The House In 2022

(Door Hugo Kijne te Hoboken USA)

Most political commentators claim that it’s almost inevitable that Republicans will take back the House in 2022 and that the dishonorable Kevin McCarthy will become its Speaker.  They base that prediction on the fact that only in three midterms since 1930 the President’s party picked up seats, in 1934, 1998 and 2002, and all other times lost by a considerable margin.  Since the Democrats currently have a majority of nine seats Republicans would only have to win five seats to claim the gavel.  There are, however, at least two reasons why a simple extrapolation of a historical trend in the current political situation is not only a lazy but also a flawed approach.  One of the theories that explain the midterm losses of the President’s party applies only if that President was elected in a landslide and due to the ‘coattails effect’ many seats held by his party are at risk in the following midterm when he’s not on the ballot.  Another theory describes the effect of the ‘presidential penalty,’ the tendency of many voters to go to the polls only when they are angry.  If more dissatisfied than satisfied voters vote the President’s party loses.

It is easy to see why the coattails theory won’t apply in 2022.  Joe Biden did not win the 2020 election by a landslide and the Democrats lost twelve House seats, so instead of winning seats that would be at risk in 2022 the Democratic Party already shed some at risk seats in the last election.  It would appear that on the Democratic side the presidential candidate was stronger than the party, which could be the ‘anybody but Trump’ effect, while on the Republican side Trump’s popularity with his base was not enough to get him back in the White House, in spite of victories in House races by candidates who did not just depend on Trump’s base.  As for the ‘presidential penalty’ theory, it is too early to tell how satisfied or dissatisfied voters will be with the Biden administration’s performance.  Obviously the 53% of Republicans who according to the latest Axios/Ipsos poll believe that Trump won the election will remain dissatisfied until kingdom come, but that is only 20% of the US electorate, and for the 80% who are too sane to believe in the big lie the question is how much Biden can get done by 2022 to satisfy their needs.

One of the idiosyncrasies of the 2022 election is that at the moment there are two GOPs, the traditional ultra-conservative party of the Liz Cheneys and the modern fascist party controlled by Trump.  Most Republican candidates will have to fold themselves into pretzels wearing MAGA hats and repeating the big lie ad nauseam to fend off primary challenges, and if they succeed at that shape-shift back to the traditional side risking that they’ll lose the support of Trump’s loonies because they’re no longer fascist enough and/or of moderate voters because they have shown to have no backbone.

Meanwhile Mitch McConnell’s announcement that he will obstruct everything Biden wants to do shows that the Grim Reaper understands the presidential penalty theory and wants to make sure that Biden won’t have any accomplishments that voters can be satisfied about.  How effective this will be partly depends on whether Senators Manchin and Sinema keep the filibuster in place, but with some courage, reconciliation as a tool, society opening up and an economic recovery under way Biden should be fine.

Of the times the President’s party did not lose the midterm 2002 is the most interesting case, because the election followed the national disaster of 9/11 and the government’s reaction, just like the 2022 election will follow the recovery from the national COVID disaster.  Knowing that not all the stars are well aligned for them Republicans already try to reserve the right to overturn election results they don’t like.

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