Are Democrats in as much peril as some say? Most seem to be predicting a Republican takeover in both chambers of Congress in 2022.
At this moment, Democrats are narrowly in control, but Republicans are licking their chops for next year’s midterm races because, over the last 30 years, the party out of presidential power has usually made substantial gains in midterm elections during a president’s first term, with the most substantial occurring in 1994 and 2010.
1994 midterm elections
The 1994 races, during President Clinton’s first term, were woefully unfriendly to Democrats. The Republican Party won a net of 54 seats in the House of Representatives and eight in the Senate, capturing unified control of Congress for the first time in 40 years. They also picked up a net of ten governorships and took control of many state legislative chambers.
Moreover, the incumbent Speaker, Democrat Tom Foley, lost re-election in his district, becoming the first Speaker of the House to lose re-election since Galusha Grow in 1863. Other major upsets included the defeat of House Ways and Means Chairman Dan Rostenkowski and House Judiciary Chairman Jack Brooks.
Although Clinton would be re-elected president two years later, the results of the 1994 midterm elections would produce formidable legislative obstacles for Democrats during the last six years of the Clinton presidency.
2010 midterm elections
And in 2010, just two years after Barack Obama soundly defeated John McCain, the Republican Party gained 63 seats in the House of Representatives and seven in the Senate, an outcome Obama accurately portrayed as a “shellacking.”
It has been 20 years since a midterm election did not result in a change of control in at least one chamber of Congress, according to the Constitution Center.
Given Democrats maintain only a six-member lead in the House and absolutely no wiggle room in the Senate, it’s no wonder Democrats are concerned about their Members’ physical health today, let alone their political health in the 2022 races. If, for example, a Democratic senator in a state run by a Republican governor became incapacitated, Democrats would almost immediately lose control of the Senate.
Given Democrats’ extremely slim margins of control, the prediction that the Democrats will lose at least one, if not both, chambers of Congress can be supported by historic precedents.
However, former President Donald Trump will undoubtedly play a dominant role in next year’s races so the historical element, which easily favors Republicans, is practically moot.
For better or worse, Trump’s involvement in politics has shaken most political norms to the core and created the ‘Theatre of the Unexpected.’
Let’s not forget, despite presiding over a raging economy and low unemployment during most of his term, Trump’s approval ratings, via any reputable pollster, never reached 50 percent.
Pre-Trump, experts would have insisted such a situation was nearly unfathomable. It’s just another example of how political norms haven’t cooperated when Trump is involved in national politics.
It’s Trump, stupid
Trump was the dominant figure in 2018 and will be, at the very least, the co-dominant element in 2022, depending on how controversial President Joe Biden is by election time.
Hence, looking back to the previous midterm election might give us a glimpse into what’ll happen next year.
Private citizen Trump, as when he president, will inspire his base to turn out to vote. And we’ll see an uptick from the pre-2018 voter participation norm. However, without him on the ticket, we can expect to see some attrition in GOP participation versus the 2016 and 2020 elections when Trump was on the ballot.
Question: Because voters won’t be selecting a president, it’ll impact Democratic turnout too, right?
Again, let’s go back to 2018. Democrats, in a solid rebuke of Trump, made a net gain of 41 seats in the United States House of Representatives to win back control of Congress’ lower chamber.
Given the 2018 result was a rebuke of Trump, why shouldn’t 2022 be any different?
After all, the Republican Party, perhaps even more so now than in 2018, is Donald Trump’s. And anti-Trumpers, whether liberal or moderate, will be almost as energized to vote against his cronies in 2022 as they were against him in 2020.
Simply put, Trump will, again, reliably turn out anti-Trumpers who would not have otherwise voted in a non-presidential election.
Alabama and Georgia, anyone?
In three relatively recent high-profile Senate races in two traditionally conservative states, we’ve seen what has happened when Trump campaigns for candidates but isn’t on the ballot.
In December 2017, in a special election for the United States Senate in Alabama, one of the most Republican states in the country, Doug Jones defeated Trump-backed candidate Roy Moore to become the first Democrat to win a U.S. Senate seat there in 25 years.
And in the January 2021 Georgia Senate runoffs, Democrats Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock soundly beat two Trump-backed Republican incumbents in high-stakes match-ups that determined control of U.S. Senate.
Warnock and Ossoff won convincingly, fairing much better in the run-offs than in the general election eight weeks earlier when Trump was on the ticket.
Following the Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol, Trump’s refusal to concede defeat, and (MAGA) conservatives’ subsequent widespread attempt to create obstacles for some to vote, the GOP has ruffled a lot of feathers for a party out of (national) power.
They have too often been bold, controversial and disruptive when patience and silence would have served them better.
And, again, let’s not forget who’ll likely be the Elections 2022 central figure…
Republicans’ biggest weapon is also a colossal liability.
2022 midterm elections prediction
If President Biden’s approval rating is 50 percent or above at election time, look for Democrats to hang on to control in the Senate and gain at least 10 seats in the House. It won’t be pretty and Democrats’ pick-ups won’t be overwhelming, but they’ll maintain control in both chambers.
Per Gallup, registered Democrats outnumber registered Republicans 32 to 25 percent, thanks to the many former Republicans who have relinquished their affiliation to the GOP in the past year.
In fact, the percentage of registered Republicans is at an all-time low.
Couple that with President’s Biden’s strong showing thus far.
Also, Republican candidates who distance themselves from Trump won’t get much support from his base and will be ostracized by some moderates and independents for having a “R” next to their name.
They’ll get little love.
So, not only will we see higher voter turnout among left-leaners and anti-Trumpers in 2022, expect a few independents, who previously voted for Trump for fear of Biden’s “socialist and communist” agenda, to stop believing the hype and support Democratic candidates in the upcoming midterms.
What’s your 2022 midterm elections prediction?