Barring some act of God, the Democratic Party is going to get crushed in the midterms.
The president’s party usually loses House seats in off-year elections. Since 1946, the average loss has been 25 seats – which is scary enough for a Democratic Party that currently holds a 221-213 seat margin – but when the president has approval ratings below 50%, the typical loss has been 37 seats.
President Joe Biden’s approval rating is averaging 41.2% now. Some of the generic ballot polling – Which party would you like to see in control? – is looking dire for the Democrats. The director of ABC News polling, Gary Langer, noted that among registered voters, 51% say they favor Republican control, while only 41% prefer the Democrats. That’s the largest advantage for Republicans since 1981. Thomas Edsall tallies more signs of discontent, such as Public Opinion Strategies polling showing that on matters of great concern to voters, Republicans are seen as more capable. On controlling inflation, 45% of voters trust Republicans, compared with 21% for the Democrats. The edge for Republicans on the economy is 45/27, and on handling crime, Republicans are preferred 43/21. Edsall concludes that “Democrats shouldn’t panic. They should go into shock.”
As a matter of justice, the Republican Party is the one that deserves a rebuke even more than the Democrats.
Consider that the House Republican caucus is circling the wagons around Rep. Paul Gosar. You may remember him as the guy who pals around with Holocaust-denier white nationalist Nick Fuentes, or as the member who was the first to suggest that the Jan. 6 insurrection was the work of antifa and who later said those charged in the attack were political prisoners. (He cannot be accused of consistency.) Gosar is in the news again for posting a video on social media depicting a cartoon version of himself killing Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez with a sword to the back of the head and then flying through the air with two swords to attack a figure with Biden’s face superimposed on it.
Gosar is emblematic of our debauched time. Far from apologizing, Gosar reveled in his transgression. “I am entitled to speak to the people and to do so in a manner that is engaging.”
Did House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy issue a stern condemnation of Gosar? Did he move to strip him of committee assignments? No. McCarthy is as strong as dishwater on matters of ethics and decency. Here is his brave stand on Gosar: “He took the video down and he made a statement that he doesn’t support violence to anybody.” Inspirational.
Republican ire is reserved for those who commit truly heinous acts – like voting for the infrastructure bill. McCarthy has stood silent as the 13 House Republicans who (along with 19 Republicans in the Senate) voted aye have been deluged with abuse and death threats. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene took the helpful step of posting their office phone numbers on social media and calling them “traitors.” Former President Donald Trump denounced them as RINOs. McCarthy was nowhere to be found.
That’s the guy who’s in line to be Speaker if the polling holds up and Republicans take the House.
Voters don’t choose members of Congress based upon a moral calculus of who best represents American ideals and values. They vote to express satisfaction or dissatisfaction about the way things are going.
With inflation at a 30-year high, the virus still not defeated, Afghanistan abandoned in shambolic fashion, the border in chaos, the murder rate high, Democrats insisting that concern over teaching critical race theory is a “racist dog whistle,” and Biden unable to exert authority over his own disputatious party in Congress, the voters are souring on Democrats.
It’s probably too late to reverse the damage that Afghanistan has done to the president’s standing, but there is still time to course-correct on other issues. At the very least, Democrats can begin to convey that they hear voters’ concerns, rather than rigidly pounding away at their Build Back Better plan as if it would solve inflation, the border, crime and the economy. Politics requires a degree of flexibility. If Biden were able to wrangle a slimmed-down version of his social spending bill out of the Democratic caucus, it would cast him in a new light. Instead of seeming to be controlled by the progressives, he would stand tall as the party’s leader, and the party as a whole would seem more moderate, which is what the voters are asking for. And frankly, if Democrats were as alarmed by Trump and the current state of the Republican Party as they claim, they would willingly, cheerfully, lovingly give this victory to Biden for the sake of their party and their country.
An added bonus would be that Democrats could then devote their full energies to selling what they had achieved, rather than squabbling, while Biden could turn his attention to cutting tariffs (which would help curb inflation), getting the border under control, ramping up COVID-19 testing and therapeutics, and convening governors and mayors to address violence.
Democrats really have just one job – to govern in such a fashion that the Republican Party is kept from power. As of this moment, they are failing.
Mona Charen is policy editor of The Bulwark and host of the “Beg to Differ” podcast.