Remember when there was no way Democrats could win two Senate seats in Georgia to take control of the upper chamber? Remember when Ukrainian forces were going to crumble under Russia's elite military onslaught in a matter of days?
Things don't always go the way Washington analysts project they will, and it's going to take some time to talk ourselves down from the steady red-wave drumbeat we’ve endured for the last six months. But let's take a stab at it, shall we?
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Democrats—voters and lawmakers—have at least a handful of reasons (if not more) for some guarded optimism as we barrel toward November.
1) As halting as the White House response to the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade has been, President Joe Biden has started to step up. His support for a Senate filibuster carve out on abortion along with his pledge to immediately sign a bill codifying Roe into federal law once it hits his desk are the makings of an electoral rallying cry.
"We need two additional pro-choice senators and a pro-choice House to codify Roe as federal law. Your vote can make that a reality," Biden said Friday at the White House as he vehemently denounced the Supreme Court ruling.
“We cannot allow an out-of-control Supreme Court, working in conjunction with extremist elements of the Republican Party, to take away freedoms and our personal autonomy,” he said.
The president also framed the high court as a political entity acting outside of its rightful legal domain, teeing up the possibility that he could at some point take on court reform as an issue.
"What we’re witnessing wasn’t a constitutional judgment. It was an exercise in raw political power," Biden charged.
But let's not get ahead of ourselves. Biden gave a great speech on Friday, channeling activists' rage, pledging to codify Roe, promising to veto any GOP-passed federal abortion ban, encouraging Americans to register their rage at the polls this fall, and being specific about needing at least two more pro-choice senators and a pro-choice House in order to pass federal abortion protections.
Biden hasn't delivered everything abortion activists want, but that's certainly enough to work for a midterm message.
2) House Democrats have keyed in on the only viable path for them to blunt losses this fall and just maybe salvage their majority: boldly attacking extremist GOP candidates.
Retiring Rep. John Yarmuth of Kentucky summed up the strategy best: “If we win, it’s because we scared the crap out of people about the maniacs who will be in charge.”
Democrats aggressively pounding extremist Republicans who are pushing a national abortion ban, clinging to 2020 election fraud conspiracy theories, and backing Jan. 6 rioters as patriotic protesters exercising First Amendment rights are the best plays Democrats have. They’re both base motivators and appeals to the few sane Republicans and swingy abortion supporters who still exist.
Political strategists vary between predicting the midterms will either primarily be driven by economic dissatisfaction or anger over the Supreme Court's gutting of abortion protections and other privacy rights down the road.
But in a telephone briefing last week, Democratic strategist Simon Rosenberg predicted November would mainly be another matchup between the MAGA movement and the anti-MAGA majority that has carried the day in the last two elections.
Running toward Donald Trump after his 2020 loss and failed January coup attempt "was always an enormous political risk," Rosenberg said of the GOP, adding that Republicans haven't done anything in the interim to sway swing voters.
3) The generic ballot has moved several points in the direction of Democrats since the Supreme Court overturned Roe.
CNN's Harry Enten has counted eight different polls in which Democrats gained ground in a generic matchup since the Dobbs ruling.
"The average shift was about 3 points in Democrats’ favor," Enten writes. "This 3-point change may not seem like a lot, and it could reverse itself as we get further away from the ruling. Still, it puts Democrats in their best position on the generic ballot in the last six months."
4) Trump falling, DeSantis rising—that about sums up a dynamic that could increasingly begin to take center stage amid jockeying for position in the 2024 GOP presidential contest. While Trump is arguably still the most popular person within the Republican Party, even his voters have begun to sour on the idea of him making another run for the GOP nomination. And as Trump’s star begins to fall, DeSantis is increasingly gaining steam.
Democrats can only hope Trump does something impulsive, like make a surprise candidacy announcement before November as he feels the Jan. 6 panel (and maybe even the Justice Department) increasingly breathing down his neck. He would lose a ton of fundraising flexibility by announcing early, but hey, once you’ve orchestrated a coup to overthrow your own government, all bets are off.
But even if he doesn't, Trump is wounded—perhaps not fatally, but wounded nonetheless. Republicans and even the MAGA faithful are beginning to debate and sometimes doubt whether he should run again in 2024. That tinge of uncertainty could lead to fissures ahead of a midterm where Republicans had hoped their base would be singularly focused on inflation and rage against President Biden.
5) The Jan. 6 hearings are the best political thriller going. Forget House of Cards—that was kid stuff compared to this coup-dunit mystery unfolding in real time on screens across the country. Did the president of the United States really intend to get his vice president killed? Did he plan to personally do it himself, or did he just envision ordering his troop of ragtag domestic terrorists to hang Pence from the gallows? Who's going to tell us, who's talking, who isn't, and who's going to end up in jail?
Every hearing seems to get more riveting and exponentially worse for Trump, his demented braintrust, and the GOP lawmakers who helped plot the attempted overthrow of the republic. Several headlines last month suggested not many people were watching the hearings in real time, but that’s not the measure of whether the hearings are breaking through. The progressive consortium Navigator Research released a poll Monday showing that 64% of Americans report having seen, read, or heard about the hearings (28% heard “a lot” while 36% reported hearing “some”)—perfectly consistent with the 63% who said they had heard some or a lot about last month's hearings. Interest hasn’t trailed off one bit.
So regardless of whether Trump announces a presidential bid before November, the Jan. 6 hearings are reminding all the people who voted against him in 2020 (more than 81 million Americans) exactly why they voted him out of office. And for Trumpers, the hearings are just making him look weak, out of control, and powerless. Unlike both of his impeachment proceedings, Trump doesn't have an entourage of talking heads defending him because the usual suspects are either ducking subpoenas or dodging cameras. So Trump's out there just dangling with an occasional statement on his spectacularly flailing Truth(er) Social, but that's about it.
Again, this isn't what Republicans were hoping for several months out from Election Day—a series of ongoing public hearings that they are powerless to stop and have no earthly idea of what will be uncovered.
All of these factors along with the GOP's field of D-list candidates should give Democrats fuel to fight another day. Just like every other election since 2016, this year's midterms will likely yield unprecedented results to match the unprecedented times in which we live.