A few months ago. Republicans were confident about big gains in the midterm elections.
Voter dissatisfaction with President Joe Biden on inflation, border security and the general direction of the country, crime in major cities and the culpability of the progressive prosecutors movement, and school children set back in math and reading thanks to prolonged pandemic shutdowns gave Republicans lots of grist to mill.
However, Biden’s recent winning streak in Congress—the Chips Act and Inflation Reduction Act—has raised his approval ratings and rallied the troops. And the Dobbs decision overturning Roe v. Wade has energized the Democratic Party base.
Republicans should be doing better
Larry Sabato’s crystal ball at the University of Virginia Center shows 214 House seats as safe, likely or leaning Republican but only 195 in the Democratic column. Of the remaining 26 seats, Republicans should win at least four to grasp control, but they should be doing better.
The Senate has gone from the Republicans likely winning control to at best a tossup. Sabato has 49 in each party’s column and Georgia and Nevada as tossups—compared to FiveThirtyEight’s assessment, that’s generous.
President Donald Trump’s success helped less-than-inspiring loyalists through the primaries like Herschel Walker in Georgia, Blake Masters in Arizona, J.D. Vance in Ohio, and Mehmet Oz in Pennsylvania and raising enough money for ads is a challenge.
In Nevada Adam Laxalt is doing better. The Real Clear Politics average of recent polls puts him slightly ahead of Catherine Cortez Masto, but he is vulnerable on the abortion issues.
When Roe v. Wade was the law of the land, it was easier for Republican candidates for the House and Senate to be pro-life to attract conservative Christian voters. Effectively, the issue was out of congressional hands and could be discounted by swing voters when choosing among candidates for Congress.
Painted as extremists
Since Dobbs, Democrats have painted Republicans as extremists on abortion. On the campaign trail, they proffer the specter of GOP majorities in the House and Senate ramming through a national abortion ban, perhaps with exceptions for rape, incest and the life of the mother.
That’s absurd. The GOP is unlikely to attain 60 votes in the Senate over the next several cycles. That means Dobbs puts the regulation of abortion firmly in the hands of the state legislatures.
Still, conservatives have badly misread the tenor of the times.
The Kansas referendum that would have excluded abortion rights from the state constitution lost badly and hardly helped conservatives’ image.
In the August special election for the House seat from New York’s 19th district, signs reading “Choice Is on the Ballot” were ubiquitous. And Democrat Pat Ryan won in what should have been a good prospect for a Republican pickup.
The Senate seat in Arizona held by Mark Kelly should be a good target for a Republican gain, and Blake Masters has cut the incumbent’s lead from about nine points to about five. But those last five points could prove illusive.
Losing on the wedge issue
GOP candidates should be hammering the economy, inflation, gas prices, the border crisis and the like, not playing defense on the Democrats’ wedge issue. When you are doing that, you’re losing.
Republican woes go well beyond abortion rights. The GOP Commitment to America platform was late in coming, is merely a grab bag of conservative ideas and complaints and does not provide the party with a coherent identity other than it’s against the Democrats. And that Biden is happy to assign them one.
Biden paints Trump supporters as semi fascists and absent a clear GOP rejection of Trump’s election-fraud claims, all Republican politicians become Trumpsters and antidemocratic to those who don’t know them well.
While the GOP offers no solutions to inflation, Biden is pursuing a buy-votes-now, pay-with-more-inflation-later strategy.
Before it’s all done, his student-loan forgiveness could cost the Treasury up to $1 trillion—the printing presses at the Federal Reserve could blow up enabling that kind of fiscal policy.
Biden is dumping into markets huge amounts of oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve and driven down gas prices from June highs.
Of course, what we do when the SPR is needed for a real crisis is another matter. And his virtual shutdown of new oil leases on federal lands will become significant next year as small independents are running out of places to drill on private land.
The future be damned—our president has an election to win.
Peter Morici is an economist and emeritus business professor at the University of Maryland, and a national columnist.