President Joe Biden’s missteps have given Republicans reason to be optimistic about taking back the House in 2022.
He could have walked away from President Donald Trump’s peace deal with the Taliban in Afghanistan. Instead, ignoring warnings from his military advisers that the U.S.-supported regime could collapse, he hastily withdrew U.S. troops. The Afghan fiasco has made combating terrorism more difficult, stained our nation’s honor, betrayed allies and damaged America’s credibility as a reliable partner.
He suffers the delusion that U.S. aid can turn around dysfunctional regimes in Central America and stem the record surge of illegal immigration. That’s nation building, and it’s failed in Latin America since President John F. Kennedy’s Alliance for Progress.
Crime, inflation and delta
Biden has done little about the surge in crime in America’s big cities—especially those burdened by Justice Department police-practices consent decrees.
Add bungling the delta variant and mask policies and businesses that can’t find enough workers, because Biden’s stay-at-home payments discourage work. It’s no wonder President Biden’s job approval rating has fallen.
The conventional wisdom is that midterms are a referendum on the incumbent president but most presidents eligible for another term win re-election—no matter how poorly their party faired in prior congressional contests. But midterms do offer voters an opportunity to rein in presidents who often act as if they have a mandate to impose radical change when they don’t.
Americans are a much more moderate and cautious people than the tropism of the left and right wings of the Democratic and Republican parties and excitable media analysts.
Since political parties emerged in the 1820s, the party of the incumbent president has lost seats in the House in 34 of 36 midterm elections. The opposing party has gained an average of 34 seats, and the GOP needs to pick up four to capture a majority.
Just before the Afghanistan debacle, House Democratic Campaign Chairman Sean Maloney circulated polling data to his members that showed them trailing by six points in battleground districts.
The GOP controls the redistricting process for 187 seats and Democrats only 75 with the remaining mostly in the hands of independent commissions. After Afghanistan, Biden won’t be much of an asset on the campaign trail, and Vice President Kamala Harris appears politically inept and often acerbic.
Democrats have a few cards yet to play. States and cities have lots of COVID relief money left to spend, and Democratic governors and mayors can spread that around to lock-in voter loyalty.
Both parties have high-profile divisive figures—Bernie Sanders and AOC for the Democrats and Trump for the Republicans—who pull their moderate members to extreme positions and out of line with critical swing voters.
Promises to voters
Out of all that, the Democrats have perfected buy now and pay later for voters. Biden, inspired by pressure from the hard left, promises a permanent regular monthly child allowance to middle-class families in the form of the Child Tax Credit, enhanced tax breaks for child-care expenses, paid family-leave and other goodies.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi is betting the Democratic Party can rally its base and keep swing voters by delivering this package of new and enhanced entitlements. The $3.5 trillion reconciliation package likely will be scaled back. So will the proposed new taxes but the program will still speak to most of the Democrats’ targeted constituencies.
The combination will unleash a torrent of additional deficit spending, printing press monetary policy and inflation, but much of the pain is beyond November 2022 and budget warnings make voters’ eyes glaze over.
Americans are war weary and memories of the Afghanistan mess will fade by November 2022—unless we get another 9-11 scale attack. Instead, they could be grateful with more help raising children, medical expenses and the high cost of college.
No Republican program
More important, though, the GOP doesn’t have a program but to oppose all the benefits Democrats are doling out. To economic historians, Republicans may prove prescient in their warnings, but the pandemic has conditioned middle-class voters to stimulus checks and child allowances.
The Republicans carry a lot of baggage. They are associated with the antivax and antimask hysteria through governors that oppose mandates. And have a history of denying climate change as the West suffers the second-worst drought in 1,200 years and Gulf Coast and Northeast endure more frequent severe hurricanes and flooding.
It’s simply not enough to be against a bumbling president, a party must stand for something attractive to get elected.
Peter Morici is an economist and emeritus business professor at the University of Maryland, and a national columnist.