In the spring of 2009, the cover of Time magazine declared Republicans an “endangered species.” Fast-forward 12 years and Republicans find themselves in a similar position. Pundits have called the GOP dead as the party sifts through the political wreckage following another controversial presidency. In his only press conference of 2021, President Biden even questioned whether there will be a Republican Party in 2024. But unlike 12 years ago, before the GOP made historic gains to win back the House of Representatives, the path to majorities in the House and Senate are already well within reach. Seven House seats and one Senate seat will determine full control of the legislative branch. Winning in 2022 will not require painting a political masterpiece. Simply put, Republicans need to remember one thing: Don’t overthink it.
For four years, Democrats fixated on Donald J. Trump. That strategy ultimately netted them full control of Congress and the White House. So the 2022 midterms will be a referendum on their governing. Trump will likely play a role in a handful of races, but he will not shape the environment. For that reason, Republicans must offer a viable alternative and develop a unifying theme instead of letting themselves be defined by dysfunction. Beyond that, their most important task is staying united in order to keep that referendum in place. With a solid message, unified front, and credible candidates, Republicans can then let Democrats do the heavy lifting for them.
Like Barack Obama, President Joe Biden ran for office as a great uniter. And, like Barack Obama, Biden’s policies are far more partisan than his rhetoric suggests. The first big ticket item of his presidency was a $1.9 trillion spending bill which, without Republican support, required the budgetary maneuver of reconciliation to cross the finish line. Biden has promised to heal the country, but this tactic will be par for the course going forward. At the same time, his party is also attempting to dismantle the filibuster to expedite its agenda through the Senate.
It won’t take long for voters to understand that the era of rank partisanship is still here. With the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic likely behind us, 80% of American voters want Washington to focus on strengthening the economy. But already, Democrats are taking their eye off the ball, risking the perception they are putting the post-pandemic recovery at risk. The COVID-19 bill included a giveaway to teachers’ unions that refuse to get back in the classrooms. With a crisis at the southern border, Democrats are pushing for a path to citizenship for 11 million people but failing to address a fundamentally broken immigration system.
At the heart of the Biden agenda is a massive tax increase and climate bill disguised as an infrastructure plan. The $2 trillion legislation is paid for in part by enacting the largest tax increase on job creators in modern history, and would put our economic recovery at risk to the tune of nearly 6 million jobs. With signs that inflation is already taking effect – increasing costs on everything from gasoline to groceries for middle-class Americans – Democrats are in essence drafting the GOP economic message for 2022.
These traps are compounded by Biden’s instincts to outsource his legislative work to Congress. Both of the Capitol’s most powerful Democrats have political motivations of their own. Speaker Nancy Pelosi is in the legacy-building phase of her career, hoping to notch more large-scale, left-wing policy victories. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer faces the possibility of a progressive primary challenge. Instead of protecting potentially vulnerable senators such as Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.), Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), or Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), Schumer has made it his priority not to be outflanked by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
The current political dynamic harkens back to the political overreach of Obama’s first years in office. In 2009, Democrats, convinced they were in ushering in a transformational president, burned their political capital on cap-and-trade and Obamacare while the country was reeling from the Great Recession. Speaker-to-be John Boehner gave Republicans a central campaign theme when he asked, “Where are the jobs?” Obama’s approval rating slid nearly 20 percentage points by the time his signature health care bill became law and Democrats dug themselves into an impossible hole. This is why it’s imperative that Republicans develop a unified message and recruit a class of disciplined candidates: Democrats are already doing their part to lose.
Since the end of World War II, a new president’s party has lost an average of 26 House seats and four Senate seats in the midterm elections. In 2010, Republicans swept the congressional map and gained 63 House seats on their way to a majority, picking off numerous districts that would later come to define the Trump coalition. Today, the makeup of Congress is so closely divided that Republicans do not need a wave election to win back majorities. Unlike the last time, Republicans don’t need to make history. They just need to paint by numbers.