Why Did the Midterms Not Turn on Lockdowns?

Why Did the Midterms Not Turn on Lockdowns?
Republican gubernatorial candidate for Florida Ron DeSantis with his wife Casey DeSantis speaks during an election night watch party at the Convention Center in Tampa, Fla., on Nov. 8, 2022. (Giorgio Viera/AFP via Getty Images)
Jeffrey A. Tucker

Why did the lockdowns and vaccine mandates not have a greater impact on the election? Proposition: when the candidate explained them bluntly, denounced them aggressively, and had a good record on the topics, the issues did make a massive difference.

However, the Republicans who downplayed the issues out of fear or confusion, or otherwise pretended they could just change the subject, weakened themselves and played into the hands of their Democrat opponents.

Many Republican candidates were fearful of the topic, avoiding it like the plague. They were frightened of media denunciation and the baloney that as politicians, they should leave all commentary on matters of such weighty topics to scientists alone. In addition, there was a real elephant in the room, namely that the lockdowns began under Republican control of the White House and too many Republicans went along.

This is tragic because all of the issues about which all Republicans complained—inflation, crime, educational losses, the dissolving of community, out-of-control government—were so very easily traceable to the pandemic response. It’s not enough just to complain that the country is going down the tubes; you have also to explain why and what to do about it. This is where so many just fell silent.

Not everyone bought into the racket. Those who refused and boldly confronted what is arguably the biggest issue of our time were rewarded.

The archetype here is Ron DeSantis of Florida. His victory speech put these issues at the forefront and this was for two reasons. First, he was better than most on the subject. Already by May 1, 2020, he had come to the realization that he had made a huge error in following the federal government’s demand that he lock down the state. The CDC had been harassing every governor, demanding that they follow through with the great edict, issued under Trump, which read:

“Governors should close schools in communities that are near areas of community transmission.” Further, elderly people in “nursing homes and retirement and long-term care facilities” should be forbidden from seeing family members. Finally: “bars, restaurants, food courts, gyms, and other indoor and outdoor venues where groups of people congregate should be closed.”

Those are astonishing words and demands. Such is supposed to be entirely ruled out by the Bill of Rights. The whole history of law and practice in this country would forbid it. Indeed, it was an import from Beijing, which people like Dr. Oz of Pennsylvania said we should use as the blueprint for American lockdowns. The very idea that government would demand the closure of all “venues” where people congregate can only have been crafted by the devil himself.

What any of those society-wrecking and economy-destroying policies have to do with virus control is another matter. They were all based on an utterly insane theory: the world would be pathogen-free if we all lived in solitary confinement. Such rubbish had never before been tried on a mass scale. It could only have happened under uniquely panicked conditions, simply because such brutality contradicts every principle of public health. Such draconian actions can only delay the spread of virus destined to meet everyone.

Having figured out the authentic science, DeSantis began completely reversing state policy. The mass media started screaming as early as Spring Break 2020. He was called horrible names and muscled, which only caused him to dig deeper, look for better advisors, and become more of a master of the topic than any of his critics. It was a bold stand. By May 4, DeSantis had begun taking down all restrictions. He completed this task by August, and Texas and other red states quickly followed his leadership.

Keep in mind that this decision carried huge risks for him. Florida’s demographics include a high concentration of elderly people who were especially vulnerable to the virus. He knew there were near-zero risk to the young and low risk to healthy adults but he took extra care to focus protection for the elderly. He urged them to be careful and for visitors to test. Behind this idea, later called focused protection but a well-known principle in public health for decades, was that once immunity in the population reaches a certain high, virus transmission falls and the vulnerable cohort are infected. When the vaccine came along, he aggressively rejected the federal demand that it be allocated by race and income and instead pushed it for the at-risk population.

These were times of enormous confusion due to appalling media bias and Big Tech censorship. It was exceedingly hard to get the word out to people. Anyone whose sole news source was the mainstream media was guaranteed to be deeply confused. This is why he held so many press conferences, events, seminars, and gave so many speeches on the topic. He sought to educate people in the state about the truth in a time of lies.

Having guaranteed that the state would be a safe haven for freedom, people from all over the country fled to Florida to get away from lockdowns. The state granted them all they really wanted: a normal life with open schools, businesses, and churches, a place where you could have weddings, funerals, concerts, and generally live life as it is supposed to be lived.

Because he became the master of facts and detail, and because he faced down the press with such boldness, he came to be respected by people outside the usual partisan lines. As a result, his reelection was guaranteed. What had not been expected is that he would win by 20 points and sweep so many other Republicans to victory along with him.

Another governor who stood out was Brian Kemp of Georgia, who in fact was the first to open his state. In doing so, he too defied the national media and even the White House. President Trump, who originally greenlighted lockdowns on March 16, 2020, blasted him for doing so, saying it was “too soon.” Voters rewarded Kemp mightily. Many Election-Day interviews that I watched credited him for keeping businesses open.

Of course Kristi Noem of South Dakota is the real winner of the award for bravery and good science. She was backed by a solid citizenry and a good legislature that would have fought any lockdowns or closures if she had tried them. Still, she led, just like Kemp, DeSantis, and, later, Greg Abbott of Texas. These people were high performers in a time of tremendous confusion.

In the U.S. Senate among Republicans, there were other standouts like Rand Paul of Kentucky and Ron Johnson of Wisconsin. They both earned back their seats.

Why didn’t other Republicans stand up? To be blunt, the lockdowns were a classic case of strategic triangulation. Nixon went to China, Clinton reformed welfare, and Trump destroyed a functioning economy with his own hand. Indeed, the operation began under a Republican government: White House and Congress. Had a Democrat attempted this, the Republicans would have gone absolutely nuts. But they became confused when the whole thing happened under the administration of Trump. They were scared to make the whole fiasco an issue because they feared the power of Trump. This was a tragic decision in 2020 because it led to an epic wipeout for the party but the same penchant hurt in midterms this year too.

We can conclude from this that even massively important issues such as this do not become an issue unless true statesmen lead and MAKE it an issue. Voters in fact deeply care that their churches and businesses shut down. Their closure was an outrage for the ages. It was a perfect issue for Republicans but they could not make it one simply because they were implicated in the operation. They were trolled by the national security state into believing that the spread of a pathogen justified trampling on human rights all over the country.

In addition, certain politicians have a hard time admitting that they were completely wrong, even after they have reversed course. This arrogance and this stubbornness has cost the party very deeply this year. In retrospect, for example, it is simply incredible that the Republicans would have tolerated the nomination of Dr. Oz, who is on record in celebrating the Chinese Communist Party! His loss to a man of barely functioning mental capacity is perhaps inevitable and maybe entirely understandable.

The point is this. The issue of lockdowns and mandates were in fact a huge one in states where the candidate had a solid record and could brag about having defied the media, Big Tech, and Washington big shots. Those who shied away and failed to make it an issue had a much harder time of it. The lesson should stick. Tell the truth. Stick to principle. Don’t be afraid. Be bold. This is how you win. The Republicans who failed to do this probably deserve their fate.

Views expressed in this article are opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.
Jeffrey A. Tucker is the founder and president of the Brownstone Institute, and the author of many thousands of articles in the scholarly and popular press, as well as 10 books in five languages, most recently “Liberty or Lockdown.” He is also the editor of The Best of Mises. He writes a daily column on economics for The Epoch Times and speaks widely on the topics of economics, technology, social philosophy, and culture.
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