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Vibe Emission Is Not a Political Strategy

April 10th, 2024 | 7 min read

By Jake Meador

For a brief moment last week my home state was in the news.

It started with Charlie Kirk discovering that Nebraska splits its electoral votes with two votes going to the winner of the entire state and the three remaining votes being assigned based on our three congressional districts.

This has meant that twice in the past 20 years, in 2008 and 2020, Nebraska has had four electoral votes go to the Republican candidate and one go to the Democratic candidate. Given that this fall's election may well be quite close and could swing on a very small number of votes, Kirk was not pleased to realize a reliably red state might not deliver all its electoral votes to the Republican candidate.

After Kirk's post, the state's Republican leadership predictably joined the fray. Both Sen. Ricketts and Gov. Pillen released statements supporting the idea of passing a Winner Takes All bill that would change how Nebraska assigns its electoral votes.

President Trump then issued a statement praising Pillen:

There were, however, some problems.

First, the Unicameral session is nearly over. So there is very little time to add bills to the agenda.

Second, no one seemed to check if they had sufficient votes to break a filibuster of such a bill.

Third, it's not even clear that anyone checked to see if such a bill actually had the support of Unicameral members.

Sen. Tom Brewer, chair of the Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee -- where the bill is currently in limbo -- told The Lincoln Journal Star on Wednesday that he was "blindsided" by the governor and others' last-minute push to pass the legislation and that his phone "exploded with emails" following the promotion from Kirk.

"Just people being cranky about it," Brewer told the paper. "And I'm like, 'Well, you should have been cranky about it a long time ago."

When they finally did get a vote on something related to the Winner Takes All proposal, they lost 36-9. (The ninth vote for was not initially counted due to a technical malfunction, which is why Wegley's tweet below is off by one vote.)

If you're wondering, the Unicameral is officially non-partisan, but 33 of the 49 members are registered Republicans. So a majority of Unicameral Republicans did not vote for the amendment that would have made Nebraska a winner-takes-all state.

This, of course, is the problem running through the reactionary right wing movement in the US: They have all sorts of ideas, but almost entirely lack the skills and disposition required to be effective legislators.

The same thing has happened in Oklahoma, where Christian Nationalist darling Dusty Deavers was recently elected to the state senate, where he promptly began drafting all sorts of bills that advance policies the Christian nationalists support, including a ban on pornography.

The problem is that he's already alienated so many of his colleagues, including his Republican colleagues, that he can't get his bills out of committee:

To actually be effective in a democratic system you need to a) actually understand how democratic systems work, b) behave in ways that build relationships and trust with strategic individuals and that demonstrate your willingness to submit to democratic norms and processes, and c) be strategic in how you pick your battles.

For example, I actually think Deavers's proposal to ban pornography is a great idea. But if it is going to be politically viable, the proposal would need to be fairly specific and targeted in how it is written, which would require a level of political skill Deavers is yet to demonstrate. It would also help if he could identify and work with Democrats who might object to porn for reasons related to feminist critiques of pornography or concerns with abuse or trafficking in the porn industry. You could also make arguments noting that there is a large capitalist class of website owners directly profiting from the exploitation of women as well as minors, as Laila Mickelwait has documented. This particular point would likely play well both with populist conservatives and Bernie Sanders-style Democrats. What all that means is that a porn ban could theoretically work because the plausible coalition that might come together to work for it is relatively large—socially conservative Christians, Andrea Dworkin-style progressive feminists, populist conservatives, and social democrat-style Democrats.

It is, however, much harder to make those kind of appeals if your entire political career is defined by being obnoxious, radical, and critical of virtually everyone you will be working with in the legislature.

In a similar way, one can imagine ways that one might argue that Nebraska should not split its electoral vote. It goes against the national system, after all. Perhaps it is better for the integrity of the political system if all members in the nation play by the same rule book in national elections. I'm not sure if I agree with that or not. To my eyes splitting our electoral vote is basically the only way Nebraska is able to be relevant in national elections, and it is better for the state that we be relevant to national elections than that we be irrelevant because our vote can be taken for granted. A switch to Winner Takes All seems to basically guarantee that we'll never matter in national elections. Even so, it's a conversation we could have.

But that conversation will never happen if it s being propelled by unprincipled reactionaries and aspirational dictators who plainly do not care at all about us and are simply mad because our current system could potentially hurt their political aspirations.

For the most part, the new Christian right is almost entirely lacking in the discipline, self-control, and judgment required to secure real political victories in a democratic system. Small wonder many of them want a totalitarian dictator, then. Maybe that's the only way they'll ever actually accomplish anything legislatively.

Jake Meador

Jake Meador is the editor-in-chief of Mere Orthodoxy. He is a 2010 graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln where he studied English and History. He lives in Lincoln, NE with his wife Joie, their daughter Davy Joy, and sons Wendell, Austin, and Ambrose. Jake's writing has appeared in The Atlantic, Commonweal, Christianity Today, Fare Forward, the University Bookman, Books & Culture, First Things, National Review, Front Porch Republic, and The Run of Play and he has written or contributed to several books, including "In Search of the Common Good," "What Are Christians For?" (both with InterVarsity Press), "A Protestant Christendom?" (with Davenant Press), and "Telling the Stories Right" (with the Front Porch Republic Press).