Democrats Prepared for Impending Doom
Party leaders are treating an electoral defeat as inevitable.
Blake Hounshell for the NYT (“‘It’s Time to Head for the Lifeboats’: Democratic Fatalism Intensifies“):
The collective mood of Democratic insiders has darkened appreciably in recent weeks.
Pollsters and prognosticators are forecasting increasingly dire results for their party in the November midterm elections. Inflation, the No. 1 issue on the minds of voters, is accelerating. And despite a booming job market, the president’s average approval rating hasn’t budged since January, when it settled into the low 40s.
“Are you calling to ask me about our impending doom?” one Democratic strategist quipped at the outset of a recent phone call.
“The vibes just feel very off,” said Tré Easton, a progressive consultant.
Others use words like “horrible” and “debacle” to describe a political environment that has gone from bad to worse over the last three months. Many fault the White House for steering President Biden too far to the left as he sought to pass social spending legislation stuffed with progressive priorities. Some see the president as a wounded figure who has failed to establish himself as the unequivocal leader of his fractious party.
“It’s going to be a terrible cycle for Democrats,” said Doug Sosnik, a former political adviser to Bill Clinton. Democrats have only a matter of weeks, he said, to try to alter the contours of a race that will largely be determined by factors beyond their control.
One sign of the alarm rippling through the party: Some Democratic politicians have begun creating distance between themselves and the president. Senate candidates are stampeding to break with the administration’s immigration policies, for instance. Other moves are more subtle, such as those of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan, who quietly removed the president’s name from news releases about federally funded infrastructure projects.
“What you’re seeing is people feeling like it’s time to head for the lifeboats rather than trying to steer the ship,” said Robert Gibbs, a former White House press secretary who worked under Barack Obama.
A sense of fatalism is setting in among many, with discussions centering increasingly on how to limit the party’s expected losses rather than how to gain new seats. In Arizona, for example, some Democrats are losing confidence that they will be able to flip the State House, a major target for national party strategists this year.
“We have to be cognizant and realistic about where and how we can win,” said Chad Campbell, a former state lawmaker and Democratic consultant in Phoenix. He added that it was more important for Democrats to position themselves for 2024.
“Most of this is baked,” said Dmitri Mehlhorn, the confidant of a number of Democratic megadonors, referring to the historical pattern of the president’s party losing seats in the midterms.
Not everyone is so pessimistic. But for those charged with solving the Democrats’ midterms conundrum, the question, increasingly, is: How many seats can they save? Control of the Senate is deadlocked at 50-50, and Democrats are clinging to a five-seat majority in the House. Few Democratic strategists expect to keep the House, but many remain hopeful about the Senate, where there’s far more room for candidates to burnish their own independent brands.
We have assumed since the 2020 elections were completed with the two Georgia Senate runoffs that gave the Democrats the slimmest possible majority that Republicans would almost certainly retake control in 2022. The President’s party essentially always loses seats in the midterms and there’s not much margin for error.
Obviously, inflation at levels not seen in four decades isn’t helping. Nor is frustration from Democrats that much of their agenda was stymied so what even is the point of being in charge?
Still, I must confess that, even as a political scientist trained to be analytical about these things, I find it baffling that the sheer corruption of the opposition party seems not to be factoring in at all but is simply part of the background noise. The fact that Republicans tried to steal the last election and are working to make it harder for Democrats to vote doesn’t seem to even be part of the equation here.