GOP Misjudging Impact of Chicago Mayoral Election Result

Republicans are looking at the electorate through rose-colored glasses.

AP/Erin Hooley
The mayor of Chicago, Lori Lightfoot, participates in a forum with other mayoral candidates at Chicago. AP/Erin Hooley

Republicans are banking future success on the defeat of Chicago’s Democratic mayor, Lori Lightfoot, heralding her loss as a sign that voters are turning right to fight crime. Getting lost in their euphoria is the fact that another Democrat will fill Ms. Lightfoot’s shoes and Republicans failed to even field a candidate for her seat.

After beating the Romans in the Battle of Asculum in 279 B.C., Pyrrhus of Epirus reflected on the great cost to his army. “If we are victorious in one more battle with the Romans,” Plutarch quoted him as saying, “we shall be utterly ruined.”  

The Republicans didn’t even achieve a Pyrrhic victory in Ms. Lightfoot becoming the first Chicago mayor to lose reelection in 40 years, and her 17 percent in a crowded field would have been an achievement of historic proportions had a Republican scored it.

However, the only Republican who even tried to challenge Ms. Lightfoot was a former Chicago police officer, Frederick Collins, who didn’t get enough signatures to qualify for the ballot. It’s a stark testament to the distaste for Republicans that so few citizens could even stomach having one on the menu.

When the editor of the Sun, Charles Dana, dubbed Chicago the “windy city” in 1893, he wasn’t referring to breezes off Lake Michigan, but the “nonsensical claims” of its hot-air politicians. Ms. Lightfoot fit in that tradition, blaming Republicans for her city’s problems despite the city not having elected one GOP mayor since William “Big Bill” Thompson a century ago.

Amid the highest number of murders in 25 years and over 3,500 shootings, Ms. Lightfoot faced strong negatives, and demonizing non-existent Republicans was a smart play, but when she said, “I am grateful that we took on the machine and entrenched forces” in her concession, she wasn’t referencing the GOP.

Ms. Lightfoot bucked the leftist Chicago Teachers Union, whose members she said “abandoned their posts” during the Covid-19 pandemic, and they spent “almost $2.5 million” to support the Cook County commissioner, Brandon Johnson, according to the Illinois Policy Institute.

Mr. Johnson advanced to the runoff against the Chicago Public Schools CEO, Paul Vallas. Whoever wins, a Democrat favorable to the union will replace Ms. Lightfoot. Swapping one Democrat for another — perhaps one even farther to the left — can’t be heralded as a Republican win.

Far from voters turning to Republicans, Ms. Lightfoot made an issue out of Mr. Vallas accepting money, as she wrote in a fundraising email, “from donors who also have written big checks” to top Republicans, saying Mr. Vallas “has so strongly aligned himself with Republican views that he can’t even be considered a moderate Democrat.”

Mr. Vallas felt that the link was so radioactive that, according to Crain’s Chicago Business, he “is flatly denying he voted Republican.” This would not be the case if the GOP was as synonymous with delivering law and order or safe streets as their partisan pundits think.

Expect Mr. Johnson to use the opposing party’s label as a pejorative in the runoff and Mr. Vallas to avoid it, more evidence that Republicans can’t rely on Democratic Party failures to win elections for them. They have a lot of work ahead just to get a shot at earning voters’ support.

When the mayor of Los Angeles, Eric Garcetti, was defeated last year, he also handed the keys to another Democrat, Karen Bass. Her opponent, Rick Caruso, switched to the Republican Party to earn a line on the ballot and went down to defeat by 10 points.

Republicans credited Mr. Garcetti’s loss to an anti-crime backlash, too, as they did when a former NYPD sergeant, Eric Adams, prevailed in the 2021 Democratic primary for mayor. That Mr. Adams swamped the Republican nominee, Curtis Sliwa, by 40 points was ignored as an inconvenient truth.

Republicans convinced themselves that citizens suffering from crime, inflation, and other problems would choose them as a default option in the 2022 midterms. Despite the promised Red Wave never materializing, they’re still looking at the electorate through rose-colored glasses, but with many more “victories” like the one against Ms. Lightfoot, their party — like Pyrrhus’s army — will be utterly ruined.

The New York Sun

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