While Democrat party leaders were already preparing for a difficult midterm election, the scope of Republican gains in suburbanized, Democratic-friendly states caught them by surprise. Despite the party’s relentless focus on boosting federal spending, voters sent a message they’re once again worried about government excess.
Democratic strategists have also been engaged in difficult conversations about just how much damage the ant-police rhetoric of their party’s progressive activists and their obsession with social-justice and systemic racism ideology have done to the credibility of the Democrat political brand with the large swath of mainstream voters who will determine the outcome of next year’s midterm election.
In that respect, the House’s passage last week of the truly bipartisan infrastructure bill was an important step to restoring some of that lost credibility, as well President Joe Biden’s reputation as a relatively moderate mainstream liberal Democrat. But his earlier willingness to tie the fate of the infrastructure bill to his radical social welfare spending proposal might have already undermined that image and cast doubt on the sincerity of his bipartisan rhetoric.
PELOSI’S HOUSE MAJORITY IN PERIL
Last week’s election results were significant enough to require a rethinking of the partisan political outlook for the 2022 midterms. Most at risk is House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s tiny eight-seat Democrat majority in the House, which means that as few as four House Democrat dissenters could defeat any bill in a straight party-line vote. The Republican victories in Virginia and New Jersey were in all six of the competitive House districts now represented by Democrats.
In addition, according to former Democrat congressman Steve Israel, relatively obscure Republican candidates running in local municipal and county races showed surprising strength in competitive suburban areas like Long Island, where Democrats had recently been making further gains. Democrat candidates running in suburban areas last week faced a “perfect storm” of opposition from mainstream voters when they tried to defend progressive ideas ranging from Critical Race Theory and vaccine and mask mandates to identity politics and open border immigration policies. For once, the Republicans were seen as the candidates defending the less controversial and more practical positions.
With the bitter memories of Donald Trump’s presidency fading from their memories, white suburban voters were more enthusiastic about the familiar themes and attitudes that Republican candidates were advocating in response to the progressive agenda Democrats have adopted, especially since Biden took office.
In addition, in most states, the redistricting process based upon the results of the 2020 census is controlled by their Republican governors or state legislatures, who are expected to redraw the new district lines to maximize the number of GOP House candidates likely to win in their state elections next year and for the rest of the decade. Currently, the GOP controls that process for 187 congressional districts, compared to only 75 under Democrat control.
For this reason, it appears that Republicans are poised to wipe out Pelosi’s thin majority next November and assume control of the House. This scenario would force House Democrats who survive the midterms into the minority, removing much of their
current legislative clout.
SENIOR HOUSE DEMOCRATS RECONSIDERING THEIR OPTIONS
As a result, Democrats are bracing for slew of House retirement announcements by some of their most respected senior members — including Nancy Pelosi, 81, who promised in 2018 that she would step aside to make room for a younger leader by the end of 2022.
Other House Democrats have decided to move on by taking a chance on entering the race for another elective office, such as a seat in the US Senate, or a governorship in their home state. Their logic is simple — why bother fighting for another two-year term in the House if Democrats will no longer be in power there after the midterm election, especially if there is a more attractive electoral position available with more prestige and job security? Why not roll the dice instead of being stuck for the next two years in a House seat with no power?
Michael McAdams, the National Republican Congressional Committee communications director, welcomes the development. “Every Democrat retirement expands the Republican battlefield and demoralizes House Democrats even further,” he explained.
So far, roughly a dozen House Democrats have announced their retirements next year or plans to run for a different office, and more are expected. They include David Price of North Carolina and Mike Doyle of Pennsylvania, who together represent six decades of congressional experience and seniority. Others include Ann Kirkpatrick of Arizona, Cheri Bustos of Illinois, Ron Kind of Wisconsin, and John Yarmuth of Kentucky, the chair of the House Budget Committee.
Their unexpected losses and close calls in last week’s elections cast a shadow over Democrat hopes to mount serious challenges to the reelection of several leading Republicans next year, including Florida’s Governor Ron DeSantis and Senator Marco Rubio.
Even familiar Democrat candidates who exceeded expectations while narrowly losing close races in recent years, such as Stacey Abrams in Georgia and Beto O’Rourke in Texas, are now expected to face a more difficult fight in orchestrating their electoral comebacks next year if the current pro-Republican national political climate remains in place.
DEMOCRAT HOPES TO RETAIN CONTROL OF THE SENATE FADING
While most Democrats had privately conceded before last week’s elections that they would probably lose their narrow House majority in next year’s midterms, many still held out hope that their tenuous control over the current 50-50 Senate could survive, or even be extended, if certain Senate elections broke the way they expected.
But those hopes were largely based on the assumption that Democrats could maintain their strong hold over white, better-educated suburban voters and Hispanics. Those assumptions were seriously challenged by last week’s election results, which will likely make it more difficult than had been expected for certain Democrats to successfully defend their Senate seats next year.
Optimistic Democrats still argue that the worst of Biden’s disastrously low job approval ratings may now be behind him, and that he has a full year before the midterms to turn them around. They cite the encouraging October rebound in the economy’s job creation numbers, along with an accompanying drop in the national unemployment rate; last Friday’s House approval of the long delayed $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure package; and the announcement that talks to revive the suspended 2015 Iran nuclear arms deal will resume at the end of this month.
BIDEN’S SLIM RAYS OF HOPE
But none of these isolated snippets of “good news” for Biden can stand up to close scrutiny. For example, the only reason Biden and Pelosi were able to finally pass the infrastructure bill — which had been held hostage by progressive Democrats for more than two months — was 13 Republican votes in favor of the bill, to counteract the “no” votes cast by six of the progressives.
As far as the rebound in October job creation numbers, it was less significant than it might seem. A Wall Street Journal editorial explained that it reflected the first full month after the expiration of the overgenerous federal $300 a week unemployment supplement, which had encouraged workers to stay home rather than return to their old jobs, which in many cases were paying them less than their total unemployment benefits.
Finally, the nuclear talks with Iran are resuming only after Iran has come within two months, or even a few weeks, of being able to produce nuclear weapons with the highly enriched uranium they produced while the talks were suspended. This makes the possibility of reviving the 2015 deal a moot point, and has prompted the IDF to update its plans to launch a preemptive strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities, with or without US approval.
Meanwhile, the decline in Biden’s job approval ratings have reached truly alarming proportions. A poll released by USA Today on the same day that the House narrowly passed the infrastructure bill found Biden underwater by a 21-point margin (38% approve vs. 59% disapprove), the worst rating for any modern president other than Donald Trump.
History shows that in most cases, when a sitting president in his first term has job approval ratings under 50%, his party is likely to suffer devastating House losses during his first midterm election. That is what happened to Democrats in 1994 when Bill Clinton was president, and in 2010 when Barack Obama was in the White House, as well as to Republicans in 2018, when Donald Trump was in office.
BIDEN’S POLICIES ARE MAKING PROBLEMS WORSE
At the same time, soaring inflation, supply chain bottlenecks, and sharply rising gas prices at the pump show no signs of letting up. Even if all these problems are not entirely Joe Biden’s fault, he certainly has not done enough to make them better, and in many areas, particularly with regard to the shortages and soaring prices of fuel around the world, Biden’s policies have deliberately made them worse — and the public knows that.
Biden is also ignoring other festering problems for which he is responsible. These include record numbers of illegal immigrants storming America’s southern borders and sharply deteriorating relations with close NATO allies, including Britain and France, whose soldiers were left at risk in Afghanistan when Biden ordered the US military to leave without giving adequate warning.
Although he hasn’t responded by moderating his progressive policy goals, Biden was aware before last week’s election that the dissatisfaction indicated by his sinking job approval ratings posed a serious risk to his ability to effectively govern. Before leaving on his trip to Europe to meet with G20 group leaders and attend an international climate change conference, he said, “I don’t think it’s hyperbole to say that the House and Senate majorities and my presidency will be determined by what happens in the next week,” and turned up the pressure on rebelling House progressives to enable passage at least of the infrastructure bill before he left for Europe and the voters of New Jersey and Virginia went to the polls.
In fact, that bill was not passed until after Biden’s return from Europe. Nevertheless, House Democrats are betting that voters will ultimately reward them for showering federal infrastructure money on their districts across the country. But Biden is already in a deep political hole. A recent NBC News poll found that roughly half of Americans give him low marks on what were among his key strengths in last year’s presidential election — his reputation for competence in governing and a commitment to reuniting a politically divided country.
WHITE SUBURBAN VOTERS RETURNING TO THE GOP
In the end, the races across the country last week were largely decided by white suburban voters — many of whom had backed Biden last November — expressing their buyer’s remorse. Many were also dismayed by Biden’s refusal to accept personal responsibility for the fiasco which resulted from his orders to withdraw the small US military presence from Afghanistan.
In addition, Democrat vote totals hit all-time lows in many rural areas, largely because, some analysts suggested, some traditional conservative voters who had been turned off last year by Trump’s excesses once again felt comfortable expressing their usual voter preferences.
All these were contributing factors to last week’s stunning election results from Virginia and New Jersey, which encouraged Republicans just as much as they depressed Democrats.
The most immediate sign of that renewed Republican optimism was an announcement the day after last week’s elections by the National Republican Congressional Committee that it had added the names of 13 incumbent House Democrats to its list of the most vulnerable midterm targets. In addition, because of the perceived increase in their chances for victory, Republicans have started recruiting more attractive 2022 Senatorial candidates, including some who had previously turned down offers to run on the GOP ticket.
That list of proven political all-stars reconsidering their previous refusals reportedly includes Arizona Governor Doug Ducey and Maryland Governor Larry Hogan. Republicans are also gearing up for a more serious effort to defeat Democrat senate incumbents up for reelection next year in Georgia and Nevada.
WILL REPUBLICANS RESIST THE IMPULSE TO GO TOO FAR?
According to former congressman Steve Israel, Republicans already hold a clear structural and ideological advantage over Democrats going into the campaigns for the midterm elections. His main question going forward is whether they will choose to stay in their current mainstream political sweet spot. Last week, they successfully maintained the support of most of Trump’s voter base, as well as ticket-splitting independents, who enabled them to pick up some strength in the House in 2020, while Trump was losing to Biden in those same areas.
The tide has turned in the ongoing cultural war within the Democrat Party. The moderate faction, at least for now, holds the upper hand against progressives who were thrown on the defensive by last week’s election results, and the Republicans have emerged as the only winners.
But Steve Israel warns that GOP party leaders need to be careful in those states where they are now in control, to avoid abusing that power and spoiling their newly popular image by passing extremely conservative legislation such as the new Texas law aimed at neutralizing the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision in that state.
Republicans also have to continue pushing back at the false Democrat accusations — repeated verbatim by the mainstream media — that Republican-backed state voting reform laws are deliberately intended to suppress minority voters, and the now routine Democrat complaint that every successful conservative or moderate Republican candidate is a potentially dangerous surrogate for Donald Trump’s views.
NO MORE LOW-TURNOUT ELECTIONS
Last week’s results have also revealed that the term “off-year election” has become a misnomer. Instead of their tradition of being low-turnout, sleepy contests where mostly only political wonks and the true believers of both parties go to the polls, they have become high intensity contests in which the voter base in both parties are mobilized, and the swing voters who used to stay home now send messages to the candidates or political party with whom they are most dissatisfied.
The Democrats’ problem was not liberal voter apathy. In losing to his Republican opponent in Virginia, former governor Terry McAuliffe drew over 200,000 more votes than the current Democrat Governor Ralph Northam did winning the same election four years ago.
In analyzing last week’s results, longtime Democratic strategist Jesse Ferguson told New York Magazine, “I have been on way too many calls with campaigns who have narrowed their targeting because they were trained to do that in a lower-turnout era. For a long time, campaigns specialized in narrowing their audience to the most likely of voters, so they could maximize their efficiency. Now that’s one of the biggest mistakes a campaign can make, because they’re leaving lower-propensity, lower-information voters on the cutting-room floor.”
As another veteran Democrat political strategist explained, “When you make a race about race, or you make a race about Trump, it absolutely engages our voters, but it absolutely energizes theirs, as well.”
The standard Democrat tactic of using the specter of a Trump return to power to energize swing voters is now far less effective now that he is off the ballot, out of office, and largely out of the mainstream media headlines, despite his continuing efforts to demonstrate his still-dominant influence in the Republican Party.
THE WISDOM OF THE US CONSTITUTION
Washington Times columnist Michael McKenna writes that last week’s election results were another “ratification of the wisdom of the framers of the US Constitution. A system in which there are three levels of government spread across 50 states means that voters almost always have opportunities to speak to their elected officials through the mechanism of voting.”
“The structure ensures that voters can restrain the more immoderate impulses of their elected officials. It also ensures that no one party can generate too much momentum from a single electoral victory.”
The authors of the Constitution filled it with checks and balances in an effort to protect the smaller states and minority groups from the tyranny of the majority. They modified the British Parliamentary system of government to slow down the pace of major government changes and slow the rise to power of potential dictators on a narrow base of popular or regional support. They created an independent and hopefully non-political judicial branch of government and gave it the power to block actions by Congress and the Executive branch which exceeded their constitutionally authorized powers.
The framers of the Constitution also designed the Electoral College and the Senate with safeguards against the tyranny of the majority, and to require popular political leaders to obtain broad political support across the country, in states large and small, to win the presidency and push through controversial policies.
When Team Biden and the progressives assumed power in January based upon the slimmest of congressional majorities, they expected to accomplish many things, including the federalization of election laws, granting statehood and automatic Democrat votes in the Senate and Electoral College to the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, killing the Senate filibuster rule, and repeating FDR’s failed stunt of trying to pack the Supreme Court with liberal judges to prevent them from striking down his legislative agenda on constitutional grounds.
BIDEN’S POLITICAL REACH HAS EXCEEDED HIS GRASP
This time, once again, a Democrat president’s political reach had far exceeded his grasp. The unique constitutional structure of American government requires, as Mckenna put it, “an overwhelming mandate in a single election or winning multiple elections across years in order to execute such sweeping changes.”
Not only is Biden’s progressive agenda far too extreme, it is also politically impractical, given the political preferences of most Americans at the moment. West Virginia’s moderate Democrat senator, Joe Manchin, who used his 50th Senate vote to force Biden to reduce the scope of his proposal, reminded us after last week’s elections, “This is not a center-left or a left country. We are a center, [or] if anything, a little center-right country. . . [That is what the election] means [and was] being shown, and we ought to be able to recognize that.”
Nevertheless, Manchin still insisted, “I believe in President Biden. I still do and I will always, because he’s a good person; he’s here for the right reason. He really is in government for the right reason. We just have to work together. We can’t go too far left,” he added.