2022 Governor's Race

Saving Face: How the Quiet Influence of COVID Helped Crash the GOP’s ‘Red Wave’

Michelle Lujan Grisham wins by 6 in re-election bid despite being one of the least popular governor’s in America.

The “red wave” narrative broke as soon as Florida was called for Ron DeSantis Tuesday night. For those who believed Republicans like Newt Gingrich when he predicted a 70-seat pickup for the GOP–or Steve Bannon, who said 100!–Election Night 2022 was devastating. For New Mexicans, whatever hopes of change they carried into Election Day ended an hour and 45 minutes after polls closed. Democrat Michelle Lujan Grisham would secure another four-year term as governor.

Nationally, Republicans are still likely to take both chambers of Congress, but Democrats couldn’t have hoped for a better night.

What happened?

First the low-hanging fruit: the Dobbs Effect, lingering symptoms of mental retardation from the flesh-eating bacteria known as Trump Derangement Syndrome, and of course “election denial”–a term not unintentionally reminiscent of Holocaust Denial that Democrats surely didn’t stumble upon by chance.

These factors no doubt contributed to the Democrats’ surprising midterm defense. That someone like John Fetterman could beat Dr. Oz (a Trump endorsee) is proof enough that voters are still very much triggered by the Literal Orange Hitler. Kari Lake’s struggles in Arizona show why “election integrity” should never have been a cornerstone of the Republican platform. Democrats and their mainstream media mouthpiece spun abortion as a black and white issue that drowned out the nuance surrounding late-term abortion opposition that most voters actually agree with Republicans on.

But something else was at play this election cycle, something obviously more powerful than inflation and immigration, or crime or education or imminent recession.

Democrats have always been better at messaging. It’s hard not to be when the basis of your platform in the 21th century is calling everything a “right” and promising people things other people pay for. This cycle, they nailed the messaging again. Restricting the abortion of a viable fetus became “healthcare” and “subjugation of women’s rights.” Opposing proxy wars in Europe made you a pro-Putin fascist. Criticizing rising crime rates and no cash bail policies is easy: racist. Wanting lower gas prices was selfish anti-environmentalism. Simply being Conservative made you an election denier, and voting Republican, according to President Biden, made you anti-Democracy.

Democrats used an SS-style of messaging: simple and scary. And it worked.

But a more subtle messaging I think was stumbled upon accidentally, and while it was specific to COVID, it leached out to all areas of “democratic” Socialism.

COVID was a game-changer in more ways than one.

In the summer of 2021, a SurveyUSA poll showed that only 29% of New Mexicans believed the governor’s lockdown policies were too strict. Sixteen percent said they were too lenient; 49% said they were just right.

This poll proved to be the bellwether for Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller’s re-election in November 2021. Keller appealed to voters with the perfect balance of a confident leader with executive experience and a humble victim of circumstance. Albuquerque was going to shit, yet Keller sailed to a second term.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham read from the same blueprint in her re-election campaign.

She literally called her first term a “poo poo sandwich.”

“It was as if we asked Stephen King to write a novel about our term as governor,” Lujan Grisham told The Santa Fe New Mexican’s editorial board.

“Yes,” the story went, “things are bad, but they’re bad everywhere.”

For example, two-thirds of voters in June 2021 felt that crime was a very serious problem in the state’s most populous city, yet only 44% disapproved of the governor’s handling of the issue.

Biden did it with inflation, pointing to some first-world countries (and conveniently omitting others) with similar struggles. Keller did it with crime. On COVID, It didn’t matter that redder states with fewer restrictions performed better economically and in education. The talking point was strong enough for the short attention spans of most voters.

But the COVID factor is effective beyond deferring blame. The truth is, many voters actually found purpose in the pandemic.

So many people called into local radio programs, from Bob Clark to Brandon Vogt to Eddy Aragon, talking about how Grisham will be held accountable for her draconian lockdowns. “People aren’t going to forget,” one caller said on Election Day.

They didn’t. On either side.

The political echo chambers provide reinforcement of ideology, but they dull the memories of what life was actually like in the heat of the pandemic.

Wearing a mask for most people was literal virtue signaling, a face flag declaring their contribution to helping “slow the spread.” Getting vaccinated, quarantining, skipping holiday gatherings, even waiting in line to buy groceries, for most people, were virtuous sacrifices that made many people feel like they were contributing to something bigger than their individual lives.

As the media fretted about the more dire effects on people of color, the elderly, and the immuno-compromised, vaxxing, masking, and forgoing a social life turned ordinary people into heroes of the weak, and they loved it.

The fact is, freedom is hard. Walking through a store being accosted by employees and growled at by citizens was jarring. Fighting against HR departments or even threatening lawsuits in order to save your job was only stressful and isolating, because most people just did what they were told.

Compliance, by contrast, was very, very easy. Conformity puts you in friendly company.

As universal as COVID lockdown policies were, the effect was a microcosm of Wokeism generally.

It’s just easier to acquiesce to the socialist narrative, whether it be masking and involuntary vaccination or immigration policy and crime.

Masking, vaxxing, suffering the effects of inflation and crime and immigration–turning America into a third world country–these are the noble sacrifices of the privileged. Excusing people’s trespasses–literally and criminally–is the ultimate exercise in virtue signaling.

Abortion is no different.

White, wealthy, privileged women have greater access to birth control. They are more likely to seek early medical attention when they become pregnant. This is what they mean when they call abortion “healthcare.” For some, it is.

In New Mexico, where 59% of voters support legal limits on late-term abortion, 52% voted for the candidate who wants no limits on abortion. Messaging on the issue was a factor. Grisham lambasted her opponent as an “anti-abortion extremist” who wants to take women’s rights away. It was simple and scary. Republican Mark Ronchetti’s actual stance was much more nuanced: he was personally against abortion but wanted to put the issue on the ballot for voters to decide.

But beyond messaging, people understand the effects of unwanted kids for unwed mothers. New Mexico is already the number one welfare state in the country. We have an embarrassingly low median income. The majority of publicly educated children aren’t proficient in reading or math. For many New Mexicans, even Conservative Catholics, abortion is increasingly viewed a necessary evil.

For the record, sexual irresponsibility and its personal and statewide economic effects are not a justification for killing viable babies. I’m merely making an observation of how voters actually think when you talk to them offline.

After literally screaming at the sky in protest of Donald Trump’s four years in the White House, Democrats have spent the last two years watching the nation crumble. They pointed the finger at Republicans, calling them Nazis and grandma killers, only to find out that vaccines don’t, in fact, prevent the spread of COVID. That lockdowns weren’t necessary. That law and order was actually possible in states with leaders who had a backbone.

But that wasn’t us. Our leader wagged her finger at us for eating out. She threatened our jobs. She held sweepstakes and bribed us to get vaccinated. She fined churches and sent kids home with a laptop to get an education. It was ineffective and unnecessary. But we acquiesced. And most people were not only unbothered by it; they felt purpose from it.

Only 50% of voters approved of the governor’s job performance in June 2021, yet 59% approved of her handling of COVID. We are last in the nation by almost every metric, and we gave her a second term.

New Mexicans voted for Grisham because they were wrong too, because Biden has proven to be a national embarrassment, and because mainstream Republican positions on “election integrity” and Trumpism and abortion made them easy enemies.

Grisham didn’t win because she was the better candidate. She won because voters had to save face. 

She won, in part, because of shame.

7 replies »

  1. Gut punched again. The GOP could definitely take a few lessons in branding and messaging from the left. No matter how much of a poo-poo sandwich MLGs 1st term was, she was successful at turning it into a sweet confectionery desert. Albuquerque was resoundingly blue as Keller sat at a 33% disapproval rating. Ronchetti went after rural counties and won most of them with the exception of Rio Arriba, Santa Fe, Albuquerque and Dona Ana. Ronchetti banked on crime alone winning Albuquerque’s voters and didn’t spend enough time on the ground in the 505. Where do we go from here?


  2. As MLG term progresses we shall see a growing dismay over people who chose her. This seems to be a pattern in NM second terms. Looking forward, R’s need to drill that home. The real truth is that our kids have been setback perhaps forever continuing our decline. If there was an opportunity to change minds it will be going forward. Somehow our party leaders must find ways to expose the inability of Santa Fe to improve NM citizen’s lives.


  3. This election shows exactly why this state is 51st in education and has no hope. The people that voted for this will get what they deserve. Sadly, by the time they wise up it will be way too late.

    Look for lots of good people to flee since this election was seen as their final stand. If it wasn’t for family court, I would have left years ago. NM has so much potential with its resources, but dumb people keep getting fooled by evil people and keep voting for them. I repeatedly tell my three kids to flee this state as soon as possible.

    Hope the NMGOP has a purge quickly. Their factions, poor messaging and recycled candidates make them a national embarrassment.


  4. The electorate is stupid, short-sighted, easily distracted, gullible, and impressionable. They literally see no connection between our so-called leaders and the state of the state. They judge based on appearance and in-group preference more than anything else. So, the uneducated remain ignorant and the poor poor. The sanctimonious crow while our standard of living degrades. Opportunity flees along with those who have the brains, gumption and means to seek it elsewhere.

    I have no sympathy. They voted for it, they can lie in it.


  5. The great British philosopher Michael Oakeshott described the type in an essay from the 1960’s:
    “…The “mass man,” as I understand him, then, is specified by his character, not by his numbers. He is distinguished by so exiguous an individuality that when it meets a powerful experience of individuality it revolts into “anti-individuality.” He has generated for himself an appropriate morality, an appropriate understanding of the office of government, and appropriate modifications of “parliamentary government.” He is not necessarily “poor,” nor is he envious only of “riches”; he is not necessarily “ignorant,” often he is a member of the so-called intelligentsia; he belongs to a class which corresponds exactly with no other class. He is specified primarily by a moral, not an intellectual, inadequacy. He wants “salvation”; and in the end will be satisfied only with release from the burden of having to make choices for himself. He is dangerous, not on account of his opinions or desires, for he has none: but on account of his submissiveness. His disposition is to endow government with power and authority such as it has never before enjoyed: he is utterly unable to distinguish a “ruler” from a “leader.” In short, the disposition to be an “anti-individual” is one to which every European man has a propensity: the “mass man” is merely one in whom this propensity is dominant…”

    “…But this condition of human circumstances [the right to live in a social protectorate which relieved him from the burden of “self-determination”] was seen to be impossible unless it were imposed upon all alike. So long as others were permitted to make choices for themselves not only would his anxiety at not being able to do so himself remain to convict him of his inadequacy and threaten his emotional security but also the social protectorate which he recognized as his counterpart would itself be disrupted. The security he needed entailed a genuine equality of circumstances imposed upon all. The condition he sought was one in which he would meet in others only a replica of himself. What he was everybody must become…”

    Michael Oakeshott
    “The Masses in Representative Democracy”


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s