PITTSBURGH — On the morning of Election Day in western Pennsylvania, Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf mentioned on a local radio show that his wife had submitted his mail-in ballot for him — a direct violation of Pennsylvania election law punishable by up to a year in prison, a $1,000 fine or possibly both.
Had the progressive Democrat signed the voting bill that passed this summer, HB 1300, any member of his household could have dropped it off for him. Moreover, it would have established early in-person voting and required signature verification of mail-in ballots.
When he vetoed the bill, Wolf said at the time it was because it “restricted the freedom to vote.”
This story will last a day or two in the local news. What reporters and elected officials will miss about this moment is where the seed is planted in the public psyche — just one more snippet of information adding to their dissatisfaction with the party in power. It is one of many signs collected over many years that indicate insiders like Wolf are detached from the people they govern.
Their detachment is not just geographical but cultural, and it is not limited to politics. For decades, the nation’s cultural curators have operated through corporations, national sports organizations, Hollywood, academia and the national news media. More and more, they have become detached from the people who buy, watch or are educated by them.
In Wolf’s case, he spent the last two years telling his constituents he knew better on everything, especially regarding his secretive, autocratic handling of the pandemic and his controversial moves regarding business waivers and nursing homes. He allowed only “life-sustaining sectors of the economy” to stay open, yet he initially allowed his family’s cabinet business to remain open. His former health secretary, Rachel Levine, now a prominent member of the Biden administration, made decisions that turned Pennsylvania nursing homes into coronavirus death traps, then removed her mother from a personal care facility.
Their “do as I say not as I do” attitude led to last Tuesday’s reaction, but that wasn’t the first instance. Before that, there was a referendum this spring that curtailed the governor’s emergency powers. Last fall, Democrats lost state House and Senate seats even though they had expected to take over both chambers. They were once again handed defeats in last Tuesday’s elections in places they were supposed to win.
This trend is certainly not limited to Pennsylvania — and it has not always favored Republicans. In 2006, Republicans were wildly out of step with their constituents. Democrats such as Rahm Emmanuel wisely understood that and recruited Democratic candidates who could win in conservative districts. They hired ad-makers like Steve McMahon at Purple Strategies, who created “We share your values” messaging that appealed to independent, Republican and Democratic voters. They won big in that year’s midterm elections.
I have argued for years that the conservative-populist coalition was born in 2008 when John McCain became the Republican nominee. These voters either stayed home or voted against their interests for Barack Obama because of his candidacy’s historic and aspirational nature.
By 2009, their breakaway began, and the anti-establishment Tea Party movement was born. The 2010 midterm elections demonstrated the coalition’s strength, but it felt the same way toward Mitt Romney as it had for McCain — nice guy, but didn’t inspire them. Obama became the first president ever reelected with fewer popular votes and a smaller percentage than his first election.
Instead of listening to the voters, Obama spent his second term going all-in with executive action. Democrats shed the blue-collar and rural voters that had been part of their coalition and went full elite progressive. The 2014 election was the result, an even worse bloodbath for Democrats than 2010.
Two things were missed in the coverage of 2016. First, former President Donald Trump was never the cause of that election — he was the result of a coalition that had been building for a decade, made up of suburban-educated voters, blue-collar and rural voters, and a growing number of middle-class Hispanic voters.
The coalition was choppy in 2018, losing House seats but gaining Senate seats in the Trump midterm election. In 2020, for all the losses Republicans suffered, Trump received a record number of votes for any incumbent, and there was a little red wave down-ballot as the coalition strengthened for Republicans not named Trump.
Now, Biden and the Democrats have been caught once again failing to appreciate why they were sent to Washington, D.C. They underestimated just how toxic their intersection with the cultural curators would be for them — with those constantly telling voters they are insurrectionists and racists, lying about voting laws in Georgia and Texas and Pennsylvania and smearing them because they don’t want idiotic ideas-driven into their children’s skulls. On Tuesday, those voters gave Democrats a piece of their mind, not just here in Pennsylvania but also in Virginia, New Jersey and nationwide.
Will the curators continue to underestimate and insult the electorate? Look to 2022, an inside-out midterm election. It will not be about Trump — oh, how the Democrats misunderstood that on Tuesday. It will not be about spending more money and passing bills people never requested. It will be about their lives, their children, their communities and their futures.
Just ask the voters and listen to their answers.
Salena Zito is a CNN political analyst, and a staff reporter and columnist for the Washington Examiner. She reaches the Everyman and Everywoman through shoe-leather journalism, traveling from Main Street to the beltway and all places in between. To find out more about Salena and read her past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.
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