Six Weeks Away
The Midterms Approach
Six weeks. Six weeks from today, America will go to the polls for a midterm election in which the stakes are unusually high. Six weeks. Does that feel close? Does it feel far away?
What will happen? The spectrum of possibilities is wide and potent. Will Congress shift, by how much, and in which direction? What will happen at the state and local levels?
We have learned that simple majorities in Congress have their limits, especially in an age of stark partisan divides. Democrats in the Senate don’t wish just to hold onto their 50 seats — they hope to expand. The addition of two more Democratic senators (to offset the problematic Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema) could be enough to eliminate the filibuster, thus changing the way the Senate works (or doesn’t).
But even if that outcome were achieved (and it is certainly not assured or even likely), for Democrats to pass their agenda, they would also have to hold onto the House. Election analysts say the prospects there are dimmer, due in part to Republican gerrymandering.
Six weeks out, the polls suggest a lot of close races that could go either way. After being burned by polling in recent cycles, we should take those prognostications with a healthy dose of skepticism. Are they once again exaggerating Democratic support? Or did they over-correct in Republicans' favor?
A key driver of midterm election results is who turns out. Trying to predict that is one of the factors that makes polling midterms more difficult than general elections, where turnout is more robust and consistent. Typically the party out of power — in this case, the Republican Party — has the enthusiasm edge. This is one reason the party that controls the White House usually loses in midterms, and sometimes dramatically.
But this time around, there are many questions about whether that assumption is accurate. Will Trump voters who surged in 2016 and 2020 still come out when he's not on the ballot? On the other hand, Trump has inserted himself into the midterms. Will that help Republicans as his supporters get energized? Or will it hurt them if the majority of Americans, who disapprove of the former president, decide they can’t afford to sit this election out? Then there is the Dobbs effect: Will the Supreme Court’s overruling of Roe lead to a surge of Democratic voters? Recent special elections suggest it might.
To us, the idea that this election is essentially a jump ball feels about right. Who comes down with the ball, however, could be the difference between a healthy, functioning democracy, and something else — and, to put it bluntly, dangerous.
Consider the landscape.
If Republicans take only the House, we can expect endless hearings on probably specious pretenses. We can expect the impeachment of President Biden for who knows what, but they’ll come up with something. We can also anticipate chaos, as the likely new speaker of the House, Kevin McCarthy, tries to herd a caucus of representatives who, like Marjorie Taylor Greene, are fueled by conspiracy theories and divisive political trolling. Under this scenario, Democrats in the Senate would probably focus on confirming judges and spend the rest of the time setting the stage for 2024.
If Republicans win both houses of Congress, everything stated above for the House still applies. The Senate likely passes all sorts of performative nonsense as well, as they appease a base beholden to Trump and Trumpism. Meanwhile Biden’s veto pen is busier than a hummingbird.
But what if Democrats somehow hold onto the House and gain enough votes to abolish the filibuster in the Senate? It’s not a probable outcome based on present odds, but it is possible. Such a result could launch one of the most consequential and prolific legislative sessions in recent times (or before many Americans alive today were even born). All the bills stymied by the filibuster — on abortion, voting rights, economic policy — could end up becoming law. We might see some type of court reform. The governance of the United States could, probably would, change in historic proportions along progressive lines.
If the Republicans have a huge win, reactionary, authoritarian forces will be empowered to continue their hard-right shift at the state and national levels. If this election turns out to be a kind of split decision, little would figure to get done legislatively for another two years.
What happens in 2022 also lays the groundwork for what will happen in 2024. Which party is in a stronger position in Congress will help determine which party is better prepared for the political climate ahead. And it’s not just Congress. As we’ve noted in Steady before, the races for governors, secretaries of state, and other offices — where many Republican candidates support the “big lie” and don’t accept the reality of President Biden’s victory — are especially consequential.
The range of outcomes is so broad that we are in essence talking about two very different Americas. Despite how many pundits wish to cover these elections, it should not be considered a “horse race” when one of the horses (the one with an “R” on its back) is hellbent on trampling American institutions and laws — the vitals of democracy — on its way to the finish line. If you need proof of this, you can just ask Liz Cheney. She remains a solid conservative when it comes to policy, but she is decrying a Republican Party beholden to Trump, animated by conspiracy theories, and in many cases actively undermining our democracy. Cheney just announced she will campaign for Democrats in Pennsylvania, Arizona, and perhaps elsewhere. Let that sink in.
This election, like all elections, will ultimately be decided by who shows up to vote. There are six weeks left. It’s not far off, but a lot can still happen. The election cycle is now in its decisive phase. Two very different futures await. Which one will America choose?
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