Making predictions about most things in America these days is a fool’s errand. About football games. Basketball games. Congressional games. Joe Biden’s next embarrassment for media to ignore.
The only certainty today is when I change TV channels to avoid a commercial, I’m going to land on another. Take it to the ATM.
So, I’m not going to venture predictions about the next two elections that will set this divided country’s political course for years. Suffice it to say, that unless you’re George W. Bush presiding over a country unified by the lethal horrors of 9/11, an incumbent president’s party almost always takes a shellacking in his first midterm election.
I will venture to set the scenes here for these upcoming historic encounters and the factors to watch so you can make your own judgments as the months and pathetic pandemic projections roll by.
The House and the Senate, in case your school dropped Civics class as insufficiently woke, are two totally different animals with their own priorities and politics. The House, where Abraham Lincoln and 18 other future presidents served, is elected every two years.
It has 435 members and six non-voting members representing territories, Puerto Rico, and the District of Columbia, a 68-square-mile collection of statues, memorials, and urban decay that Maryland donated to the new country in 1790 because it was useless swamp.
Short House terms steer the institution’s thinking toward constant politics and steady strategizing (not to mention nonstop fundraising) characterized by short-term thinking and immediate gratification that rarely produce much that matters. Although media assigned there take it all quite seriously.
Think Nancy Pelosi and her twin impeachment stunts that everyone knew were going nowhere, but it was political fun for her and her aged minions.
The House is managed by the Speaker, who is elected by the entire membership, virtually guaranteeing that person belongs to the House majority. Strangely, however, the Speaker need not be a House member.
Because voters last time unelected 13 Democrats, Pelosi’s margin of control is slim. That explains why she pays inordinate attention to her fractious caucus’ left-wing wackadoodles.
So far, 32 House members – 20 Democrats and 12 Republicans – are retiring, a sign that Dems see a bad cycle looming. More will leave, creating possible party pickups.
But pickups are becoming more difficult as increasing partisanship and redistricting every 10 years tend to create more districts safe for one party or the other.
Democrats can only afford to lose five seats next November. The average loss for a president’s party in first-term midterms since World War II has been 28, though Barack Obama managed to surrender 63 in 2010.
As you may have noticed, senators regard their chamber and themselves as superior. They take themselves quite seriously. Voters last year were unimpressed with their work record, sending to Capitol Hill 50 that vote with each party. That leaves the tiebreaker to Kamala Harris, whether she’s up to it or not.
Next year, 34 Senate seats will be contested. Republicans must defend 20, two in states captured by Biden.
From the safety of the hinterlands, it appears two parties run Washington. But U.S. parties, which the Founding Fathers disdained, are basically broad umbrella collections of members with wide-ranging individual interests. Remember the GOP’s maverick Tea Party and Freedom Caucus?
Now, watch the Democrats’ progressive caucus, which is so essential to Pelosi’s control that she and Joe Biden have struggled with an extremist agenda of immense spending better suited for a legislature with a controlling majority. Hence, all the squabbles and delays.
And poll plunges in job approvals.
Senate Republicans are also caught in divisions largely engineered by their own putative leader, Donald Trump, from the sidelines in Florida. The wily GOP leader Mitch McConnell, who plans more like a legislator with a six-year term (he’s in his seventh) ensured that Trump had a rare three Supreme Court seats to fill.
He’s a definite conservative and a pragmatic one who can make deals without showboat stances.
Trump has never had an ally he couldn’t turn on. So, he’s publicly attacked McConnell as “stupid,” a “knucklehead,” and a “broken old crow” for doing deals with Democrats that avoided the GOP getting blamed for a government shutdown. Trump typically prefers a flat-out showdown.
Given the public chaos and disorganization of congressional Democrats, McConnell seeks to show the GOP can govern, not just oppose.
Next year’s midterms will largely determine the fortunes of both parties. Will Trump’s sway over and endorsements of numerous House members and Speaker-in-waiting Kevin McCarthy continue and succeed?
If the GOP regains control of one or both chambers, it can stall Biden’s progressive plans in their tracks, making him appear even less effective than he already does. GOP election results will be used to enhance or diminish Trump’s standing for a political rerun.
Democrats will use abortion and the threat of a Trump return to spur turnout and donors. Trump has hinted he will run again. He’d be wise to save that announcement until after midterms.
Joe Biden, already the oldest president ever, has said he’ll definitely seek a second term. That’s politically wise for now. But even without his serial lies – everything from his fictitious truck driving career to vows about evacuating all Americans and allies from Afghanistan – no one believes him.
He’d turn 82 that election month. Even at 78, he’s provided overwhelming evidence that mentally and physically, Biden’s simply incapable of being an adequate Commander in Chief already, let alone serving until 2029, when he’d be 86. Last year, his campaign days often ended by 10 a.m.
Biden’s job approval has plunged on the economy, inflation, the Afghan withdrawal debacle, even pandemic management, once his strong suit. More subtly, his supporters on social media don’t even try to defend him anymore, choosing to quickly turn any argument back to the old Trump tripe.
Biden’s best insurance policy may be having chosen Kamala Harris as VP. Her own presidential campaign cratered before one delegate was chosen. Not even Democrat elites think she’s up to the simple No. 2 job, let alone a national campaign against Trump or another hungry Republican.
But how to dump the first VP female of color without seeming to?
A lot can happen in the 46 weeks before the 2022 elections or the 150 weeks before 2024. Maybe some kind of national tragedy that unifies Americans behind a suddenly invigorated Biden leadership?
Didn’t someone once say that predicting American politics these days was a fool’s errand? Wait, that was me up above.