware during the Republican primary for the Senate seat once occupied by Joe Biden, a seat that the it was expected to fall into the hands of the Republicans.

Shortly after this appointment, O’Donnell had to defend some of her past statements, including one where she said ” to have dabbled in witchcraft “. The Republican candidate was beaten, by 17 points, during the general elections. Despite the publicity in which she claimed to be part of the normal world.

The same thing happened to a Republican candidate in Nevada, Sharron Angle, who had opposed the two most important social programs in the United States, Medicare and Social Security (which, among other things, guarantee minimum care for the elderly, veterans and people with disabilities), in addition to suggest that the “remedy” to counter Democratic policies was to resort to the “second amendment”, that is to say an armed citizen insurrection.

Added to these awkward candidacies was that of Ken Buck, in Colorado, who declared that women should vote for him because he ” did not wear high heels “, and who had compared homosexuality to alcoholism.

John Raese, West Virginia, had said for its part in favor of the abolition of the minimum wage.

And so, the majority in the Senate slipped through the fingers of the Republicans.

History repeated itself barely two years later with the victory, in the senatorial primaries, of Republican candidates for whom a pregnancy caused by rape was a divine act.

As the stars seem to align for Republicans in view of next November, the 2010 scenario keep haunting party strategists this primary season. The emergence of new toxic candidates is feared.

The 2022 vintage

Those fears were evident this week, in Pennsylvania, with Kathy Barnette, a candidate with a heavy history of homophobic and Islamophobic remarks (and whose slogan, ironically, echoes that of Christine O’Donnell in 2010: ” I am you ! “). Barnette ultimately finished third in the Senate primary on Tuesday night.

In an almost surreal outing, Donald Trump himself had affirmed that Barnette was too controversial to win a general election. That says a lot about the character.

But this is only the beginning of the primary season, more are to come, especially in Arizona where one of the Republican candidates believes the income gap between men and women is justified, since the former “do the jobs most dangerous”.

The question is not whether Republican voters will be seduced by the most radical candidates, but how much their selection in the primaries will hurt the party’s chances in November. Especially in a context where the American presidential system takes the faults of parliamentary regimes.

As have demonstrated political scientistsparliamentary systems like the one born in Great Britain and having inspired that of Canada tend to maximize the weight of the political party as an electoral factor to the detriment of the particular characteristics of the candidates.

Even an incumbent who has done a job praised by his constituents can only hope to do little better than any other candidate from the same party. In the American system, the appreciation of the individual by the electorate weighs more heavily than that of the party to which he is affiliated.

It’s intuitive: party discipline is so rigid in a parliamentary system like Westminster’s that it makes sense that voters see candidates more as interchangeable members of a cohesive team.

However, even if the American political system is built around bipartisan cooperation, the extreme polarization of recent years has led the two major parties to gradually homogenize — and voters to focus more and more on parties and less and less on candidates.

As the following graph illustrates, the number of states electing candidates from different parties for the presidency and for the Senate has dropped since the 1980s. , none did in 2016 — and only one (Maine) in 2020.

If a Republican wave were to sweep the country next November, this new homogeneity would protect the party from its most problematic candidates. In any case, more than in 2010 or 2012.

This could be cause for concern not just for the Democratic Party, but for American democracy.

The day before the Pennsylvania primary, NBC News found that candidate Kathy Barnette had been part of the march on Capitol Hill on January 6, 2021.

If Barnette was finally rejected for the Senate by Republican voters in Pennsylvania on Tuesday, the latter nevertheless simultaneously gave the Republican nomination for the post of governor of the state to a candidate, Doug Mastriano, who was for his part in large rally led by Trump earlier in the day on January 6, before the demonstration at the Capitol.

If elected in November, Mastriano will have the power to appoint the next state election official. Joe Biden had won Pennsylvania over Trump in 2020 by one percentage point.

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The effect of toxic candidates

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