When pro-Trump extremists stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, they probably weren’t thinking about the next election. But maybe they should have. Because the long shadow of former President Donald Trump, and the behavior of the rioters, may have helped contribute to a relatively good night for the Democrats.
Historically, the party in power would rather skip the first midterm election. That’s because the president’s incumbent party tends to be hammered in the House, Senate and even gubernatorial contests.
Remember President Barack Obama’s crushing losses in 2010, costing the party the House of Representatives, and Bill Clinton’s Democratic Party Waterloo in 1994, where the party lost the House and Senate, and many governor’s races? Or Trump in the 2018 midterms?
In fact, we actually remember the exceptions, like FDR in 1934, JFK in 1962, and George W. Bush in 2002, where their parties make some gains.
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Among these, Biden will likely be closer to Ronald Reagan in 1982, when the Republicans lost House Seats, but held the Senate, even gaining an ally or two that year, despite inflation and recession fears. Sound familiar?
Of course, Joe Biden is no Reagan. But the fact on the eve of the election he had a 45% approval rating (higher than Reagan at the time) is bad news for the GOP, if they actually recognize the danger.
As of the writing of this column, the Democratic Party is likely to lose a fraction of the House seats they were projected (even after gerrymandering), will keep the Senate and is poised to gain in governor mansions.
While some conservatives are crowing about any GOP electoral success, others in the party are becoming aware of the precarious position they are now in. And what’s likely to have contributed to converting the red wave into little more than a ripple was Jan. 6.
It may be more than just Trump who lost two popular votes and the last midterms. What’s different now that may have benefited the Democrats in 2022 was the way our U.S. Capitol was under assault in a coup d’etat insurrection.
The terrifying images of the mob trying to stop a free and fair election and elected officials fleeing for their lives as death chants were yelled for Democrats and Republican representatives and even the GOP vice president.
The special U.S. House committee investigating the insurrection revealed that it was far more than an accident with a couple of yahoos from the National Mall getting a little exuberant. We learned from investigators and witnesses that this was carefully planned and executed.
The endorsement of election deniers seeking public office throughout the country contributed to the fears of everyday Democratic and Republican voters that if the supporters of this dark day in American politics ever get in charge, the chances of a free and fair election may well disappear.
In states where Republicans actually stood up to Trump and refused to accede to the autocratic tactics of overturning the 2020 election, the party did well.
In the swing state of Georgia, it contributed to the success of Gov. Brian Kemp, Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, Attorney General Chris Carr and Insurance Commissioner John King. Even the Trump-endorsed Burt Jones wisely kept his distance from Trump in ads, and didn’t tout his 2020 election activities, enabling his own victory.
And that specter of the potential for authoritarianism in America may have been a greater motivator for voters in 2022 than inflation (single-digits equal to that of the average European country), the economy, immigration or even abortion. It will be replayed in 2024, perhaps with better economic conditions for the Democrats, until the GOP finally declares their independence from Trump.