There’s a line of thinking among the American right during this election cycle – and, indeed, among conservatives globally at this particular moment in history – that they ought to be focusing on issues that people are discussing the most, whether that be at the dinner table, the office break room (where they’re still showing up in person, anyway) or even online.

To them, that means the regular, everyday issues that they notice affecting them in their day-to-day lives: The rising costs associated with soaring inflation, the strange state of the economy and crime running rampant in their cities and neighborhoods. While that’s imminently logical to a certain degree – focusing on the issues that people really care about is just basic politics – the key question is in deciding what issues people care about, not the general approach. That’s often what separates the two parties in American politics today – and, indeed, ideological factions all over the world.

Conservatives would like to make the 2022 elections a pocketbook and public safety election, zeroing in on rising costs and rising crime. That’s not only reasonable, but it also plays to the issues that are their strengths: economics and public safety. At an instinctual level, voters in Western democracies tend to understand that a more conservative approach to those issues is inherently more rational, and that goes doubly so in uncertain times.

If there’s one thing that both parties ought to be able to agree about, it’s that this country – and this world – face uncertain times.

By their very nature, fiscal conservatives – regardless whether they are Republicans or Democrats, liberals or conservatives – manage the economy better. We don’t need either too much state intervention or too little in a capitalist democracy; voters understand this, and Democrats have likely intervened too much as of late, contributing to soaring inflation. Similarly, the general public is well aware that lenient policies toward crime may be palatable when crime is low, but when crime is high, they expect politicians to get tough. Even before they leaned in to the “defund the police” movement, liberal politicians have never really had much of a solution on their side for crime: They tend to just throw out ideas and hope they work.

Given that view, one would expect a Republican landslide, on the scale of 2010 or 1994 or even greater. Yet, that does not seem to be manifesting: Recent polls have shown Democrats to be on the rise, and fundraising, too, seems to be about even or in their favor. So, what’s happening?


Well, one problem is that social conservatives actually have achieved one of their long-sought goals: overturning Roe v. Wade. Although they might have hoped for the outcome, the Supreme Court’s timing could not have been worse for Republicans politically. It brought the abortion issue back to the forefront of voters’ minds, reengaging the Democratic base and reuniting the party. Even in individual legislative races, Republicans need an answer on abortion. That decision, combined with the slight decrease in inflation as of late, has cut the Republican lead both nationally and in Maine.

The question is not whether to focus on everyday issues that voters care about, but about what voters care about most. Will voters care more about fiscal and public safety issues, or will they prioritize abortion rights and concerns about democracy? Right now, voters disagree not just about the solutions, but also about which issues are the most important; the recent Emerson College poll showed that. The question, then, is which group of voters will show up at the polls – always a difficult calculation, even with highly sophisticated polling.

So, what to expect this November? Well, it may be quite a bit of a mixed bag for both parties. Nationally, Republicans will probably still take the House; the Senate is an open question. Here in Maine, the statewide and 2nd District races will be up in the air; they’ll probably come down to the wire. How they break may well depend on last-minute developments. Control of the Legislature will likely come down to individual races, and whether each party recruited strong candidates in particular districts, rather than any statewide trend. The rest of the country may yet see an electoral wave this year, but it doesn’t seem to be arriving on Maine’s shores. All in all, the only solid prediction for election night in Maine this year is that it’s going to be a long, messy one.

Jim Fossel, a conservative activist from Gardiner, worked for Sen. Susan Collins. He can be contacted at:
[email protected]
Twitter: @jimfossel

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