The biggest political question between now and November 2022 will be: Can Republicans retake control of Congress? Right now, Republicans are quite optimistic, and some analysts say they have reason to be. We look at the national political climate and what it means for Utah.
The party in power gets the blame when things go wrong. The debacle in Afghanistan, the COVID-19 resurgence and unprecedented deficit spending have put the Biden administration on the defensive. In addition, GOP control of redistricting in many states could tilt the playing field. Is it all but inevitable that Democrats lose control of Congress?
Pignanelli: “Biden did the right thing getting us out of Afghanistan. But he did it badly.”—Maureen Dowd, New York Times.
In 2016, many well-paid political gurus unequivocally predicted the “Blue Wall” guaranteed overwhelming victory for Hillary Clinton. In 2018, these sages declared the “Red Seawall” of Republican redistricting would protect their majority in the House. They predicted major gains for Democrats in 2020. Thus, readers are cautioned against over reliance on speculations from such “experts” regarding 2022. (Especially beware of LaVarr and me.)
Yet, history does offer some guidance. Perceptions of the 1975 Saigon evacuation contributed to Gerald Ford’s 1976 loss. The embarrassing 1980 botched rescue attempt of Americans in Iran detrimentally impacted Jimmy Carter. Bungling relief efforts by the Bush administration after Hurricane Katrina helped Democrats capture both houses of Congress in 2006. (Conversely, in 1983, after American soldiers were slaughtered in Lebanon, Ronald Reagan — who understood the power of symbolism — invaded Grenada within days to restore perceptions of strength and competency.)
Americans — a hardworking, productive people — are oftentimes required to perform well in crisis situations. They expect the same of their government.
The Biden administration has about six months to find its Grenada to demonstrate proficiency and restore prestige. Otherwise, the history books, not political pundits, will offer guidance to November 2022.
Webb: Redistricting alone could net Republicans 4 to 5 seats in the House. Smart people I talk to say it’s very likely Republicans will win the House, and they have a very good chance to take back the Senate.
Democrats understand this, and that’s why they’re so anxious to show progress by passing three key bills: The voting rights bill, which would nationalize elections in America, the $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill, and the $3.5 trillion “human infrastructure” bill that will dramatically enlarge the welfare state and the size and reach of the federal government.
The problem is, the voting rights bill and the human infrastructure bill might hurt, not help, the Democrats in the midterms. With razor-thin victory margins in 2020, Democrats didn’t really have a mandate to raise taxes, go on a spending spree, run roughshod over state prerogatives and open the southern border to millions of illegal immigrants. But they’re forging ahead anyway.
Add to that the Afghanistan disaster, surging inflation, rising crime, the COVID-19 upsurge, and an overall decline of confidence in government, and we can see why Democrats are worried.
In Utah, will the national political climate ensure victories for our four House members and Sen. Mike Lee, or will local factors be more important?
Pignanelli: Midterm election results can be weird. Candidates on a trajectory to win reelection in November often confront serious primary challenges earlier in the year, claiming the incumbent is “out of touch.” Thus, Utah’s congressional delegation must be extraordinarily cognizant in times of political turmoil and expand attention beyond a narrow vocal base.
If President Biden and Congressional Democrats are able to pivot the current challenges into clear victories, some traction could be available for local Democrats in November. But that is a tall order.
Webb: Utah is doing very well, so Republicans will have an opportunity to nationalize the congressional races and turn them into referenda on Biden’s performance and the Democrats’ congressional agenda. Lee’s approval ratings aren’t great, and he does face some formidable primary election challenges. But he’s the favorite to win the nomination and then cruise to an easy general election victory.
Congressman Burgess Owens could be vulnerable, but only if the Democrats nominate a top-notch moderate candidate who can show independence from the national Democrats.
Is former President Donald Trump a wild card that could help or hurt the Republicans?
Pignanelli: Biden gathered millions of new voters only because Trump’s personality offended them. So, strong arguments are made that Trump could be a detriment for 2022. But if Biden is viewed as incompetent and unsafe, the “good ole days” of Trump may be remembered by some with fondness.
Webb: If Republicans could use Trump strategically, so he energizes the GOP base, but stays away where he hurts, Trump could definitely help the party retake Congress. But Trump is unlikely to listen to the campaign strategists. He will do as he wishes, will continue to offend moderate Republicans and independents, and promote himself above party interests. On balance, Republicans would do better if he was quiet and skipped the midterms. Fat chance of that.
Republican LaVarr Webb is a former journalist and a semiretired small farmer and political consultant. Email: email@example.com. Frank Pignanelli is a Salt Lake attorney, lobbyist and political adviser who served as a Democrat in the Utah State Legislature. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.