It’s not been as surprising or strange a midterm election as Democrats and the media make it out to be. That Democrats held their own nationally despite inflation at a 40-year high shouldn’t be a surprise. If anything, they underperformed woefully. They didn’t have candidates for opposition. They had hoodlums and anarchists who deny elections, science and democracy, celebrate insurrections and applaud a Supreme Court returning American law to 1922. Democrats should have crushed it. Instead, they lost the House. They have a gutsy but decrepit president. They’re barely hanging on, just like our democracy.
To top it off, Ron DeSantis, running against a former Republican who should have confined himself to his tanning booth, confirmed that Florida is a one-party state fully willing to embrace Hungary’s lukewarm fascism, rewriting election laws to discourage participation, turning teachers and professors who still believe in academic freedom into public enemies, giving ignoramuses more power than teachers and calling it “parental rights,” and continue to champion building in the path of hurricanes and rising seas, in praise of that new fake god, “resiliency,” while denying climate change.
Florida is the nation’s fourth largest economy, the world’s 16th largest, if it were its own country. It’s right behind Mexico and ahead of the big economies of the Netherlands, Saudi Arabia and Turkey. Florida, whose years as a peninsula are numbered, could be a leader in green technology and climate policy, like California. Instead, we get a governor who says we’re “not going to do all that left-wing stuff.” Tell Flagler Beach and Fort Myers what was so leftist about Ian and Nicole. But so it goes in the state where The Villages’ short-horizon senescence sets the political agenda and defines our future. What do those geezers care if half the state’s contours may be under water by mid-century? They only look as far as the back nine.
So it’s appropriate that Florida is also home to Donald Trump, a DeSantis without a clue other than glorying in his rotundity. I hear Democrats cheering his return. They think they can do to him what they did to most of the bandits he backed. They shouldn’t be so smug. He still has a path back to power, because as we see in Florida, as we see locally, the driving force in most people’s choices—Republican or Democratic— is closer to a form of religious zealotry than thoughtful deliberation.
Still, there are also good reasons to think that at some levels, democracy is functioning. The fact that election results were so different nationally, state by state and locally suggests that local still matters to a degree. It’s not a coincidence that in Flagler County between the primary and the general election, most of the candidates who adopted national talking points lost. Most of those were extremists who didn’t have much to offer locally. They thought they could fool the electorate by reading Sean Hannity’s scripts. They failed. Poetic justice: the County Commission is giving Joe Mullins his ceremonial send-off Monday, Voltaire’s birthday (and mine: thank you for the gift).
Flagler County cleaned house remarkably well, restoring the possibility that our elected boards will be run like our constitutional offices: if that’s what it is to be Republican, sign me up, though that still leaves us with a few outliers. Will Furry’s election is not necessarily an exception. It’s an indication of how clueless Flagler Democrats have become. Furry had no business beating Courtney VandeBunte, but in general elections, FDR, JFK and Barack Obama could all run for any local seat in Flagler County and still lose, especially if they have no dark money to buy the race.
So Democrats have two choices in Flagler: they can either get their good candidates to switch to Republican and run them as moderates–and support the hell out of them–or they can keep watching good candidates die at the polls. Switching to Republican, or supporting moderate Republicans, giving Democrats a substantial role to play as kingmakers, is not abandoning principles. It’s playing politics. Democrats should be reading Machiavelli’s Prince, not How to Catch a Unicorn.
Look around. Cheryl Massaro is a moderate Republican. Nick Klufas is a moderate Republican. Milissa Holland was a moderate Republican. Bob Cuff is as close as Palm Coast came to having a Pericles for a councilman (he remains the first citizen of Palm Coast), was a moderate Republican. Colleen Conklin still calls herself a Democrat but the only reason she’s survived as the longest-serving elected official in the county is because she’s drifted right over the years, without losing her bearings. Sally Hunt won as a Democrat, barely, only because her opponent revealed herself as a crusader who saw Satan everywhere she looked.
Meanwhile one superb Democratic candidate after another has gone down in flames: Corinne Hermle, Vincent Lyon, Bob Coffman, Carl Jones, and now Courtney VandeBunte. What does it matter if these men and women were in office with an R next to their name? It wouldn’t make them any less superb. Just more strategic. But it’s not just a lack of strategy. The local Democratic Party doesn’t know how to organize. Party volunteers have been no-shows at the polls. The public library was so bannered in red tents in the last two election cycles, I thought communism was making a comeback. Democrats were dormant, even when they had the approximation of a presence. Republicans haven’t made Flagler a one-party county. Democrats have.
Moderate Republican, in this cesspool of extremism, is not only the only winnable way to go, it’s also, given the alternative, the only morally defensible way to go, because the alternative doesn’t work. It’s itself a form of zealotry hiding as principle. This isn’t the Flagler County of 2008, when Democrats held a majority in registrations. The county has radically changed. The only people who haven’t are the Democrats. For despairing liberals like me, we really don’t need Democrats’ impotence making us more suicidal than we already are.