Will 2022 make 2010 look easy?

Anguished Nancy Pelosi

This week: The Briefing, Vol. IX, Issue 49

  • Democrats’ midterm picture shaping up poorly
  • Abortion probably won’t save Democrats, at least not with the arguments they’re using
  • Key DeSantis opponent hit with ethics charges 


Midterm picture: When you see Joe Biden and Democrats in Congress promoting his “Build Back Better” agenda with increasingly desperate language and actions, there is a reason for this. Democrats’ opportunity to pass meaningful and lasting legislation in the Biden era is coming to an end.

Signature legislation rarely passes in election years. The election year is nearly upon us, and every early indication points toward Democrats suffering the fate that presidents’ parties tend to suffer in midterms.

So Biden failed to pack the courts or end the filibuster, and he may also fail to pass his big government-expanding spending and social justice bill. If he doesn’t pass it now, he probably won’t have the Congress he needs to pass it in 2023. 

Historically, when pollsters look at the so-called congressional generic ballot numbers, they have found that the election will be nearly even if Democrats are about five points in the lead. When the polling is tied, that indicates a modest Republican lead. 

With that context provided, consider that Republicans lead in the latest CNBC generic ballot survey by 10 points, 44 to 34% — up from two points in October. The largest Republican lead in this poll previously was 4 points.

Coronavirus role: The same poll shows that President Biden’s approval rating hovers around 40%, depending on which poll you want to believe. The CNBC poll shows Biden underwater on the issue of the coronavirus for the first time 48 to 46 percent. 

This particular finding likely reflects voters’ irritation at contradictory and mixed messages coming from the Biden administration about the supposed need for further quarantining and lockdowns. Most people, for better or for worse, have essentially moved on from the coronavirus era and gone back to living normally, except that they have to wear masks when they fly on airplanes. 

A lot of voters just don’t want to hear anything more about wearing masks, social distancing, or staying home. They have seen that it doesn’t work. The vaccines are great, and they have helped people manage their symptoms and stay out of the hospital when they inevitably contract the virus. But its ability to stop the spread of the virus has been disappointing. The longstanding argument that one protects one’s neighbors by getting the vaccine therefore seems increasingly implausible, yet it’s what everyone keeps hearing from the Biden administration. 

‘Bidenflation’: And of course, the problems of high energy prices and inflation continue to dog Joe Biden and his party down, even as they limit domestic oil and gas drilling and attempt to pass an inflationary agenda that they insist would somehow make things better.

Inflation has hit a 40-year high, according to data released on Friday. Inflation is the silent killer in politics — voters feel it far more acutely than pundits might think. And right now, it is killing Joe Biden’s presidency.

Compare to 2010: For the third week in a row, it bears mentioning that Biden’s current rating is still significantly worse than Barack Obama’s performance ahead of his 2010 shellacking. In that election, Democrats never fell as low as 34% in any congressional generic ballot survey at any point in 2009 or 2010. Yet they lost 63 House seats in that election and 680 state legislative seats. So just connect the dots — where does that put them now?

So far, thanks in part to a limited number of polls at this early stage in the last month, Republicans lead in the generic ballot polling average by only 3.3%. But if this latest poll is any indication, that average will be headed upward as new polls are taken and older ones phased out. 

No one even knows what an election would look like in which the electorate skews Republican by 10 points or more in congressional generic balloting and Democrats poll so badly. It is quite possible that many districts not even considered competitive could flip in such a scenario, and the bloodbath down ballot could lead to another conservative policy renaissance at the state level, as it did in 2010.

An important trend that this election could bring to fruition is the movement by Texas and Florida (non-Cuban) Hispanics toward the Republican Party. The election of several Hispanic Republicans to represent formerly Democratic districts could be very helpful in making the long-run case to that constituency.

Abortion: Democrats’ longshot hope at this point is that a Supreme Court decision this coming June overturning Roe v. Wade will change their fortunes, causing angry voters to come out and defend legal abortion. But as we have noted previously, that didn’t work for Terry McAuliffe in Virginia last month. He  had the controversial Texas abortion law to work with, and he spent millions telling people his opponent would sign something like it. Voters simply didn’t care. 

Not all abortion laws will go over so well. 

There is a chance that Democrats will get some kind of minor political kick if small states such as Idaho or Wyoming go forward and ban abortion. But those limits have yet to be tested. And abortion just isn’t as popular as Democrats think it is, especially in a day and age when financial resources for taking care of “unwanted” children are so abundant and there are so many charities dedicated to precisely that cause. 

Incidentally, this is why there’s been a strategic change in how abortion campaigners discuss the subject. It turns out that one of the most successful laws pro-lifers have enacted at the state level are the 50 states’ safe haven laws, allowing any mother to give up her newborn child at the nearest fire station, no questions asked. This has abortion campaigners specifically attacking adoption as something worse than death. Indeed this strange argument has come up in multiple places at just about the same time, and that’s not an accident. 

We mention this here only to note that attacking adoption does not at all look like a politically winning argument for the post-Roe era, assuming Roe is indeed overturned. 

Governor 2022

Florida: Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, the most likely Democratic nominee against Gov. Ron DeSantis, is facing ethics charges from a state commission regarding her misrepresentation of her income as a marijuana lobbyist. She abruptly filed amendments doubling her 2017 income and increasing her 2018 income by 400 percent.

This places one more obstacle in the way of a longshot candidate in a race with serious 2024 implications.

New York: Attorney General Letitia James’ abrupt suspension of her campaign clears the way for Gov. Kathy Hochul to get the nomination and possibly win a statewide election in her own right. However, Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s fall does not guarantee she will win. Yes, Cuomo represented the GOP’s best chance, but even a state as Democratic as New York can elect a Republican in the right sort of year — or so hope Republican contenders Rep. Lee Zeldin (the frontrunner) and Andrew Giuliani.

Senate 2022

North Carolina: Part of the point of the redistricting process, believe it or not, was to clarify the field in the Tar Heel State’s chaotic Senate primary. Trump allies hoped to induce former Rep. Mark Walker to abandon the Senate race for the newly drawn seventh district. This would have cleared the field for the Trump-endorsed Rep. Ted Budd. But Walker is not taking the bait — at least not yet.

This three-way race includes former Gov. Patrick McGrory promises to be one of the more lively and potentially more brutal Republican primaries of 2022.