This week: The Briefing, Vol. X, Issue 36
- Biden’s authoritarian speech
- Democrats get cocky
- Republican disaster in Alaska
‘Blood-Red’ Speech: President Joe Biden’s odious speech last week, in which he essentially accused all Republicans and all their supporters of being “semi-fascist,” was an attempt to pin all the blame for the divisions in the nation today on his political opponents. This indicates once again that he has no interest at all in uniting the country. Biden’s strategy for avoiding a political disaster in 2022 is to demonize and, where possible, even criminalize his political opposition.
At least one poll strongly suggests that it was not well received, with about 57% characterizing it as “dangerous and intended to create conflict.”
Once again, this is a very, very dark turn for the Biden administration, very much in tune with its raid on former President Trump’s Mar-a-Lago residence. Under a very thin guise of concern for “our democracy,” he is attempting an authoritarian power grab using a similar rationale to that of authoritarian governments of the past — namely, the idea that the other side is too dangerous to be part of civil society.
Biden is actively stoking the political divisions that are tearing the country apart. That’s the bad news.
The good news is that even heavily partisan media outlets such as CNN did surprisingly little to cover for him this time. Mainstream journalists have raised objections to this extraordinary and completely inappropriate anti-democratic behavior.
To be sure, Biden realizes that he can energize and keep interested the far-left fringe of his party by spouting such rhetoric. But this midterm election will require significant buy-in from independent and middle of the road voters as well. There is at least a serious risk that he will put them off with such talk.
A Cocky Biden? Democrats seem increasingly cocky about their ability to buck the historical trends and survive the 2022 election with their house in Senate majorities intact. However, they may be counting their chickens a bit early.
Although Biden’s pollsters talk tough enough, his approval ratings are only up a few points from their July lows. Although he has gotten some reprieve from falling gas prices, Biden is still walking head-first into a recession right now and the number of Americans who believe the country is on “the right track” remains squarely below 30 percent. Neither his overall approval nor his approval ratings on the economy have significantly improved since his announcement that he would be unilaterally forgiving large amounts of federal student debt. (Last time, we discussed why that tactic might not be as much of a crowd pleaser as he had hoped.)
And on crime, which could be a big sleeper issue in this year’s election, Biden hasn’t polled as high as 40% since March.
Democrats are also counting on the overturn of Roe v Wade helping them get their vote out. This might be more likely to work for them — their numbers have improved in congressional generic ballot polls, although they continue to lag in polls of “likely” instead of just registered voters. This means that if the new status quo on abortion changes the profile of the average voter, they might have a reasonable chance of avoiding a big blowout. But even that doesn’t mean they can necessarily keep the U.S. House.
Biden’s provocative political behavior indicates that his team believes it needs to focus on maximizing base turnout. The hope is that the middle will not be too turned off, and then will follow later, perhaps out of concerns over abortion.
But given the current economic situation — the absolute likelihood of further interest rate increases from the Federal Reserve Bank, the consequently plunging housing and stock markets, and the looming possibility of layoffs in the near future — he may be playing with fire.
Colorado: Oddly enough, one of the initially less promising Senate races suddenly looks better than many of the more promising ones. A poll by the Republican Attorneys General Association finds GOP nominee Joe O’Dea just one point behind Democratic incumbent Sen. Michael Bennet, whose approval in his state has always been lackluster. Republicans would love to put this one on the table, considering that many of the other races appear less promising than expected at first.
Georgia: In spite of several early misfires, recent polling suggests that football star Herschel Walker may finally be getting his sea legs in this race. Never once did he lead in a single poll all summer, but now he leads in the last two over Democratic Sen. Rafael Warnock.
But critically, it’s not enough just to finish ahead in Georgia. Walker needs to win a majority of 50 percent plus one. Nobody wants another runoff election, and there is a Libertarian Party candidate whose presence in the race could force one.
New Hampshire: Democrats are eagerly interfering in the GOP primary election, attempting to push Army Brigadier General Don Bolduc over the top. They view him as less electable than state Senate President Chuck Morse in the race against Maggie Hassan. Bolduc currently leads Morse, but national Republicans are pouring money in for Morse ahead of the Sept. 13 primary.
Alaska-At Large: Republicans suffered yet another special election disaster when Sarah Palin lost to Democrat Mary Peltola. But in this case, the ranked-choice voting system, combined with Palin’s weakness as a candidate, is probably to blame for the result more than any of the dynamics currently shaping up for the 2022 cycle.
Ranked-choice voting is a flawed system that produces weird results. This is why Democrats have been pushing it heavily in jurisdictions where they think it will help them win. Peltola ended up winning with just 91, 000 out of 191,000 votes cast. Like many previous elections, this gives the lie to the idea that ranked-choice voting is superior because it produces majority winners. In fact, it usually doesn’t because large percentages of the vote are thrown out in the midst of the tabulation. In this case, roughly 15,000 votes were discarded due to voter exhaustion. The use of a four candidate field, meanwhile, is specifically designed to create a situation like this one, in which two Republicans have enough bad blood that Democrats can slip through with a mere plurality of the vote. When Alaska voters barely adopted ranked choice voting in 2020, Democrats were pushing it specifically in order to be able to manipulate the system — which is not to say, however, that it couldn’t be manipulated in other ways by Republicans.
Alaskans will likely scrap this system at some point in the future. In the meantime, Republicans need to field stronger candidates who will induce voters to check off second and third place choices.
Palin is not a strong candidate. Even if she was unfairly vilified by the media during the 2008 presidential election, she has since seen her image worsened by personal decisions, and she has been out of office for far too long.
The question now is whether her presence on the ballot in November will cause trouble in keeping the seat and Republican hands, or whether Republican voters get smart about strategic voting under this odd system.