Editor’s Note: We asked some of Post Alley’s political writers to reflect on prospects for the midterm 2022 elections. An earlier article by Sandeep Kaushik, noting how Seattle and Portland have become poster children for toxic Democratic radical excess, laid the groundwork for this discussion.
Steve Murch: The Democratic Party is ideologically split, and has spent two years allowing its louder but far less popular side to set the terms. Perhaps this election will finally force an answer to the nagging question: Just who are the Democrats in 2022, anyway?
Since 2020, the Biden Administration has favored the agenda of Twitter Left over the American Middle at virtually every turn. The 50-50 Senate kiboshed much of it, but the two-year exercise has made crystal clear that the party which once understood centrist working families clearly doesn’t right now.
For many families, far-left discourse was safely ignored. But in 2020-2022, the policy choices and even lexicon crashed into America’s kitchen like the Kool-Aid guy. Working moms and dads, even those sympathetic to progressivism and proudly displaying “In This House We Believe” posters, spent much of 2020-2022 fighting battles they didn’t expect to fight. They felt a shocking antipathy from school boards and teachers unions. They experienced a fraying of the social contract around public safety. Worsening inflation cut deeply into their household budget, outpacing wage gains. On the cultural front, they see Dem leaders no longer venturing to define what the word “woman” means, cowed by fear of unreasonable backlash. Is this a recipe for a large coalition? Not even Republicans work as hard to elect Republicans.
Only 27% of Americans believe we are on the right track, according to the Real Clear Politics average of polls.
With November looming, many Dems now appear to regret some of the results of this leftward shift. Biden clearly wishes to recapture some of his former centrist brand just in time for November. Voters will now weigh in on whether that ship has sailed.
Joel Connelly: Whenever greater gloom envelops Democrats’ prospects in the 2022 elections, there comes new evidence of rancid extremism and genuine danger to the republic posed by a disloyal Republican opposition. Will it register with the voters, and when?
Of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, first African American woman nominated to the U.S. Supreme Court, Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Arkansas, told the Senate on Tuesday: “The last Justice Jackson left the Supreme Court to go to Nuremburg to prosecute the case against the Nazis. This Judge Jackson might have gone there to defend them.” Of the three Republican Senators who will vote to confirm Jackson, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Georgia, Tweeted: “Collins, Murkowski, Romney are pro-pedophile.” Ex-President Trump asked Russia’s Vladimir Putin last week to multitask from the invasion of Ukraine to help dig up dirt on the Biden family. The morning NY Times carries headline, “Oklahoma Lawmakers Approve Near-Total Abortion Ban.”
Midterm elections historically favor the party out of power, though it’s a mixed bag. In 1994 and 2010, the last two Democratic presidents suffered, in President Obama’s term, “shellackings.” The Dems enjoy a razor-thin 221-213 majority in the House of Representatives, with more than 30 of their House members already not seeking reelection.
A trio of big factors are working for the Republicans. The Afghanistan debacle cost voter confidence in President Biden’s competence. A rise in crime is giving resonance to law-and-order themes, fueled by defund-the-police excesses of the Democrats’ far-left. Inflation has come to dominate not only the news, but normal conversation. Carrying the opposition’s themes, in the media and Congress, is a relentlessly negative, coordinated propaganda apparatus. Its job is to manufacture issues that rile up Republican’s minority base, making up an outsized percentage of those who vote. As well, legislate obstacles discourage voters of color, working women, and young people. “When the situation is hopeless, there’s nothing to worry about,” Western writer Ed Abbey used to joke.
The upcoming election is no joke. Seen here, the Democrats still have three lanes open:
- The national mood finally improves: We have a bullish job market, which in wages finally helps employees. Under the Biden administration, the U.S. economy last month added more than 400,000 new jobs, the unemployment rate falling to 3.9 percent. The employment market is stoked by a long-sought, at-last realized package to rebuild and expand infrastructure.
- Trump and the wacko-birds: One stage will be the House January 6 committee public hearings in late spring, when the plotting to overturn the 2020 election will be laid before the country. The cast of characters will prove crazier and more sinister than Watergate. In his vengeance campaign, the ex-President will boost candidates in GOP primaries whose extremism turns off general election voters.
- The Supreme Court overturns or eviscerates Roe vs. Wade. Democrats are tanking among independent voters, but when Americans witness a right taken away, support for Republicans among suburban women could go south. One bright spot for Democrats, in the latest NBC News-Wall Street Journal poll found Just 31 percent of voters said they’re more likely to support an anti-abortion candidate.
“We have a story to tell and we need to tell it,” Barack Obama said Tuesday, showing up at the White House to mark the anniversary of the Affordable Care Act. But his party’s chief hope this year is that the opposition will scare hell out of voters.
David Brewster: The mood of the country is populist. The tenor of Biden’s proposals is governmental programs. That’s the mismatch that can explain why Biden seems to be hurling words into a windstorm.
For Biden and many of his generation’s politicians, the usual solution to a problem is to invent a massive new national program and bureaucracy. That approach now meets skepticism, since these programs are slow to gain traction and deeply compromised to get through Congress. Voters are now very impatient and distrustful that broad government programs solve much. With all the distrust of a polarized and stalemated Congress, why keep proposing massive packages such as Build Back Better?
A better approach, I suggest, would be heavy doses of Elizabeth Warren populism (busting up trusts, getting money to the lower classes as in a minimum income grant) and ways of devolving programs to the states. Just send money (as with the Covid relief packages), and don’t send so many regulations. Biden and his generation still think the New Deal approach of heavy national programs, aimed at Big Business/Big Labor/Big Government, has voter appeal. But we are in a more individualistic and distrustful age, and progressives are reverting to the belief in individual states as “laboratories of democracy.”
Eric Scigliano: It ain’t easy being the party of broccoli while the other side dishes out cheeseburgers and Twinkies. And Covid isn’t the only serious threat that Democrats are obliged to take seriously while Republicans duck, pander, and snipe.
The climate crisis is an even heavier lift and weightier political burden than the pandemic. As in public health, it’s hard to get credit, much less get voters excited, for losses averted or, worse yet, partly averted. But though the impacts of runaway global heating will be much more dire than those of covid, they’ll unfold over many decades, or centuries. That means the payoff from mitigation will extend much farther into the future, far beyond election-year focal ranges. On top of that, climate systems are more complex, and the numbers involved are more mind-bogglingly large, than immunity levels, infection, and hospitalization rates, etc.
Meanwhile, public attention is seized by one much simpler number: the price at the pump. The Rs are having a field day blaming the Ds for driving it up by squelching new drilling and plugging pipelines. Of course that’s shameless and duplicitous when any impacts from such measures are years away, but what’d you expect? Overleveraged frackers cut back for financial reasons, OPEC (our bosom buddy Saudi Arabia) toed a hard line, and Russia started this little war in Ukraine. But don’t bother us with details—it’s so much easier to blame Joe Biden.
On top of all that, the Rs have gotten smarter about their obstruction. “Chinese hoaxes” and outright denial are out. Instead, they acknowledge that the climate is something pretty important that we really do have to do something about—someday, after we’ve taken care of everything urgent, in particular your gas tank, and not at the expense of Holy Growth. There’s always something more urgent.
Meanwhile, the Ds have to contort themselves to keep a Big Coal millionaire from the coal-and-gas state of West Virginia on their side if they want to pass anything. And wonder how many young climate crusaders will get so disgusted at their compromises that they sit out this November.
It’s a lousy hand to have to play, but Democrats have to play it. Give them credit for trying.
Jean Godden: Many of my inkstained friends are now lamenting that the Democrats will be taking a licking in the Midterms. I remain cautiously optimistic. After all, Biden won a convincing victory in 2020 — no matter how Trump loyalists want to twist results — and I believe the Democratic Party can again hold its own. Much depends on the party’s disparate factions pulling together. Here, to my way of thinking, are six winning factors to stress:
Rebuild America: Remind the public about Biden’s successful infrastructure package. There are broken bridges and unsafe roads that will be rebuilt.
Health care: The ACA is more popular than the pols who try to tear it down. Promising to add prescription drug controls to the mix would be a winner with the public.
Refunding police: This is a promise that should resonate with middle America. It is possible to have both safety and equal justice and we should work to realize those goals.
Support for labor: Working folks need help standing up to profit-driven corporations. The pandemic made us aware of how labor can help achieve fair wages, safe working conditions, and health benefits.
Reset and unite: The other party is not our enemy; that’s a role reserved for murderous dictators. Democratic values are under attack and we must stand strong. Ukraine’s courageous leader, President Zelinskyy has shown us the way to inspire a nation.
Freedom: The Supreme Court’s likely overturning of Roe v. Wade will not play well with a public that by more than 60 percent supports peoples’ right to make choices. Being able to control one’s own body should be a basic freedom.
Six is a lot of points to stress. But with proper messaging (get out your billboards, fund your TV and newspaper ads) these points could help sway voters and, with luck, preserve Biden’s 2020 victory.
David M. Buerge: Two reasons why Democrats will suffer a bloodbath this next election are Seattle and Portland, as Sandeep Kaushik suggests. Both are liberal progressive bastions and both are poster children for political dysfunction and incapacity. The late Alabama governor George Wallace had a point when he said there wasn’t a dime’s worth of difference between Democrats and Republicans. The chief concern of both parties is not national leadership but the leaderships’ comfortable survival. The Republicans have become the party of racism, reaction, robbery, and riot because those evils serve the interests of leaders who seek to retain power by manipulating constituents who fear losing their privileged status, real or imaginary. Democrats have become the party of elites, the status quo, investment portfolios, and mental masturbation who maintain their privilege by stoking social and economic division.
Politicians of both parties seek office to maintain and improve their lifestyles. When Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer express irritation at efforts to deny their use of insider information to boost stock portfolios, their and their colleagues’ motives become clearer. They and Republicans have one foot in the trough and would like two. For Democrats, huge governmental agencies court and comfort contributors and constituents eager to benefit in the modern spoils system. The strangulation large agencies impose on civic and economic vitality most punish historically disenfranchised racial and ethnic minorities, working class and, increasingly, middle class victims of downsizing, who are shocked, said Mark Twain, as Presbyterians who find themselves suddenly in Hell.
In 2016, Democrats lost to the least qualified and most divisive Presidential candidate in our history. They barely won the House and Senate in 2020. Now they face catastrophe. Their blindness, conceit and cynicism have done them in. Worse, their political incapaciy has left the door open to those even more adept at malevolence and deceit.
Eric Redman: Since WWII the GOP base has always represented at least 35% of voters, fueled by the “paranoid style of American politics” and fringe media, as historian Richard Hofstader wrote. But the GOP base did not entirely throttle our government institutions. During Watergate the base stuck with Nixon to the end, as did much of the Congressional GOP, but when the rest of the public turned sharply against him, enough GOP Members of Congress did too.
At the time, however, there were three big national TV and radio networks and maybe ten newspapers of national stature, all providing somewhat elastic guardrails on political speech. There were no cable news channels, no right wing talk shows, no openly right wing Justices, no social media over which crazy and vitriolic nonsense could be spewed. No one gave social permission for that stuff to be said out loud or inflame others. Americans mostly relied on the same sources of information, and a majority of Americans generally shared the same conclusions — as Americans could be counted on to do when they shared the same information.
With talk radio came Rush Limbaugh’s discovery that you can get rich with a fanatically devoted minority market share. Copycats emerged. Murdoch profited from this discovery, which allowed him to slash newsrooms to the bone, helping force the MSM to gut their own reporting. Today, network TV’s share of nightly eyeballs is almost minuscule. A cacophony of right wing voices rage, and feeling outraged is a drug that feels good.
The middle believes (not without cause) that the top doesn’t care about them, only about getting richer and (among prosperous liberals) about actively promoting people on lower social rungs, other races, and women. People will fight not to fall to the bottom rung. And few liberals or centrists want to devote to politics the all-encompassing time and unbalanced zeal of the right. As with the NRA, fewer numbers of infinitely more engaged true believers beats much larger numbers of us who just want to lead “normal” lives. We can’t rouse ourselves to save the Republic, and most of our kids have no idea what’s at stake.
Mort Kondracke: No question Democrats are facing a bloodbath in November. A new president’s party almost always loses House seats and if the president’s approval is below 50%, the average loss is 43 House seats, which would be 38 more than Republicans need to take control. And this year the electorate is deeply unhappy. The gap on the direction of country is +37 wrong track. Not as bad as Obama’s 50+ in 2011, but bad.
Why? Forty-year high in inflation (hardly all Biden’s fault or in his power to control, though 2021 Covid bill contributed. Presidents always get blamed for economic problems.) Rs are also up +13 on national security, which I can’t explain: Biden deserves it for Afghan withdrawal debacle, but I think he’s done well on Ukraine. Rs only up 7 on immigration, though Biden has lost control of the border and this decision to cancel Trump’s send-‘em-back policy will hurt more.
I don’t concur with the idea that Biden gave into far left in his first year. He hasn’t advocated defunding the police or Medicare for All, though his energy policy now looks misguided in context of Ukraine. I agree with the idea he operated as though he was FDR — going big on spending proposals, even though he cut back in most cases. And he had such narrow margins in Congress he was at the mercy of Joe Manchin and Krysten Soinema . (Larry Summers rightly said COVID bill was inflationary, but Build Back Better would have lowered costs. I don t know why Biden&Co didn’t make more out of that.)
I do think Dems have done a lousy job of touting what they have achieved, and that Rs have no program and ability to do a lot of damage (restrained only by Biden’s veto). I also think Ds have not done enough to make preserving American democracy more of a top-tier issue. The party is still owned by Donald Trump, who tried to overturn the results of a free election, and most all Republicans in Congress let him off.
Final point: the public overwhelmingly and rightly thinks that government serves the interests of rich people and their corporations, not the public. The answer is wholesale political reform and there’s a large national citizens movement pushing it, wholly ignored by the media.
Ross Anderson: The Democrats’ problem is essentially the same as the Republicans’. We don’t listen to each other. As Eric Redman says, this is largely due to the loss of a common source of information – political, cultural and everything else.
We all grew up with newspapers that had different partisan stances, but the national news came from AP and UPI. The TV news networks were virtually interchangeable, so people in Seattle and Des Moines and Yakima were consuming the same news. Sure, much of that information – from Japanese internment to Vietnam and Iraq — turned out to be wrong. But at least we were all on the same page.
Today we all turn to information sources that confirm what we already believe about the world. We all think we know what the other side believes. Democrats think Republicans are uneducated, fundamentally racist, homophobic. Republicans believe Democrats are all pointy-headed elitist potheads far more worried about the sensitivities of gay people and trans people and Salvadoran refugees than we are with farmers or homebuilders. (Well, I think that’s what they think….)
How do we change that? Reach out to each other. Talk less and listen more. Indulge in some genuine curiosity. Why are Trump Republicans so angry? When was the last time we asked? And, if we don’t really know, how would we get anybody to rethink their vote?
Political parties cannot and will not do that. It’s not their job. That’s the challenge to journalists. What can a site like Post Alley do to help us understand each other?