in the In 2016, many ordinary Democrats believed that Hillary Clinton would defeat Donald Trump. A perpetually optimistic family member of mine predicted an “epic eruption.” Trump, he said, would lose by a historic margin.
But one day I was talking to a General Motors employee who is a member of the United Auto Workers union.
“I just can’t vote for her,” the man said of Clinton. “She IS for the working man and woman, but[Trump is]right: she should be in jail.”
There was a time when it would have been unthinkable for UAW workers or members of most unions to speak openly about voting for a Republican candidate. But the man’s comments reflected what was becoming clear: Trump had a strong appeal to a large number of Americans, including working-class and middle-class voters.
Since then, Trump has assumed office as president and embarked on a path of actions that have been, to use a worn-out word, unprecedented. His presidency culminated with the January 6, 2022 riot in the US Capitol, months after he began promoting the idea that he would only lose if the election was “stolen.” Never mind that current President Joe Biden won the popular vote by 7 million more votes; Trump convinced thousands of Americans to distrust the voting system and others to threaten Congress as the body worked to confirm the 2020 election.
Instead of quashing claims of stolen elections, the insurgency encouraged them. Republican politicians at all levels and in most states took the bait. Former Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery joined one amicus short Supporting a lawsuit filed by Texas AG Ken Paxton to bar presidential voters from casting votes in four battleground states in an attempt by Trump to hold on to the presidency.
For the past two years, Tennessee politicians, including Gov. Bill Lee and US Representative-elect Andy Ogles, have sought — and won — Trump’s support. Knox County Mayor Glenn Jacobs promoted Trump and posts tweets like one in February 2021 about the “failure” of democratic politics and “Trump derangement syndrome”.
But the worm has turned.
With few exceptions, Trump-backed candidates fared poorly in the 2022 midterm elections. In Pennsylvania, US Senate candidate Mehmet Oz lost, as did election denier and gubernatorial candidate Doug Mastriano. Arizona Democratic Senator Mark Kelly beat Blake Masters, who was a Trump PAC for Advertisements placed. Nevada US Senate candidate Adam Laxalt, who, like our colleagues at Nevada Current writeis the face of the big lie in his state, lost to incumbent Democratic Senator Catherine Cortez Masto.
Despite historical trends and predictions, the Democrats didn’t lose much in the midterms and there was no red wave. One of the few states where Republican candidates overwhelmingly won was Florida, and that doesn’t bode well for Trump given his former friend and now likely competitor for the Republican presidential nomination in 2024, Gov. Ron DeSantis .
Tennessee, of course, was one of the other states that Republicans held with ease.
For the past week, the Tennessee Democrats have been bemoaning the election situation in Tennessee. For the uninitiated, or frankly the naïve, that’s fair given the losses in the gubernatorial race and the campaigns for the US Houses of Representatives Districts 5 and 7. For the experienced, none of these losses were unexpected.
The expected red wave didn’t materialize as election deniers went up in flames across the country. Even in Tennessee, where a supermajority holds the legislature and voter turnout is low, there are glimmers of hope as conservative lawmakers jump the Trump ship, retired Republicans step up and a champion voter retains a seat in the new district.
dr Jason B. Martin, Democratic gubernatorial nominee, and Odessa Kelly, Democratic nominee for US House District 7, both ran against incumbents — and it’s the rare challenger who can expect to win against an established elected official. Democratic Sen. Heidi Campbell did well in Davidson County but, as intended by the GOP-led redistribution process, lost the rest of the new 5th congressional district to Ogles.
I’m no Pollyanna idealist, and I might even be cynical, but there are signs that subtle changes are afoot in parts of Tennessee. Legislative Republicans have redrawn the House of Representatives districts, forcing Rep. Gloria Johnson, a perennial thorn in the side of collective Republicans, to run in a new district. Johnson, a formidable campaigner for public education, women’s issues, health care and anyone who happens to be a voter, won — by the largest margin of her six races, some of which she’s won (and lost) by just a handful of votes.
Conservative lawmaker Rep. Jason Zachary, R-Knoxville, wasted no time in jumping from the Trump ship after the ex-president’s poor showing last week. The day after the election Zachary tweeted: “I am grateful for what President Trump has done for this country during his presidency. However, 2 years of the following is not the path to victory in 2024. The GOP needs a brave, determined, proven, unifying Conservative leader. This man is now @GovRonDesantis.” Desantis may not be an improvement over Trump, but he is not Trump.
And outgoing GOP Rep. Eddie Mannis, described by people from both parties as a good and decent man, made a post on his Facebook page that caused a stir.
Mannis, who was elected in 2020, tells how he was recruited by the Tennessee Republican Party and told them at the time he didn’t vote for Trump.
He went on to describe how the “leadership” of the Knox County Republican Party “did everything they could to destroy me.” Mannis, who is gay, said he felt part of the attack was due to his sexual orientation. But he also writes that he ran for office because of his experience — Mannis ran small businesses in Knoxville for years and founded HonorAir Knoxville, a program that flies veterans for free to Washington, DC, to tour memorials.
In his post, he spoke about the bill to remove “obscene” books from school libraries, calling it “political rhetoric” — which it is.
America’s democracy isn’t secure yet: Trump’s announcement of his 2024 presidential campaign on Tuesday sets the stage for another round of discord and drama, but that the electoral deniers largely lost their 2022 election is a triumph.
And in Tennessee, we have a lot – a lot – of work to do to engage the people of Tennessee and hold our legislators accountable for some of the harmful laws they make. But it’s hard to live with negativity all the time, so we must look for glimmers of hope that there are politicians working to empower their constituents, which we find with Johnson and Mannis, and even those who see the mistake of their Trump way, like Zachary.