It’s so crazy, it just might work. Even conservatives worry that Republicans will snatch defeat from the jaws of victory in November, either by selecting fringe nominees, overplaying their hand after the end of Roe, or perhaps in some other imaginative and self-destructive manner. We’re kinda used to it by now.
However, it’s one thing to worry about a self-defeating error. It’s another entirely to make it your main electoral strategy:
Biden has been rolling out plans to cope with the mounting crises. He has a three-part plan to reduce inflation. Another plan to suspend the gas tax in hopes of bringing prices down. Then there’s his long-shot plan to enshrine abortion rights into law by suspending the Senate filibuster rule requiring 60-vote supermajorities.
Inside the White House, though, advisers grasp that what’s required aren’t just plans, but votes. The 50-50 split in the Senate between the parties has proved an insurmountable obstacle for Biden’s grandest ambitions — to expand the social safety net in ways that insulate the most vulnerable Americans from economic shocks.
“He has to change course,” said a Democratic congressman, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of upsetting the White House. “His numbers are in the toilet. Whatever he’s doing is not working.”
And yet, NBC News reports, Biden and leading Democrats think that Republicans will become the issue in the midterms. Washington governor Jay Inslee tells NBC that his “spidey sense” is that voters are about to erupt against the GOP over Dobbs and the “antediluvian” justices who decided it:
Republicans are overreaching in ways that will alienate voters, White House allies contend.
“I can tell you that on the street, what you hear is a bubbling, seething cauldron of anger at the Republican Party for putting in these antediluvian judges who think they can take us back to the 18th century,” said Jay Inslee, the Democratic governor of Washington state. “My spidey sense and the polling indicate it’s going to help people decide not to vote for the red team.”
Well, hope springs eternal and all that, but Inslee’s fooling himself with his “spidey sense.” The Dobbs decision didn’t have any impact on midterm primaries or turnout last week after the the release of the official decision. Nor did it seem to do much in primaries after the leak in early May, either.
There’s a reason for that too, which is that the Dobbs decision won’t have the impact that Democrats hope, neither in the short term nor the long term. In fact, it resets the abortion debate to allow for real debate and an outcome that matches much better with the electorate. I wrote about the Harvard-Harris poll data on this question in my previous post, but this puts the results more succinctly:
New polling data out on #Dobbs:
1) Overturning #RoeVsWade: 45% Support/55% Oppose
2) 37% would ban abortion entirely w/ only rape and incest exceptions
3) 49% support abortion ban after 6 wks
4) 72%!! support abortion ban after 15wks https://t.co/SA1t369bL3
— Leo O'Malley (@LeoTOMalley) July 4, 2022
Plus, Monmouth’s most recent poll explains just how much abortion will matter in this midterm cycle:
Biggest concern via Monmouth poll:
15% gas prices
3% health care
2% tuition costs
1% civil rights
1% climate change
— Ryan Struyk (@ryanstruyk) July 5, 2022
Democrats’ risk of overreach on abortion goes beyond this result. Their party — and Biden himself — have spent the last few years going from “safe, legal, and rare” messaging to “shout your abortion” and demands to make it legal on demand throughout all nine months of pregnancy. Chuck Schumer tried that after the early-May leak from the Supreme Court and Joe Biden demanded a filibuster carve-out to pass it, but it couldn’t even muster all 50 Senate Democrats at that time. I wonder where Inslee’s “spidey sense” told him at that time?
That doesn’t mean that Republicans won’t ride to Biden’s inadvertent rescue. Rather than stand pat for a few months to let the dust settle from Dobbs, some GOP legislators are trying to pull stunts of their own by barring interstate travel for abortion seekers, a federal overreach that makes hash of the constitutional arguments that overturned Roe. Justice Brett Kavanaugh warned legislators against such attempts, and essentially advised everyone to focus the issue in state legislatures instead. They didn’t take the hint, at least not at first, but hopefully wiser heads will prevail.
Even with that as an ever-present threat from the GOP, it may not matter. The prospects for a midterm in this environment are incredibly bad, as James Campbell notes at RealClearPolitics today. When presidents have approval ratings below 45%, the outcomes in their first midterms are uniformly bad:
In contrast to success stories of popular presidents, parties of unpopular presidents routinely take a beating. The midterms of the eight least popular presidents in the 19 midterms since 1946 are listed in Table 2. The table starts with 1946, the first midterm in which Gallup’s presidential approval ratings were collected. Presidential unpopularity ranged from the mildly unpopular Obama (45% approval) in 2010 to the extremely unpopular Truman (33% approval) in 1946. In seven of these eight midterms with unpopular presidents, the in-party lost more than 25 seats. In two, losses exceeded 55 seats.
2022 easily makes the list of midterms with unpopular presidents. Biden’s approval rating took a dive in late summer of 2021 and has slowly sunk even lower. The multiple reasons for his unpopularity are too numerous to catalog here, but they span the three crucial dimensions of dissatisfaction with his record (including the economy), his policy ineffectiveness and extremism across a wide range of issues, and a lack of confidence in his leadership.
For whatever mix of reasons, Biden’s presidential approval ratings are dismal. In the RCP daily average of polls, Biden’s approval has been less than 43% since January 2, 2022 (as of July 4th, for 183 consecutive days) and less than 41% since May 25, 2022. His approval ratings in Gallup have been 43% or lower for ten straight months (since September 2021). Gallup observed that no first-term president from Eisenhower in 1954 to Trump in 2018 has had a lower approval rating than Biden’s in June of the second year of his term. None lower. Biden’s rating for June was 41%.
Gallup is on the generous end this cycle, too. The RCP aggregate average at the moment is 38.2/57.1, and even the latest Economist/YouGov poll that routinely put him in single-digit territory last assessed Biden at 39/56.
That’s what will drive these midterms, especially given Biden’s completely incompetent handling of the very issue Inslee and the White House think will rescue them. The spidey sense of that anonymous House Democrat looks a lot more spot-on: “He has to change course.” And my spidey sense, plus Biden’s long track record of almost complete absence of self-awareness, tells me Biden won’t take that advice. He’ll just find a new set of scapegoats in his desperate attempt to hide his utter incompetence.