Do Democrats Have A Chance in November?
Historically, they shouldn't but the data points suggesting otherwise are getting more and more difficult to ignore.
I’m Michael A. Cohen, and this is Truth and Consequences: A no-holds-barred look at the absurdities, hypocrisies, and surreality of American politics. If you received this email - or you are a free subscriber - and you’d like to subscribe: you can sign up below.
Just a quick housekeeping note: there will be no Zoom Chat this Friday. I’m taking my youngest to summer camp and so I won’t be able to make it. In addition, next Friday is Dead and Company in NYC day, so I can’t do it then either. Instead, I think I might try to do a nighttime/Happy Hour chat. I’ll keep you posted on that.
Finally, as you may have noticed, I’ve been putting more of the newsletter behind the paywall, and usually, that is where this one would go, but I’m pretty fond of the opus below, so I want to get it to as many eyeballs as possible. However, you can still sign up for a free one-week trial membership (or you can subscribe at the button above). Remember, your financial support keeps the lights on at Truth and Consequences!
This quote from Ty Schalter is so spot-on it practically hurts:
“Writer’s Block,” as people who are not writers understand it, is mostly bullshit.
That’s not to say writers never spend hours, days, weeks, months, or years lamenting their lack of progress on a work-in-progress. I don’t mean to insinuate that no writer has ever stared into the white abyss of the blank page, guided to nowhere by the incompetent Sherpas of alcohol and nicotine.
But so much more often than not, in my experience, being blocked isn’t about having no idea what to write. It’s being crushed under the weight of all the ideas and possibilities I want to commit to the page.
This quote felt particularly apt yesterday as I struggled to figure out what recent news events I wanted to write on. My response was to pick most of them! So this is an extra-long newsletter today. May my “writer’s block” be your gain (also, subscribe to Ty’s excellent newsletter “Gimme Schalter.”)
As Nebraska Goes … So Goes America
Any discussion of the current situation in American politics must begin where it traditionally starts … Nebraska’s First Congressional District.
Hyperbole aside, a special election took place last week in Nebraska, and it offers the first tantalizing clues as to how the Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade could reshape American politics.
Nebraska’s first congressional district is not exactly a bellwether. Republicans outnumber Democrats by a 46 to 29 percent margin (23% are registered as non-partisan). So it’s a dependably Republican area that in 2020, Donald Trump won by 15 points, and former Republican Congressman Jeff Fortenberry prevailed by 22 points. Fortenberry, however, got his hand caught in the proverbial cookie jar (i.e., a corruption scandal) and resigned earlier this year.
Nobody expected Republican state Sen. Mike Flood to lose the race to fill the rest of Fortenberry’s terms— and he didn’t. It’s the margin of his victory that is surprising. Flood edged Democratic State Senator Patty Pansing Brooks by a mere 6 points. Pansing Brooks did better than any Democrat in decades, even though Flood outspent her by a 10 to 1 margin.
In a political environment where the enthusiasm advantage supposedly resides with Republicans, a Democratic candidate in a red district should not be overperforming.
Unsurprisingly, Democrats see the race as an early referendum on abortion rights, and there is some evidence to back it up. According to Dave Weigel, writing in the Washington Post, “Pansing Brooks went on the air about abortion two weeks before the election, and shortly before the Dobbs decision, with a spot that covered both a ‘Supreme Court assault on women’s rights’ and voters' economic jitters. ‘I’m the only candidate for Congress who will defend women’s rights and fight inflation,’ Pansing Brooks said in the spot. Flood’s advertising hit inflation, but did not touch on the conservatives’ victory over Roe.”
In addition, there is interesting circumstantial evidence pointing to a surge in Democratic voting. In the district’s one Democrat-leaning county, Lancaster, voter turnout for the special election exceeded that of the recent primary election in May. In the 11 counties won by Flood, voter turnout was lower.
None of this means that Flood is in danger of losing when the squares off against Pansing Brooks again this November. Any Democratic advantage in voter enthusiasm will likely be overwhelmed by higher GOP turnout in the Fall. Still, Flood’s narrow victory last week means that Pansing Brooks will have a much easier time raising money nationally. That alone could put the district in play.
But the bigger story here is that Democrats desperately need an issue to motivate their base and overcome the usual Democratic midterm apathy. They need a cause to get Democrats dissatisfied with Joe Biden and congressional Democratic to turn out in significant numbers in November. If Nebraska’s First Congressional District is any indication, they might have found it.
Speaking Of Which …
This is a fascinating poll result:
Generally speaking, from a historical perspective, presidential approval is the best predictor of what will happen in a midterm election. The more unpopular an incumbent president is, the worse his party performs with voters. Considering that Joe Biden is remarkably unpopular with voters, the near-term future does not bode well for Democrats.
But then I look at the poll result above, and I wonder if Democrats have found an escape hatch. What if Republican extremism on guns, abortion, January 6, the 2020 election, LGBTQ rights, and pretty much every other issue under the sun have convinced even those who don’t like the president that Joe Biden is not their concern — but instead it’s the possibility of Republicans taking control of Congress? What if the prospect of more Republican inaction on guns and climate change and the possibility that Democrats picking up seats could lead to codifying Roe motivates young voters to show up in November and vote Democratic?
Historically, that’s not what should happen, but we’ve also never had such a momentous political event, like the stripping away of abortion rights, occur so close to a midterm election. I have a pretty good sense of what is supposed to happen in November — Democrats will get walloped. But it’s awfully hard to make that prediction confidently. We’re in uncharted territory, and it’s difficult to draw conclusions based on opinion polling four months from Election Day. But various data points seem to suggest that a foregone conclusion about Republican dominance in November is premature.
To that point, this chart captures the strange divergence in Biden’s favorabilities and voter attitudes on the generic congressional ballot.
Even as Biden’s approval falls further into the red, the prospects for congressional Democrats have slightly improved. There is a logic to this. If you’re a Democrat, the Roe decision will hardly make you feel better about the direction of the country or Biden’s presidency (more on that below). But at the same time, it could make you more inclined to vote for a Democratic congressional candidate in the Fall. To be sure, it’s rare that voters make these kinds of fine-grained distinctions (dinging the president but increasing their enthusiasm in voting for candidates of the same party). But as noted above, we’re not in a typical political moment.
And What About The Polls …
So here’s the other issue gnawing at me — this recent Quinnipiac poll result out of Georgia.
Warnock (D) - 54
Walker (R) - 44
Kemp (R) - 48
Abrams (D) - 48
With the usual caveat that this is one poll result and we should always be wary of drawing significant conclusions from one poll, the numbers in the Governor’s race are about what we would expect. Kemp narrowly beat Abrams in 2018; more likely than not, 2022 will be just as close.
But then look at the Senate numbers — Warnock is trouncing Walker. So this isn’t a poll that favors Democrats. If it were, Abrams would likely be ahead as well. The ten-point gap between the Senate and the gubernatorial race suggests that Georgians have different attitudes toward the two races.
Let’s look inside the numbers to get a better sense of what’s going on. Warnock’s favorabilities are 49/37, while for Walker, they are 37/42. That’s an alarming number, especially considering that Walker didn’t face much competition in the GOP primary, so voters aren’t necessarily aware of his negatives. Along those lines, Republican Dr. Mehmet Oz is trailing in his Senate race in Pennsylvania against Democratic candidate John Fetterman. A big part of the reason is that voters view him unfavorably, which might have something to do with the fact that Oz’s GOP primary opponent Dave McCormick ran millions of dollars of ads personally attacking him. None of that happened to Walker.
However, over the past few weeks, Walker has dealt with several embarrassing stories — the worst being the recent revelation that while he has publicly criticized other Black Men for being absentee fathers, he has fathered three children with whom he has limited contact.
This tells me that candidate quality still matters even in our highly polarized politics. Political hiccups and scandals, like those that have buffeted Walker, can put weak candidates at a disadvantage. Considering the high number of GOP candidates running this cycle with huge political liabilities — whether it’s election denial, extremist positions on abortions, or garden variety political scandals — that could be a problem for Republicans. In simpler terms, while political polarization is likely the biggest factor in midterm elections, candidate quality can make the difference between narrowly winning or narrowly losing. If that’s the case, I suspect it will be more harmful to Republicans.
Oh, And One More Thing
Above, I mentioned Dr. Oz … he’s trailing Fetterman by nine points in the most recent poll. In Wisconsin, the primaries have not yet happened. Still, Republican Senator Ron Johnson is trailing his most likely competitors … and Governor Tony Evers is leading his two most likely GOP opponents. In North Carolina, Republican Ted Budd narrowly leads Democrat Cheri Beasley … though Beasley is ahead in the one non-partisan poll. Again, it’s too early to draw significant conclusions from these numbers. Most Americans still aren’t paying close attention to the midterms. But in an environment that should favor Republicans, why aren’t they polling better?
The Crazy. It Burns
This lowlight video from the GOP Arizona gubernatorial debate perhaps helps explain why … Republican candidates this cycle have, by and large, fallen off the crazy tree and hit every branch on the way down.
This looks more like an SNL skit than an actual political debate. The frontrunner is Kari Lake, a full-on 2020 election denier who, not surprisingly, has been endorsed by Donald Trump.
This is video from Republican congressional debate in Wyoming — and it’s equally disturbing. When the daughter of perhaps the worst Vice President in US history is the last best hope for sanity in American politics we’re not in a good place.
Joe Biden Needs To Step Up
One thing, however, that would be helpful for Democrats heading into the midterms is if the White House would get its shit together.
I’ve tended to give the Biden Administration the benefit of the doubt on many of the domestic policy challenges it’s faced since taking office, but the response to the Supreme Court’s ongoing assault on America should alarm Democrats. Ever since the draft opinion overturning Roe leaked more than six weeks ago, we’ve had a pretty good sense that this outcome was likely to occur, and yet the White House appeared completely flat-footed and, worst of all, didn’t have a plan in place for when the decision came. It’s been nearly two weeks since Roe was struck down, and the White House has yet to announce a policy response. While I get that the administration has few tools at its disposal, the president needs to appear to be approaching this issue with urgency — and that hasn’t happened. Even reminding voters that holding the House and winning two Senate seats would allow Democrats to suspend the filibuster and codify Roe would be a beneficial political message. So why is it an idea voiced by opinion writers and not the leader of the Democratic Party?
This recent CNN piece (which should be a disquieting read for Democrats) quotes a member of Congress calling the White House "rudderless, aimless and hopeless," which strikes me as overly kind. As I’ve noted above, Democrats could potentially succeed despite Joe Biden. But having a steady leader at the helm and a White House willing to take the fight to Republicans is essential — and right now, Democrats don’t have that.
What’s Going On
For MSNBC, I wrote about the great American crack-up, which is already beginning.
Over the long July 4 weekend, 230 Americans died from gun violence, and more than 600 were injured.
In the worst incident, seven people died in a mass shooting in Highland Park, Illinois. Among those killed were Irina and Kevin McCarthy. They leave behind a two-year-old son, Aiden, who is now an orphan. I wish I had something clever or insightful to say about this, but unfortunately, the well is dry. As long as Republicans continue to block significant gun control legislation, like universal background checks, banning assault rifles and high capacity magazines, universal red flag laws, and raising the age limit to purchase guns, these types of needless and preventable tragedies will keep happening.
If you want to donate to the GoFundMe set up for Aiden, click here.
Smart piece by Natalie Jackson on why the generic congressional ballot may no longer matter.
Liz Cheney is not messing around.
A 10-year-old sexual abuse victim was forced to flee Ohio for Indiana to terminate a pregnancy. Get used to more stories like this.
I think Biden's biggest problem is young people want someone who's talks like an activist, and attempts a whole bunch of presidential orders to accomplish things when faced with problems. Biden isn't like that, and doesn't do that. Here's the deal: Biden can't do much about abortion, Biden can't do much about guns, Biden can't do much about inflation. The bully pulpit is a useful tool for some things, but not for intractable problems which Congress needs to actually get its act together and fix through legislation.
What Biden SHOULD be doing is setting actual priorities. Biden has picked some legislative bills (which is good), but when Build Back Better failed he should have gone up and said "the new focus of my administration is X; I want Congress to pass Y bill (which we've been working on lawmaker Z) and focusing on X will help us tackle inflation & the economy." That message would help: focus Congress on a problem, promise a tangible deliverable, and then execute.