“Candidate quality” is the term of the moment. The prevailing explanation for Democrats’ relative success in recent Senate-race polling, advanced last week by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), is that Republican voters have nominated too many Trump-backed outsider candidates who simply aren’t up to McConnell’s establishment standards. It’s true that inexperienced candidates have additional challenges—although Republican Glenn Youngkin, who’d never held elected office of any sort, prevailed over Democrat Terry McAuliffe, the former governor, in blue-hued Virginia just last year.
But is that really all that’s going on here or is something else in play?
An article published in the Journal of Politics a little over a decade ago noted, “Polls early in the midterm year project a normal vote result in November. But as the campaign progresses, vote preferences almost always move toward the out party.” Why? The authors write, “The shift accords with ‘balance’ theory, where the midterm campaign motivates some to vote against the party of the president in order to achieve policy moderation.”
According to this explanation, voters will move toward Republicans as the year progresses in hopes of checking Joe Biden. This bodes well for the GOP. It doesn’t really explain, however, why Republicans are doing poorly in the polling right now. It appears that at least two other important factors might be in play.
First, Republicans haven’t provided much of a check on Biden this summer, and voters seem to have noticed.
On July 25, the website FiveThirtyEight was giving Republicans a slight edge (51 percent to 49 percent) in its forecast as to which party will control the Senate next year. Four weeks later, it now gives Democrats almost a two-to-one edge (63 percent to 37 percent). In between, 17 mostly establishment Republicans (including McConnell) voted for the $280 billion crony capitalism bill called the CHIPS Act—which even Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) voted against and labeled “corporate welfare.”
Republicans’ unforced error then paved the way for Democrats to pass the half-trillion-dollar gift to eco-billionaires and IRS agents that is the Inflation Reduction Act (which was apparently named on Opposite Day).
So, if McConnell wants to look for a culprit for current GOP woes, he and his establishment allies might want to look in the mirror.
In addition to Republican fecklessness, another factor that could be influencing the Senate races is the Supreme Court’s most recent term, particularly its ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. I have argued that this monumental ruling is the Court’s finest in nearly 200 years, and it’s a wonderful thing that we finally have a Supreme Court that applies the Constitution and laws as written. Still, the fact that these recent rulings are of great importance, paired with the widespread knowledge that the Court is mostly composed of Republican appointees, likely means that some voters think it’s as important to counterbalance the Court as it is to counterbalance Biden.
Meanwhile, Republicans appear to have been caught flat-footed in the wake of Dobbs. Right at the moment when abortion finally has been returned to the political branches for deliberation and debate, Republicans act like the issue is the last thing they want—or are prepared—to talk about.
All of this suggests that Republicans are rolling the dice if they expect that the “balance” theory will naturally carry them to victory in November. Especially in the wake of Dobbs, they’re going to have to make the case that Biden needs to be checked and that they’re the ones to do it. With polling showing that even 37 percent of Democrats think that the FBI is being used as “Joe Biden’s personal Gestapo,” it appears Americans don’t trust the Biden Administration and are ready to hear Republicans’ case.
Over the final 11 weeks of the campaign, Republicans would be well-served to focus on these 10 issues on which Biden and the Democrats are particularly vulnerable (in no particular order):
1) Illegal immigration is rampant under Biden, apparently deliberately so. According to the Department of Homeland Security, as of the start of the summer the Biden Administration had apprehended about 1.05 million migrants on the southwestern border and released them into the United States. If all 1.05 million had settled in one place, forming a wholly new city in the process, that new settlement would now be the 10th-largest city in the United States. These tallies don’t even include unaccompanied minors or the unknown sums of people who have evaded capture.
2) Lawlessness has become the norm in American cities, as Democrats have refused to enforce laws, have encouraged disorder, and have undermined police—with consequences as unpleasant as they were predictable.
3) COVID mandates imposed by Biden and every Democratic governor have cost Americans immensely, as the president and his allies have pretended it doesn’t matter whether businesses can stay open, kids can go to school, and people can show their faces. And they have decided that Americans should be fired—even those in our armed forces—if they refuse to get an experimental vaccine that doesn’t prevent the virus from being spread to others. All of this has been costly and un-American, as Youngkin emphasized in winning the Virginia gubernatorial race.
4) Blowout spending by the Biden Administration and its congressional allies (with some Republican help), combined with supply-chain woes caused by shutting down the economy, have led to the worst inflation in 40 years and the most unconscionable deficit spending in our entire history. Our national debt is now over $30 trillion, and Biden keeps finding ways to spend more.
5) Biden’s war on fossil fuels and his love affair with eco-billionaires has cost Main Street Americans greatly. Even before Russia invaded Ukraine, gas prices had nearly doubled in less than two years (from $1.77 per gallon in late April 2020 to $3.44 per gallon in early February 2022) and had risen 40 percent in just one year on Biden’s watch (from $2.46 in early February 2021 to $3.44 per gallon in early February 2022—again, before Russia’s invasion). Pre-Biden, the last time the price spiked that much in one year’s time was over a decade earlier. Biden doesn’t seem to understand that Americans are a lot more concerned about the tangible effects of gas-price change than the speculative effects of “climate change.”
6) The Left’s bizarre denial that there are two sexes—men and women, boys and girls—and Democrats’ and their allies’ creepy efforts to impose such anti-scientific madness on vulnerable schoolchildren must be combated if one cares about the future of those children, the country, and Western civilization.
7) Biden’s foreign-policy ineptitude and weakness have proven costly—particularly our incompetent withdrawal from Afghanistan and our inability to deter Russia from invading Ukraine (while asking China for help).
8) Democrats’ divisive color-consciousness is the opposite of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s salutary exhortation to judge people not by “the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” Republicans, the party of Lincoln, must be the party of the colorblind ideal.
9) Democrats’ rejection of our founding documents is becoming clearer over time. When asked about the “self-evident” truth that we are endowed by our Creator with “certain unalienable rights,” Biden’s appointee to the Supreme Court, Ketanji Brown Jackson, said, “I do not hold a position on whether individuals possess natural rights.”
10) Democrats’ abortion extremism is indicated by the fact that every Senate Democrat running for reelection voted for the so-called Women’s Health Protection Act. That bill, which failed, would have made it legal from coast to coast to end the life of an unborn child not only after he or she has a heartbeat, not only after he or she can feel pain, not only after five full months of development inside the womb, but essentially all the way up to birth—provided that one could get a health-care provider, who need not even be a doctor, to say the killing was necessary either for the mother’s physical or mental health. This is a far cry from being necessary to save the mother’s life.
Especially in the current environment, making such arguments on the issues is essential. Having a Senate minority leader with a net favorability rating that’s 10 points behind Nancy Pelosi’s and 18 points behind Joe Biden’s (per RealClearPolitics) isn’t exactly an asset for Republicans. If a Tom Cotton or a Rick Scott was the face of the Senate GOP, that would be a different scenario. Still, this election is Republicans’ to win if they recognize the pressing need to make the case to American voters and undertake that task with skill.
Biden has governed with an unprecedented blend of radicalism and incompetency, and a party that can’t capitalize on that had better rethink its approach.