President Biden’s approval ratings are in the gutter, the Democratic Party’s favorability ratings are tanking, inflation has hit highs not seen in 30 years, U.S. agents encountered a record 1.96 million migrants on the southern border in fiscal 2021, chaos characterized the Afghanistan withdrawal, legislative efforts to enact the Biden agenda have been a mess, and the White House has managed the pandemic erratically, with cases and deaths again on the rise.
Oh, and we may not be able to find the Christmas gifts we want.
It’s no wonder that most pundits and even the New York Times are giving Republicans the early edge in the 2022 House and Senate elections. History is on the GOP's side, and FiveThirtyEight's generic congressional ballot shows Americans prefer Republicans over Democrats for the first time since January 2019.
More important, the November 2021 elections already sent a loud message about the rightward shift in the electorate.
In an earlier Bulletin piece, I wrote that many local elections across the country substantiated that trend to the right, few more than the gubernatorial election in Virginia: “In only one year, Virginia independents swung from the Democrats to the Republicans by an astonishing 28 percentage points.”
Bulletin colleague Kristin Soltis Anderson’s excellent “100 Facts You Need One Year from the Midterms” also reinforces how Democrats face incredibly strong headwinds ahead of next year’s elections.
So, why in the world are Republicans doing their best to lose?
A few examples follow.
Wyoming’s GOP Boots Liz Cheney
Few people have stronger Republican bona fides than Rep. Liz Cheney. Daughter of a former Republican vice president, she’s rated one of the most conservative members of Congress and voted reliably to support former President Trump’s agenda. She now votes consistently to oppose Biden’s.
In a normal world, she’d be a member of the GOP’s dream team.
Instead, Wyoming’s Republican leaders voted last week to no longer recognize her as a member of their party.
Sure, it’s only symbolic, but the House GOP had already dumped the former rising star from her role as the chair of the Republican Conference.
Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel could only offer the most tepid of endorsements. She said Cheney was “still a Republican,” but then went on to defend the Wyoming party members who voted against Cheney.
The congresswoman’s mortal sin, of course, was to vote in favor of Trump’s second impeachment. Since when does disagreeing with your party on one issue (or, in this case, one person) get you kicked out?
Republicans on Capitol Hill ignored that polls showed that a majority of Americans supported impeachment and that another 30% agreed that Trump had behaved improperly surrounding the 1/6 attack on the Capitol.
Why Is the GOP Imitating Communist Parties?
Should all Republicans who agreed with Cheney be kicked out of the party? What happened to the GOP’s “big tent”?
On many levels, the move against Cheney is a historical aberration. Traditionally, both Republicans and Democrats have not taken party discipline too seriously, allowing a fair amount of dissent within their ranks.
That’s not the case in Trump’s GOP and it’s led to a great irony: The party that took the hardest stance against communist expansionism during the Cold War, now appears inclined to follow harsh Marxist-Leninist principles about party orthodoxy in communist parties.
Trump supporters have been brutal in their attacks on the GOP’s internal dissenters, slamming Cheney, Rep. Adam Kinzinger, and anyone else they deem a “RINO” (Republican in Name Only).
Yes, some on the left have figuratively called for the heads of Senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, but the Democrats have not tried to kick them out of the party.
Is blind support for Trump the litmus test on what it takes to be a Republican?
As we see COVID rates once again rising, one of the GOP’s most mystifying self-destructive behaviors is again in the spotlight.
To be clear: NO partisan gap existed on vaccines until some in the GOP and their media acolytes started toeing the anti-vaxx line on COVID vaccines this year.
First, let’s look at some historical data for flu vaccines.
As recently as February 2020, an AP-NORC found that 58% of Democrats and 54% of Republicans had received a flu shot in the preceding 12 months.
A similar poll from Princeton Survey Research Associates International in 2016 found 55% of Democrats and 53% of Republicans had gotten a flu shot in the prior year.
Now, according to CNN analysis of Axios/Ipsos and Kaiser Family Foundation data, about a 25-precentage point gap exists, with far more Democrats indicating they have gotten the flu vaccine or intend to do so.
Second, recent numbers on the partisan gap in COVID vaccines are stunning. According to an October 2021 KFF survey, “90% of Democrats say they have gotten at least one dose compared to 69% of independents and 61% of Republicans.”
Does the GOP want to become the anti-vaxx party? Rejecting all vaccines can be catastrophic for the country as a whole.
And it is literally self-destructive for the party itself: More Republicans are likely to die of COVID and influenza than Democrats.
Sorry Republicans, but trying to justify the unjustifiable is not going to get you any new voters, as I laid out more fully in “A Country’s Great Shame.”
Trump’s ongoing attempts to stonewall the House committee investigating the attack on the Capitol should raise all sorts of questions, even among his most ardent supporters.
The obstructionism is terrible for Republicans and will continue to feed fuel to the fire, keeping the issue alive through the 2022 elections.
The Trump Cult
The fear of Trump and the extreme allegiance to the former president that exists among a large portion of the Republican Party is behind much of the GOP’s self-destructive behavior.
Just a few notable facts:
Trump was the first president since 1932 to lose the House, Senate and presidency in one term.
Trump is the only president to have lost the popular vote twice. Hillary Clinton beat him by almost 2.9 million votes and Biden by 7 million.
And his median approval rating was easily the lowest for recent American presidents in NBC News/Wall Street Journal surveys.
Trump supporters might want to hang their hats on new polling that shows him ahead of both Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris in the 2024 presidential race. But only 44% of those surveyed said they would vote for him in a race against Biden. That's exactly his median approval rating in the NBC/WSJ polls and slightly under his 46.9% of the popular vote in 2020.
Earlier polls showed Biden either ahead or tied with Trump. In any case, 44% won’t get Trump back into the White House.
And the Democrats?
None of the above should be read to in any way imply that Democrats are doing well.
The off-year election earlier this month may not be comparable to the “shellacking” the Democrats suffered in the 2010 midterms, but voters fired a clear shot across the bow. That’s especially true of independents, as I wrote in this earlier Bulletin column.
Democrats would be silly not to fear a repeat on a national basis in 2022 of Republican Glenn Youngkin’s victory in Virginia’s gubernatorial race.
But Republicans may get in their own way, following Trump down a road to political perdition in 2022 and then in 2024’s presidential race.
Remember, Trump never reached 47% of the popular vote, and years of opinion polls provide plenty of evidence that the mid-to-high 40s is the maximum level of support he will ever get.
So, Republicans beware: Hitching your wagon to Trump could be a great way of losing your wagon.
Cover photo: Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., speaks to reporters on May 12, 2021, at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., after House Republicans voted to oust her from her leadership role. Republicans were upset that Cheney voted in favor of Trump's second impeachment and that she has called out the former president's false election claims.
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