Democrats will close their election campaign on Monday, facing the nightmare they’ve always feared: Republicans have staged a joyous referendum on Joe Biden’s struggling presidency and failure to tame inflation.
Hopes that Democrats could use the Supreme Court’s abortion-rights overturning and a flurry of legislative victories to stave off a classic midterm defeat for an incumbent party are now a thing of the past. Biden faces a murky political environment, with the cost of living at a 40-year high, and hopes for a quick rebound next year clouded by growing fears of a recession.
On the eve of the election, Democrats risk losing control of the House of Representatives and Republicans are increasingly hoping for a majority that would leave Biden under siege, kicking off his re-election bid and former President Donald Trump looking set to announce his own. The campaign to take back the White House these days.
It’s too early for autopsies. Forty million Americans have already voted. And the uncertainty built into modern polling means that no one can be sure that a red tide is coming. Democrats could hold onto the Senate, even if the House fell.
But the way each party spoke in the run-up to the election and the swathes of blue territory Democrats are defending – from New York to Washington – paint a clear picture of the GOP’s momentum.
A nation divided politically down the middle, united only by feelings of dissatisfaction with its trajectory, is making a habit of repeatedly using elections to punish the party with the most power.
This means that the Democrats are the most affected this time.
If the president’s party takes a hit, Democrats will have a lot of finger-pointing at Biden’s messaging strategy about inflation — a damaging force that has ripped holes in the budgets of millions of families.
Having lost last year’s gubernatorial contest in Virginia, which the president won by 10 points in 2020, Democrats are closing the campaign by warning about democracy and Trump’s influence, which Republicans believe is addressing the issue that most interests voters.
“Here’s where the Democrats are: They’re inflation deniers, they’re crime deniers, they’re anti-education,” Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel said on CNN’s “State of the Union” Sunday.
Hilary Rosen, a longtime Democratic consultant, said in the same session that her party had misjudged the mood of the electorate.
“I’m a loyal Democrat, but I’m not happy. I think we are, we have not listened to the voters in this election. And I think we’re going to have a bad night,” Rosen told CNN’s Dana Bash.
“And this conversation won’t have much impact on Tuesday, but I hope it will have an impact going forward, when voters tell you over and over again that they care mostly about the economy, listen. Stop talking about democracy being at stake.”
Rosen is not the only major figure on the left who is uneasy with the midterm strategy. Former Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, an independent senator from Vermont, urged the White House to do more to emphasize economic concerns in recent weeks, even as he acknowledged the crisis in democracy and the importance of abortion rights. In retrospect, it appears that Democrats slowed down over the summer, fueled by falling gas prices and a hot streak in the president’s passage of legislation, that it would not last long enough to offset the damaging political climate that summer caused. the economy
Indeed, Biden’s emphasis on Trump’s threat to US political institutions essentially asks voters to prioritize the historical basis of the American political system over their immediate economic fears.
It’s a message that resonates in Washington, DC, where the scars of the U.S. Capitol rebellion are keenly felt. And it is undeniably important, because the survival of the world’s most important democracy is at stake. After all, Trump incited a rebellion that sought to thwart a continuing tradition of peaceful transfers of power between presidents.
But outside the Beltway bubble of politicians and journalists, democracy feels a far more distant and esoteric concept than the daily struggle to feed a family and afford a commute to work. From Pennsylvania to Arizona, the return to normalcy that Biden promised after the Covid-19 nightmare remains elusive for many as the economic effects of the once-in-a-century health emergency linger.
The impotence of the Democratic political environment was revealed in a CNN/SSRS poll last week. 51% of likely voters said the economy was a key issue in determining their vote. Only 15% named abortion — a finding that illustrates how the electoral battleground has tilted toward the GOP. Among voters whose main concern is the economy, 71% plan to vote Republican in their House district. And 75% of voters believe the economy is in a recession, meaning Biden’s efforts to emphasize areas of undeniable economic strength (including an incredibly low unemployment rate) can be heard.
It’s too easy to say that Biden has ignored the impact of inflation, or doesn’t understand the pain it’s causing the country.
The premise of his domestic presidency and his entire political career has been based on rebalancing the economy and restoring a measure of security to working and middle-class Americans. His legislative success could lower the cost of health care for seniors and create a diversified green economy that protects Americans from future high energy prices amid global turmoil. But the benefits of such measures will take years to arrive. And millions of voters are hurting right now and haven’t heard a viable plan from the president to quickly ease prices in the short term.
There is no guarantee that Republican plans to extend Trump-era tax cuts and mandate new energy drilling will have much of an impact on the inflation crisis. And divided government would likely lead to a stalemate between the two economic visions. But the election has become a vehicle for voters to express their frustration, with no hope that things will improve any time soon.
Biden has begun to highlight the economy’s bright spots – saying it has revived manufacturing, strong job creation and a strong effort to compete with China. Now he warns that Republicans will dismantle Social Security and Medicare, which many Americans rely on for retirement.
And in practice, no president has done much on his own to bring inflation down quickly. The Federal Reserve is in the lead and the central bank’s strategy of raising interest rates could trigger a recession that could further hamper Biden’s presidency.
Inflation and high gas prices are also a global problem and have been exacerbated by factors beyond Biden’s control, including supply chain problems caused by the war in Ukraine and the pandemic. At the same time, however, economists are debating the wisdom of Biden’s big spending bills, which pumped billions of dollars into an overheated economy. And the White House’s repeated downplaying of the cost-of-living increase as “transient” was another blow to Biden’s credibility, in addition to the trust some voters lost in him when the U.S. pulled out of Afghanistan last year.
The Republican Party also got what it wanted, as Trump delayed his expected campaign announcement until the end of his term, denying Biden the chance to frame this election as a direct clash with an unpopular, insurgent front-runner who defeated him in 2020. The feud allowed the president to soften the impact of his low approval ratings and win over voters who still despise the twice-impeached former president.
Ironically, Biden’s struggles to frame a credible economic message could lead to the crisis of democracy he is warning about.
Any GOP majority would be dominated by radical Trump supporters. The expected committee chairmen have already indicated that they will do everything they can to indict Trump on Jan. 6, 2021, steer clear of the insurgency and go after the Justice Department as it moves forward with multiple criminal investigations into the former president’s conduct. And Tuesday’s election could bring a slew of electoral denialists to state offices that could control the 2024 presidential election in a number of key battlegrounds. GOP dominance of state legislatures could further curtail voting rights.
High inflation has also always been a toxic force that creates political extremism and tempts some voters to gravitate towards demagogues and radicals whose political beliefs are based on inciting resentment and stigmatizing outsiders.
If the Democrats lose big on Tuesday night, Trump will be the beneficiary.