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Head winds v head cases: US midterms and lessons for Nigeria

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Nigeria remains the only country those of us with single-citizen status can call home and it behoves us to be prudent with the incandescent remarks we post.

By Tiko Okoye

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As stated in my last week’s essay titled “US midterm elections: Highway to a political maelstrom?” Democrats were expected to lose tons of seats in national and statewide elections. But because MAGA Republicans opted to shun the headwinds buffeting the American economy piloted by President Joe Biden, choosing instead to focus on the head cases of a stolen election and Democratic paedophiles, the long-expected red wave turned out to be a blue tsunami, and the midterms instead became a bruising referendum on the extreme, right-wing politics of the ‘Make America Great Again’ (aka MAGA) candidates who pushed the ‘Big Lie.’

At the end of the referenced piece I cryptically contended that “And by the time you read this, the winners and losers of the (midterm) elections…would be known and it would’ve become very clear whose prayer God has chosen to answer: the autocrats sprouting a new world order or freedom-loving peoples asking for self-respect and equitable treatment.” We now know that across the country and up and down the ballot, with few exceptions, voters delivered a massive rebuke to Trumpism, its supporting planks and neo-fascist tendencies.

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It was a political bloodbath for the Republicans who instead of harvesting a long-expected revolution received a revelation instead. Democrats not only defied expectations, they also defied history. In Wisconsin, they retained the governorship and won the senate races, and the state legislature flipped blue for the first time in nearly 40 years! A Democrat won a senate seat in Pennsylvania long-held by illustrious Republicans like Arlen Spectre and retiring Pat Toomey. A black governor – the third nationwide in U.S. history – was elected in Maryland. The list goes on.

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It must be conceded that as many as 167 MAGA election liars and doubters out of the around 300 endorsed by Trump won their races but these were strictly limited to statewide contests, underscoring the fact that while the former president might be very effective at providing margins of victory in smaller-sized GOP primaries, he’s practically kryptonite when it comes to larger-sized national elections as evidenced by the fact that GOP candidates generally didn’t do well in places where Trump campaigned while candidates he refused to endorse and even attacked out-performed election liars who owe fealty only to Trump.

The majority of voters didn’t trust the MAGA candidates to do a better job than underperforming Democrats when they were still fixated with elections held two years ago and kept waxing lyrical about extracting their pound of flesh from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and President Joe Biden and conducting a slew of ‘investigations’ once they take over control of Congress. American voters opted for candidates who will jaw-jaw rather than war-war their pathway to governance.

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And the Republican Party held to ransom by a MAGA coalition of odd fellows would continue to be stuck in the rut unless it can abandon its politics of division, exclusion and subtraction and commit to building a more inclusive big tent that would accommodate a broader group of voters that will include young people as well as minority and swing voters. Trump rushed to take credit for the anticipated red wave and immediately disclosed his intention to make a “special announcement” a week later. It is generally believed that he would decide to contest the 2024 GOP presidential primary.

Although the midterms turned out to be a blue tsunami, Trump is very unlikely to let this to rain on his parade. Being the egoist and narcissist that he is, don’t expect Trump to eat humble pie so soon. It is incontrovertible that Trump has come to be the GOP and he owns the party lock, step and barrel. So fully expect him to stick with his plan while blaming everyone else but himself for his party’s electoral fiasco. 

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READ ALSO: As long as “emi lokan” is your attitude to leadership, corruption is your bed mate – Dr Kolade

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Prior to advancing what I consider as vital lessons to be gleaned by candidates, parties and voters let me hasten to unequivocally declare that any resemblances to presumptive frontrunners in the forthcoming presidential election and/or their political parties is coincidental and not intended. Still, if parties, candidates and their supporters reasonably believe they are caught in a seething cauldron of emotion and sentiment they would profit better by adopting corrective measures.

Elections are won and lost on the basis of votes cast, not on assumptions no matter how cerebral. Candidates don’t choose voters but voters choose candidates. It isn’t enough for candidates and their parties to canvass manifestos that resonate with voters; they must effectively motivate them to actually vote with their feet to polling booths.

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While narrow parochial support bases can be counted upon for block votes, national elections – as opposed to state-wide, local elections – require making appeals beyond traditional support blocks/pressure groups to have a good chance of clinching victory.

Never give up! As the legendary chairman of the US Senate Subcommittee on the National Institutes of Health, Arlen Spectre, was wont to say: “You’re never too far ahead to lose and never too far behind to win.”

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Although there’s never a shortage of a critical mass of gullible, misguided foot soldiers only too happy to offer themselves to be used as pawns on the political chessboard, negative voices that seek to use division and conflicts to advance the vested interests of their preferred candidates have a very short shelf life. Candidates must not only be authentic but should also muster the capacity and ability to strike strong partnerships outside their comfort zones. Truth be told, no candidate can win a presidential election in Nigeria without mining rich veins of votes in at least three populous geopolitical zones.

Just like what befell election deniers and doubters at the midterms, candidates and their parties who thrive mainly on propaganda and abracadabra oratory would sooner than later have their hot-air balloons pricked with needles of pragmatism and truth. As 16th POTUS Abraham Lincoln so aptly noted: “You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time.” After being tricked once, one should learn from one’s mistakes and avoid being tricked in the same manner again – “Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.”

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Nigerian voters should start believing in the power of their voices through the ballot box because that’s the very essence of democracy. Social media graffiti don’t win elections but can influence electoral outcomes where there are strong structures on ground to gainfully leverage on the traffic and sentiments.     

Candidate-quality is very important. Political godfathers frequently ride roughshod over internal party democracy to impose candidates on their party members. Despite the traditional hue and cry raised by the public, this practice continues unabated because the same public would come around to automatically vote for the imposed candidates, regardless of expressed misgivings, due to overarching fealty to primordial interests such as tribe, religious, place of origin and political affiliation. But if domineering kingmakers are punished at the polls by having their poor-quality, unpopular choices defeated, they would quickly learn to do the right thing since the objective of any rational political party is to win elections, not to lose them.

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I hate political stereotyping and the wanton use of labels – liberal, conservative, communist, socialist, etc. Still, if I had a total say on the matter – which I gladly don’t have given that Nigeria is a democratic state – I’d have loved for whoever emerges as president to act as a situational manager. He or she should exhibit an intense passion and incomparable empathy and fair-mindedness in his job while displaying fluidity in the political spectrum. For example he or she could be liberal on social issues and conservative on fiscal matters.

One final word. Ever since 1993 when the Ibrahim Babangida military junta embroiled this nation in deep conflicts by annulling the most credible presidential election ever conducted, it has been the norm to predict the implosion of Nigeria. But I’ve since concluded that it is an orchestrated campaign of calumny led by critics who viscerally loathe whoever occupies Aso Villa and whichever party holds the reins of power. The tendency to cut one’s nose in the wrongheaded belief that it is a way of spiting the face has been costing us dearly in the comity of nations.

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Nigeria remains the only country those of us with single-citizen status can call home and it behoves us to be prudent with the incandescent remarks we post. I was reminded just the other day that Argentina had as many as five different presidents within just 10 days in 2001! Nigeria is far from concretizing such a notorious milestone. Yet, we never heard that nation dubbed a failed state by her own citizens. Let’s keep keeping hope alive! 

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