Republicans are increasingly finding themselves in danger of seeing what should have been an epic red wave falter into a pathetic red ripple, or worse, a Democratic gain in Congress. While it may be tempting to point to the recent spate of legislative and policy wins by Democrats as the culprit for blunting Republican momentum, the reality is more that the Supreme Court, comically bad Republican candidates, Donald Trump and dumb luck are all working together to give Democrats a realistic chance of beating back the midterm slump that almost always plagues the party in power.
The primary reason Republicans are in danger of not recapturing one or both Houses of Congress in the midterms is that they have become victims of their own success on the issue of abortion. The Dobbs decision has energized the Democratic base to the point that the enthusiasm gap, which usually heavily favors the party out of power in midterm elections, is now dead even. Anger is a supremely powerful motivating force when it comes to getting folks to show up to vote, and Democrats have been fanatically furious since Roe was reversed. Republican voters, meanwhile, are happy to have won such a pivotal battle in the culture wars, making them susceptible to the complacency that often follows from big political victories.
As to candidate quality, the GOP has perhaps the weakest crop of candidates in decades, particularly in the Senate. Thanks to the weaknesses of ideologically extreme political novices in states that should have been easy pick-ups, Democrats are now the odds on favorite to gain seats in the upper chamber.
Bear in mind, the filibuster is currently hanging by the thinnest of threads. Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema are likely the only two holdouts in their party that are fighting to preserve it. Should Democrats expand their majority by a scant two seats, its fate is all but sealed.
What would follow from the filibuster’s repeal would be nothing less than a seismic shift in legislative politics, with the chamber no longer standing as a bulwark against substantial reform on issues like firearms and voting rights. The addition of Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico as new states and an expansion of the Supreme Court would also be on the table in the final two years of Joe Biden’s first term should they also maintain even the slightest majority in the House. The stakes couldn’t be higher for either party and yet Republicans seem intent on a strategy that has them snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.
Fittingly, the worst GOP Senate nominees were all hand-picked by Trump, indicating that the party’s base still puts more stock in blind fealty to him than it does in wining a general election. Democrats aren’t beating Republicans, Republicans are beating themselves.
Hershel Walker in Georgia is a prime example of this self-defeating behavior the party is engaging in. While he might be a once beloved football star in his home state, the man has a widely known history of domestic violence, pathologically lies about his involvement with the FBI and police, lies about his academic record, has been forced to admit the existence of multiple secret children, and more. Any primary with even a good faith opposition candidate should have denied someone as flawed as Walker the nomination, but alas he emerged victorious without any difficulty because he carried Trump’s blessing.
Dr. Mehmet Oz in Pennsylvania is another example of the destructive power Trump has over the party’s nomination process. Dr. Oz is one of the best known snake-oil-salesmen on the planet and has no legitimate ties to Pennsylvania, but Trump’s preference for celebrity over credibility allowed him to eek out the thinnest of victories in the Republican primary. The end result is that Democrats will now almost assuredly pick up a Republican held seat.
Lastly helping Democrats blunt the traditional midterm pummeling we’ve come to expect for the president’s party is nothing more than pure luck on the economic front. Presidents are often credited and blamed for the rise and fall of gas prices despite the fact they they have very little ability to actually affect them.
So, when gas prices soared in March 2022 after Russia invaded Ukraine, Biden’s approval rating on the economic front tumbled. Now that gas prices have tumbled for three straight months his approval ratings are shooting back up. The result is that Biden, drawing less ire from voters as their pain at the pump lessens, becomes less of an anchor on his party’s prospects.
Nicholas Creel is an assistant professor of business law at Georgia College and State University.