Matteo: The truth about getting elected and lessons to be learned from midterm mistakes

Op-ed views and opinions expressed are solely those of the author.

Approximately thirty years ago I got a taste of politics when I ran for the school board. There were 11 candidates vying for one spot on the school board in Hillsborough County, Florida. It was an interesting experience, and it taught me a great deal about the real world of politics.

After running for office, I realized that getting elected (especially in today’s world of identity politics) is about voter perception and a candidate’s popularity. I ran for office because, at the time, I was a young, naive teacher trying to make a difference. In my race, I always showed up with facts and figures, I wasn’t afraid to give my opinions about issues and I never dodged questions. However, I was a one-man show, which may have happy endings in movies, but in reality, unknowns rarely win elections.

The person who won the school board seat was the president of the PTA, had zero experience in the classroom, and when she was asked to fill out surveys with her political opinions, she would almost always choose the no comment box. She ended up serving for many terms because she knew how to play the political game.

During my run for office, I was very critical of the way money was spent in the county. I was a journalist who did a lot of fact-finding and my articles ruffled the feathers of the superintendent who was forever seeking increases in taxes, when the money was being misspent. When I declared my candidacy, the superintendent asked me to meet with him and revealed that my crusade to change things would be ineffective. He told me that the televised meetings, which were on Tuesdays, had issues that had been decided on Monday by the school board and the Tuesday broadcast was basically a show for the public, which was eye-opening to me.

During my campaign, I would notice how chummy the incumbent candidates were with one another, but would barely give the newcomers who were seeking office the right time of day. I remember how, then-Republican Congressman Mike Bilirakis would laugh and act friendly towards Democratic Congressman Sam Gibbons at places where we were asked to make speeches, despite their being in opposition to one another on almost every issue that was debated in public forums. I also recall how candidates who won elections changed and went from being very approachable and sincere prior to winning elections to being arrogant, phony, and unapproachable after they were elected.

So what does an election that I lost 30 years ago have to do with the elections of today? As we examine why there was no red tidal wave as a response to Biden’s destructive economic and social policies, which have made the lives of all Americans difficult, as well as democratic leadership that has made cities unlivable. The answer lies in the fact that winning elections has always been about a candidate’s ability to vilify his/her opponent and appear as the more likable candidate. Today, more than ever, the average voter appears more likely to succumb to rhetoric above reason, and the results of the midterms have given President Biden what he believes to be the approval of the American public to continue his incompetent and damaging policies.

This is especially true when young voters have been brainwashed to believe that feelings are more important than facts. How many Democratic voters can honestly say that they were excited to vote for Joe Biden when in reality they were more likely to cast their votes against Donald Trump?

The midterm election results should have been a landslide for Republicans, but they weren’t. Given the plight of the average American under liberal policies at the federal, state and local levels, why were these races so close? Why didn’t Republicans dominate the midterms?

The answer is simple: Likability of candidates and the fact that Democrats (along with a blue-backed media) made it appear that electing Republicans would have America go the way of Germany’s Weimar Republic and eventually become a dictatorship run by staunch right-wing thugs led by Donald Trump. One needs only look at Pennsylvania’s debate and John Fetterman’s abysmal performance to understand that this should have been an easy win for Republicans, but it didn’t happen. Then again, this is the same state where a dead Democratic candidate, Anthony Deluca, won reelection, which speaks volumes about the intelligence of Pennsylvania voters.

Trump’s rallies and his tough words may mobilize his followers, but they also serve to mobilize those who hate him to get out and vote against candidates whom he endorsed. In contrast to this, Ron DeSantis, without any help from Donald Trump, won by over 20 points in his race for Florida governor. He did this by talking tough when necessary (without personal attacks) and by touting all of the positives about his administration.

Trump needs to put the needs of the country and of the party above his self-aggrandizing actions because his announcement could impact the Georgia runoff in a negative way and this race will most likely impact the balance of power in the Senate.

Republicans will never get staunch, woke Democrats to vote for them, but these voters are in the minority. The voters that matter are those who are disgusted by bravado, and polarization and who see the reality of bad economic policies that impact them personally.

No retiree could possibly be happy as his/her retirement accounts have been devastated by Biden, especially when these accounts flourished under Trump. The problem is that millennials and Gen X, Y and Z voters outnumber baby boomers and they vote with their emotions and not their bank accounts. It is imperative that the Republican leadership takes a hard look at the results of this election and A) find candidates who will appeal to voters, B) understand what turns off voters, and stop doing it, and C) understand the psychology of what it takes to win elections.

The midterm elections and the number of close races indicate serious problems for conservatives, and if this is to change, an objective evaluation of the election results must be undertaken to avoid a similar result in future elections.

Given the approval rating of this administration and the dismal economic conditions, the party responsible for this situation must be held accountable at the ballot box, but it is up to the party who is not in power to make the most of this opportunity and this was simply not the case in the midterm elections. I hope Republicans can learn from their mistakes.


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