The Three Big Questions of the 2022 Midterm Elections

As a fairly general rule, midterm elections go poorly for the President’s Party. 1994, 2006, 2010, 2014, and 2018 all went badly. There’s still a strong possibility that 2022 will too. There’s at least some “counter-wisdom” now saying it won’t though. I’m asking three basic questions that should tell us the score in the end.

  • 1. Has the GOP simply disqualified themselves with a Majority of voters? Doug Mastriano, Herschel Walker, Kari Lake, J.D. Vance- these are just some of the names the GOP put up in major swing states for big statewide races. With the exception of Colorado, virtually every competitive swing state GOP primary electorate (and some non-swing) chose the most “ultra MAGA” Republican option, or his endorsed choice in the race. Even with inflation and crime being at or near the top of almost every internal poll I’ve seen this year, did the Republicans simply pick people time and again who are unacceptable to *most* of the electorate? Did they let Democrats off the hook against a real headwind by picking people who quite frankly just sound angry?
  • 2. Is Dobbs as big to 2022 as Impeachment was to 1998 or 9/11 was to 2002? Midterms are bad for the President’s party unless there is an event that simply shakes the ground we walk on. In 1998, Republican overreach lead to the Democrats picking up House seats in Bill Clinton’s second midterm. It turns out the public didn’t want him impeached for an affair, or whatever other reasoning the GOP gave. In 2002, the 9/11 attacks and subsequent drumbeat to war in Iraq broke down history for Democrats and gave Bush’s GOP big wins. So the question for 2022 is, does the Dobbs ruling overturning Roe v. Wade meet that threshold? Does Dobbs plus some combination of January 6th and lingering Trump investigations meet it? Internal polling I’ve read is not as conclusive as one might think. Simply being pro-choice does not move an electorate your way. The opponent being a certified extremist has to be a part of it. Can Democrats broad brush the whole GOP with this? They had some success this Summer. It’s not clear yet if it will work on a mass scale.
  • 3. Is the Democratic brand toxic? Joe Biden won the 2020 Election. His party lost seats in the House though. Going back as far as 2014 there have been questions as to whether the Democratic brand is simply too weak when not running an individually compelling candidate. Sure, Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, and Joe Biden can win, but the party as a whole has largely been a minority party at every level of governance since 1994. The 2020 election saw deterioration of Democratic numbers with Latinos, Asians, and Black men. Republicans have been chipping away at Jewish voters as well. Democrats built their house on a mountain of demographic hopes, and there are signs that destiny will be a dark one for them. If 2022 continues those 2020 trends, the GOP is going to make nice gains. Another midterm beating for a Democratic President may suggest that actually governing the first two years of each Presidency ends up making us quite unpopular.

Once we know the answers to these questions, we should know who will wake up happy on November 9th.

The Fall of Liberal Democracy?

Italy elected a far right-wing government on Sunday, pretty easily too. If this doesn’t alarm you, let me remind you of Italy’s history with fascism. It would be outrageous to compare Giorgia Meloni with Benito Mussolini at this point. Again though, given Italy’s history with fascism, it’s worth keeping your eye on how things unfold.

It would be fair to point out that left and center-left political parties have struggled in recent elections in Europe, the U.S., and around the world. The U.S. just went through Trump obviously, and the GOP is favored to take back Congress this year. While the new Labour Leadership in the United Kingdom is cleaning up the mess Corbyn left them, they’ve been out of power almost a decade. The post-Brexit Prime Ministerships of May and Johnson both struggled with how to handle right populism. French Socialists have been relatively uncompetitive against President Macron, while the hard-right has been his chief rival. Even as Netanyahu struggled against an indictment, the Israeli left has been unable to win a stable majority government. South Korea elected a certifiable “meninist.” And of course, there’s Brazil. Liberal politics, and even just democracy in general is struggling. It would be easy to simply question if liberal democracy in the west simply can’t meet the needs and wants of the people it governs. There’s evidence it’s not.

On the other hand, let’s not pretend we haven’t seen large scale protests against the governments of Russia and Iran this week. Or in Hong Kong and Mainland China in the past year. Or mass starvation in Somalia, right now. One could argue that government in general, regardless of its form, isn’t satisfying the public right now.

One could very well argue that we’re living on a knife’s edge right now. There’s a world where Putin is gone, Ukraine remains free, Iran liberalizes it’s social policies, western center-left parties clear out the antisemite crowd, and our global institutions survive the populist push against them. There’s also a world where Trump and Putin are shaking hands at the White House in 2025 (or someone worse than Trump) on a deal to effectively stop aiding Ukraine, while fascists and dictators world wide work to consolidate power in a world we thought was changing for the better, just a few years ago. The likely reality is somewhere between the two, but let’s not pretend that’s a given.

The (Many) Years Since 9/11

There are many things I remember crystal clear about Tuesday, September 11th, 2001. I was a senior at Easton Area High School. Gas was $.88 a gallon at the bottom of the hill by my house. The sky was a perfect blue, no clouds in sight, perfect for my cross-country meet that was scheduled that day. I remember I was in Latin 1, sitting next to Tarin as we watched the carnage happen on TV, and I remember telling her it was Bin Laden and Al-Qaeda, as I had read about their actions in the newspapers. I remember being sent back to home room, finally getting in touch with my mom, and how the Principal spent some time at our lunch table discussing the events. I remember the rumors of more planes and more targets. I remember getting home that day, and really realizing what happened. I remember seeing all three crash sites within a month after. I remember the anthrax scare when I was at the Capitol, and being quarantined and tested.

I remember everything, but it was a long time ago now. I’ve graduated high school, college, worked for two Presidents and scores of other politicians since then in a 20 year career in politics. Two wars were fought and ended over those events, since then. I’ve seen the unthinkable since then, my Phillies and my Eagles won championships. Many of my best friends then grew up, got married, and have children now. My dog that we bought but a few months later has now been gone six years, her now 15 year old sister is in her final days, and their younger brother is approaching ten years old. Many of my closest friends in life now, I didn’t meet until several years after those events. I’m approaching 40 now, and the political activism the aftermath of 9/11 inspired in me is history to me now, almost a spark of a different person that long since was buried on some beautiful morning not unlike that one. People change. The world changes. None of us are where we were then.

New York did what only New York could do, getting back up and rebuilding even better than ever. The Pentagon was rebuilt as it had to be, and Washington went on with life. Shanksville today has a beautiful monument in the place where a flight full of people went to their final rest. If you go to Ground Zero today you see a monument to healing and hope, not wreckage and carnage from a soul-shaking attack on us. The world has moved on. It’s moved on many times over.

Of course that’s for the rest of us, and I say that as someone that could get in the car and drive to Ground Zero in under 90 minutes right now. For a lot of people, time never quite did move on. Three-thousand families and friends lost people that day. In the years since the cops and firefighters who ran into those crash sites have suffered agonizingly, some with PTSD, others literally developing cancer from the events. We all still deal with enhanced security in airports and other transit systems that became normal after that. Of course I’d be remiss if I didn’t bring up the two wars that traced their origins to that day, in Afghanistan and Iraq (even if dubiously). I have friends who gave limbs and their mental health to our country fighting for our cause. Again, thousands of families and friends here in America have someone who gave their life. That’s not even getting into the cost for Iraqi and Afghani families who paid prices. For all of the people I mention here, I wonder if time has passed even closely similar to the rest of us, or if 9/11 is torturously still near, not so distantly gone.

Time passes. That’s inevitable. People do too. That’s also inevitable. Memories don’t. may god bless those for whom this past Sunday wasn’t just a day in the past.

2022 Election Overview- the Senate

The 2022 midterm is supposed to be bad for Democrats. History tells us that. Inflation tells us that. The President’s approval tells us that. Of course, unlike the House, the entire Senate isn’t up together. Only a third of it is, and that third can have a clearly partisan tilt. In other words, things aren’t clear.

When the House defies historical trends, there is usually a reason, a cross-current even that cancels out the “fundamentals” of the race, like 9/11 or Bill Clinton’s impeachment. In the Senate there are other reasons for surprising results. Sometimes, like 2018, it’s just the map- Trump’s party defied what was happening in House and Governor races because Senate Democrats had to defend Missouri, Indiana, North Dakota, West Virginia, and Montana. Other times, like 2010, the party out of power nominates crackpot candidates and blows it. And yes, there are also times when events change the direction of the race, like 2002.

Is this year a red wave, or a year of surprise? Let’s start by just looking at the 2022 playing field:

Democratic Difficult Defenses:

In order of difficulty: Georgia (Warnock), Arizona (Kelly), Nevada (Cortez-Masto), New Hampshire (Hassan), Colorado (Bennet), and Washington (Murray).

GOP Difficult Defenses:

Also in order of difficulty: Pennsylvania (Toomey, retirement), Wisconsin (Johnson), Ohio (Portman, retirement), North Carolina (Burr, retirement), Florida (Rubio), and Iowa (Grassley).

Weird Wild Cards:

Both GOP Seats- Utah (Lee) and Alaska (Murkowski).

Ok, so the most notable thing here to me is the playing field. NONE of the Democrats tough defenses are in states Donald Trump won in 2020. The GOP has two difficult defenses in Biden states at the top of this list. With that said, this isn’t quite a 2018 situation for the GOP. Trump won a few of the Democratic seats in 2016, and those two difficult defense seats at the top in 2016. Nearly every state above (except Washington and the wild card races) is historically a swing state. The map may lean Democratic, but not to an extreme.

So then let’s consider candidate quality, and if the GOP is repeating 2010. Dr. Oz? Herschel Walker? Is this a joke? Blake Masters? Ron Johnson? Crazier than a shit house rat. It’s something that I’m sitting here looking at these races and haven’t remarked on what a terrible candidate J.D. Vance is yet. The GOP may have four recruits in the races in play that qualify as something between “good enough” and almost normal. This is a terrible group, maybe the worst I’ve seen. The question is, are the Democrats candidates that much better? My though right now is that most of them rate out as decent, but really only a couple would rate out as great. The incumbents are particularly strong, and probably accentuate the candidate advantage. I mean honestly, who can wait to watch Warnock debate a man who says this? In the challenge races though, I’m not as sure. I think Tim Ryan rates out as a great candidate in Ohio, but it’s still uphill there. Dr. Oz will say stupid things, but Fetterman has some issues on both policy and his health. Demings and Beasley are very good candidates, but in tough states. Same could be said for Franken (no, not who you think). Mandela Barnes doesn’t look bad, but is he that much stronger than Feingold was? I feel like the Dems advantage is clear here, but not by the 2010 margin when accounting for the states in play.

So I guess that leaves us with did anything happen to change the races? Yeah, that Dobbs thing. Is it 9/11? I’m not sure we have evidence of that. However it feels big. Also with a good number of Democratic candidates in these races being women, it feels like it has a chance to really stick. But more than inflation? We’ll find out.

All in all, I think the Senate Democrats have a slightly better playing field than the GOP, which is saying a lot in this cycle. My feeling right now is the most likely outcome is a 50-50 Democratic Senate, with their range being 49-52 seats at the end of the cycle. We may be sweating out the results for a while though.