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Opinion: How Democrats can avert disaster in 2022

Lincoln MitchellLincoln Mitchell
Biden’s low approval ratings, sizable vaccine hesitancy and resistance and growing concerns over inflation now dominate the headlines. Taken together, these factors have contributed to the growing sense that the Republican Party is poised to win back control of the US House of Representatives and perhaps the US Senate as well.
While it is tempting to see the likelihood of the Republican Party winning control of at least one chamber of Congress as part of the normal give-and-take of electoral politics, the stakes are much higher for the Democratic Party and indeed for American democracy.
A Republican victory likely means the end of the select committee investigating the US Capitol insurrection, the possibility of impeachment hearings against Biden for his handling of the withdrawal from Afghanistan and the daunting prospect that a Republican who has supported former President Donald Trump as he perpetuates the “Big Lie” could soon hold the speaker’s gavel.
So, what can Democrats do? First is to take a deep breath and recognize that a lot can happen in the 11 months between now and the election. It is possible that we will definitively turn the corner on Covid-19 and that the positive economic indicators will win out over the more troubling indicators, giving the governing party a strong economy as the election approaches.
Did Joe Manchin just sink Biden's plan? Did Joe Manchin just sink Biden's plan?
But hoping for Covid-19 and the economy to improve is not all the Democratic Party can do. Of course, Sen. Joe Manchin’s recent statement that he would not support Biden’s signature Build Back Better bill throws a wrench in their plans to pass any major legislation. Accordingly, there are two tactics the party must take.
The first is to take credit for the significant accomplishments of the Biden administration and explain how these successes — such as the fall infrastructure bill and the equally major March Covid-19 relief bill — are making people’s lives better. It may also be possible to pass some of the most popular component parts of the Build Back Better plan individually or piecemeal in 2022. Additionally, Democrats should tout nonlegislative accomplishments, including making vaccines cheaply and broadly available and, for the Democratic base, appointing and confirming 40 federal judges in Biden’s first year in office.
The Democratic Party must also continue to draw a contrast with the Republican Party. One way to do this is for Majority Leader Chuck Schumer to bring Build Back Better to the Senate floor for a vote. It will almost certainly be voted down, but this will force opponents of legislation that has many popular components to go on the record with their no votes.
The attention Manchin has received for his views on Build Back Better almost obscures that every Senate Republican opposes it as well. Democrats running against vulnerable incumbents in swing states can more easily use this in their campaigns — highlighting how these GOPers are standing in the way of programs aimed at helping working parents, addressing climate change, making higher education more affordable and the like.
While most of the national attention will be on the battle to control Congress, it is essential that the Democratic Party recognize the importance of state-level races as well. Democratic governors in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin are facing tough reelection fights, while in Georgia, Stacey Abrams is once again running for governor in a highly competitive election. All four of these states have Republican legislatures, so a Democratic governor can push back against troubling GOP policies at the state level and, very significantly, help ensure the 2024 election is as free and fair as possible.
Although Trump is not on the 2022 ballot, given that he is the strong frontrunner for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, he will be a political presence during the midterms. Democratic politicians need to find a way to remind voters of what they dislike so much about Trump and the very real threat to democracy that he and his GOP supporters pose without seeming like they are obsessed with Trump and have no original ideas of their own.
The key here is to remind voters of Democratic successes and goals while also asking them if they really want to go back to the chaos, dysfunction and bullying of the Trump era.
Though historical precedent does not favor the president’s party in the midterm elections, the stakes for American democracy are too high for the Democratic Party to go down without a fight. If voters see the midterm election as a simple referendum on a first-term president with a mixed record of success, that — combined with redistricting in several states that favors Republicans — all but guarantees a GOP victory. However, if the Democratic Party is to claim credit for its accomplishments and make the election about the threat represented by further GOP obstruction of Biden and a return to Trumpism, it may be able to avoid the worst outcome.
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