In 2020, Democrats fantasized about defeating Donald Trump at the ballot box, retaking the White House, and finally ending the MAGA nightmare that had consumed the country for four years.
The hope was that once Trump had helped surrender both the House and the White House to Democrats, Republican Party leaders would realize that staying politically wed to him was a one-way ticket to Loserville and ditch him.
The reality was both better and worse. Trump lost the White House, then doomed Republicans in two Senate runoffs that handed full control of Congress to Democrats—but he also turned out more than 74 million voters for Republicans. Even as Democrats claimed a trifecta in Washington, Republicans whittled down Democratic control of the House by 13 seats while cementing their grip on state legislatures across the country. Republicans simply couldn't believe so many Americans had voted for them. State party officials were thrilled. And when it came time to cut Trump loose following the Jan. 6 insurrection, GOP congressional leaders demonstrated the valor of a groundhog confronting its own shadow before scampering for cover.
Fast forward to two months out from the 2022 midterms. After being told they were doomed for the better part of a year, Democrats are now in a competitive race to keep both chambers. On Thursday, Democrats rose to +1.9 points in FiveThirtyEight's generic ballot aggregate—their biggest edge all year. Out of the 38 polls taken in September, just six found a Republican advantage—five of them were from GOP-aligned groups.
As New Democrat Network President Simon Rosenberg noted, every one of the nine polls released this week (as of Thursday) shows movement toward Democrats, including Rasmussen and Fox News.
- +3 toward Dems: Rasmussen, Fox News
- +2 toward Dems: NBC News
- +1 toward Dems: New York Times, Economist, Echelon Insights, Morning Consult, Democracy Corps, Navigator Research
Nothing is assured, but Democrats managing to keep both chambers of Congress is now more plausible than the emergence of the red wave we were assured was coming for most of this year. Perhaps the most likely scenario is a split decision with Democrats keeping the Senate (even though some specific races have been tightening) but losing the House.
Such a scenario would not only entirely stall President Joe Biden's agenda, it would consume the lower chamber with a ridiculous round of wackadoodle partisan exercises, including investigations of Biden, his son Hunter, and absolutely anything else Republican extremists can dream up. The only thing worse than losing the House would be losing the Senate on top of it, forestalling any progress on Biden’s judicial and government nominees for the next two years.
However, Democrats—having finally broken from their defensive crouch after consistently overperforming in this year’s special elections—have just begun to imagine a far sunnier outcome. Just maybe they could keep both chambers, build on Biden’s judicial advances in the Senate, and continue making legislative progress on a host of issues related to economic justice, racial justice, and the safeguarding of our democracy.
Certainly those would be several critical upsides of Democrats prevailing outright in November.
But if Democrats manage to do what we were told was impossible and keep both chambers, the most profound impact could come in the form of dealing a death blow to a Republican coalition that has been overrun by Trumpism—or what Biden refers to as MAGA Republicans.
When so-called establishment Republicans like Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell dislocated their spines during Trump's second impeachment trial, they gambled on the notion that they could keep Trump and his liabilities at arm's length while still benefitting from the slice of new voters he brought into the GOP fold in 2020.
Heading into this year, Republicans were so cocky about their takeover prospects that they declined to even outline an agenda for voters. When McConnell was asked in January about what Republicans planned to do with a congressional majority, he pompously replied, "That is a very good question. And I'll let you know when we take it back.”
McConnell's stunning lack of leadership since Jan. 6 has come back to bite him in the ass, leading to underlings with bloated egos filling the vacuum. Not only did Senate GOP campaign chief Rick Scott promise a Republican majority would raise taxes on 100 million working Americans and sunset Medicare/Social Security, Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina unveiled a national 15-week abortion ban last week that he pledged would get a vote in a GOP-led Senate.
Asked on Fox News Thursday about the heat he has taken from fellow Republicans for giving away the game, Graham responded, “We owe it to the American people to tell them who we are, and here’s who we are as a national party.” Sorry, Mitch.
Meanwhile, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy plans to finally unveil a four-point plan Friday (it's never too late!), which will reportedly echo Scott's themes of slashing Social Security and Medicare, among other things. McConnell has insisted that Republicans will neither raise taxes nor sunset Medicare and Social Security. He has also promised they would never find the 60 votes necessary to pass a national abortion ban. That from the same man who nuked the filibuster on Supreme Court nominations so that he could steal three seats for Republicans under an entirely new regime.
In any case, Republicans in Washington are currently finishing out the final stretch of the campaign season in sloppier, more chaotic form than any party in recent memory. It is the epitome of disarray, mainly because GOP leaders quit leading, gifted their party to Trump, and he has gleefully tied them in knots.
Still, if Democrats manage to keep both chambers, even by the slimmest of margins, that victory would be an epically embarrassing defeat for a party that spent that last nine months fantasizing about the size of the red wave getting ready to wash over the country. In fact, coming up dry could potentially obliterate the coalition establishment Republicans embraced after Jan. 6 when they thought they could have their cake and eat it too.
If establishment Republicans are ever going sever ties with Trump's MAGA base, it will have to be on the heels of a defeat so stunning and agonizing that it leaves them no choice but to embark on the process of rebuilding their party. Losing the House, the Senate, the White House, and a slam-dunk midterm in three consecutive cycles to a pro-democracy coalition of Democrats, independents, and even some Republicans could quite possibly fracture the GOP base, finally severing Republican ties to the anti-democratic MAGA insurgency.
So when you think about the potential upsides of voting this November and getting every single one of your friends, neighbors, and family members to vote, don't just think about Democrats retaining congressional majorities. Instead, imagine crushing the MAGA extremists who seek to end America as we know it.
Let’s crush it in the Senate. Smash and donate!
Let’s crush it everywhere. Smash and donate!
Since Dobbs, women have registered to vote in unprecedented numbers across the country, and the first person to dig into these stunning trends was TargetSmart CEO Tom Bonier, who's our guest on this week's episode of The Downballot. Bonier explains how his firm gathers data on the electorate; why this surge is likely a leading indicator showing stepped-up enthusiasm among many groups of voters, including women, young people, and people of color; how we know these new registrants disproportionately lean toward Democrats; and what it all might mean for November.