Opinion Why losing the midterms isn’t the worst thing for Democrats


HR King
May 29, 2001
If you’re a Democrat looking for reasons to be hopeful about your electoral prospects, then I’ve got one of those classic good news/bad news scenarios for you.
The bad news — everyone always wants the bad news first — is that your party is heading for a world of hurt in November. Every poll can’t be wrong.
Sign up for a weekly roundup of thought-provoking ideas and debates
The good news is that getting blown out in 2022 may well be the only path you have to holding the White House in 2024.
I’m not saying the costs of a Republican takeover in November won’t be steep in the short run. These aren’t the conservative revolutionaries of 1994 or even tea-party types of 2010. This is the mutant-gene version of a Republican uprising, a full-on crazy-eyed dystopian movement of conspiracists and authoritarians.

Brace yourself for no end of mindless investigations, assaults on the electoral system and nativist proposals — a virtual “peach tree dish” for paranoia as governance, to quote Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.).

But everything we know about modern politics suggests that the best way — maybe the only way — for a Democrat to be reelected is to also be the last guy standing between the broad American electorate and a whole lot of Republican crazy.

There’s a pattern here. After narrowly winning the presidency in 1992, Bill Clinton immediately set about trying to rewrite the social contract and embroiling himself in distracting cultural issues. He became the first Democrat in almost 50 years to lose control of both chambers in the ensuing midterm elections.

Clinton moderated his message and stared down the new Republican majority over its shutdown of the federal government. He was reelected easily.
Twelve years later, Barack Obama swept into office on another Democratic wave, went on his own government-expansion bender and suffered his own stinging midterm rebuke. Recast as the lone bulwark against Republican radicalism, Obama was returned to office by a comfortable margin.

Biden, similarly, has spent most of the past two years trying to satisfy the ascendant left of his party — the cringy-sounding “Squad” and so forth — in a mostly vain effort to enact some kind of sweeping agenda. The party in charge has spent inordinate amounts of time talking about police reform and college loan forgiveness, while the rest of the country worries far more about rising crime and the price of gas and groceries.

No one at the White House will say this out loud, certainly, but the fact is that losing control of the House (and possibly the Senate) in November would instantly make the presidency a more manageable job. It would curb the power of the Sanders-Warren wing, freeing Biden to pursue the kind of mainstream liberal agenda — his landmark infrastructure law being a good example — that the voters thought they were getting in the first place.
Meanwhile, a newly emboldened Republican majority — like space junk orbiting its Trumpian star — will gravitate even more strongly toward antidemocratic themes of election fraud and intolerance. Like Clinton and Obama before him, Biden will have the chance to rebrand himself as the grown-up standing firm against bullies and extremists.

Instead of spending every free minute trying to hold the whiny factions of his own party together, Biden can give statesmanlike speeches in defense of principles that resonate with the broad electorate. (In the two years after his party lost control of Congress, Clinton issued no fewer than 17 vetoes, all in the name of protecting the voters from reckless Republican policy.)

More to the point, the president would then be free to run against Washington itself, which is the only way anyone has won the presidency since Watergate. Short of campaigning against Vladimir Putin himself, Biden will not find a less popular adversary than the United States Congress.
Right now, with Democrats in charge, Biden’s odds of reelection look bleak. Give these Republicans a couple of years to show us what kind of government they have in mind, however, and Biden will look like Abraham Lincoln by comparison.

And should Biden decide not to seek reelection (which I still think more likely than not in the end, despite what he says), then the party’s best nominee will almost certainly be someone from outside Washington who can credibly promise to change the culture of the place. That too is a much easier assignment when the other party controls Congress.
I realize all this is small consolation to my Democratic friends, who fear that November’s verdict could irreversibly transform the country. I do, too. But they should consider what will happen if Donald Trump returns to power in 2024.
If that outcome leads — as I think it might — to the end of our constitutional republic, then maybe losing the midterms isn’t the end of the world.