By David M. Greenwald
Washington, DC – It’s the slow season for local politics (if there is such an actual thing), so it seems like a good time to take a peek at more national issues for a second. The conventional wisdom heading into this year is that Republicans would take back both the House and Senate in a huge midterm repudiation of President Biden.
It appeared that all the stars were lining up against Biden and the Democrats—record inflation, a pending recession, and basic incompetence by the aging President.
I think there are two basic problems with that thesis, however. First, we live in a time of hyper-partisanship and so, unless Democrats stayed home (which was possible), the swings are not going to be nearly what you might ordinarily expect.
But the second and bigger problem is that the Republicans have kind of handed the Democrats some real issues to run on. Overturning Roe is a game changer. The only question was going to be when it would show up.
The January 6 hearings reminded the voters, especially those sleeping on the left, the stakes for staying home.
But there is even some indication that the actual political landscape has shifted. In January, Republicans led the generic ballot by seven percentage points, which asks which party should control Congress—Democrats had not been that far behind even in years of Republican landslides. But that ground has shifted and the Democrats, according to recent polls, now lead by seven percentage points.
Columnist Jonah Goldberg in the LA Times points out, “At the end of July, the political conversation was dominated with talk of Biden’s failing presidency, his historic unpopularity, and the question of whether he would even run again. Since then, we’ve seen a series of legislative victories, including the Inflation Reduction Act (thanks to Democrats finally corralling Sens. Joe Manchin III and Kyrsten Sinema), the killing of Al Qaeda leader Ayman Zawahiri, and a hugely strong jobs report that lends credence to the White House’s ‘it’s not a recession!’ messaging.”
A giant red flag for the GOP came last week in a very unexpected place, Kansas.
Goldberg writes, “In a referendum, 59% of Kansas voters, turning out in massive numbers in the dog days of summer, opted not to give the Republican-controlled Legislature the ability to restrict abortion rights. Antiabortion advocates bungled both the wording of the referendum and the arguments for it, but both the enormous turnout and margin in a Republican state has GOP consultants in a state of panic.”
The NY Times notes that Biden is now on a roll with a string of victories that didn’t seem possible a few weeks ago.
They point out, “Major legislation cruising to passage, at least some economic indicators heading in the right direction, and the world’s most wanted terrorist killed after a two-decade manhunt.”
They add, “Whether the victories of recent weeks will prove to be a decisive turning point for Mr. Biden’s presidency or merely a transitory moment in an otherwise bleak administration, of course, remains to be seen. Mr. Biden is still one of the most unpopular presidents in modern history at this point in his term, according to polls, and even some House Democrats quietly worry that none of the achievements will save them from an electoral rout in November.”
“It’s potentially a narrative-changing moment,” said Cornell Belcher, a Democratic pollster who worked for President Barack Obama when Mr. Biden was his vice president. “It’s kind of hard to say the president hasn’t gotten things done or accomplished anything and kept his campaign promises when you now look at his legislative track record.”
Still, a lot of Democrats are concerned about his age, 79, and the age he would be if he runs again.
The pundits are not so sure at this point how to read the tea leaves—which of course makes things a lot more interesting.
The Times sent out a newsletter by Blake Hounshell yesterday, who argued, “Why this election might not be like all the others.”
They talked to Doug Sosnik, former advisor to President Clinton, who said, “I can’t figure this one out.”
Normally one would predict a blood bath for the Democrats in the fall. I still wouldn’t necessarily bet against it.
Still, Sosnik says “he’s not so sure anymore and is questioning everything he knows about the deeper patterns of U.S. elections.”
He points to the recent assault on the Capitol along with changes in the nature of partisan politics.
Most of the indicators are still not in great shape for the Democrats.
- Polls show that nearly three-quarters of voters think the country is headed off-track.
- Inflation, despite the decline in gas prices, remains at its highest rate in four decades.
- Surveys of consumer confidence hit an all-time low in June and have not rebounded much.
- Biden’s approval rating remains below 40 percent. It has ticked up since late July, however.
But between Roe and the January 6 hearings, Democratic voters are more engaged than they were a few months ago and that by itself could end up being a sea change.
One thing is certain—buckle your seatbelts, it’s going to be an interesting ride to November.