All indications are that GOP voters are united and energized and the party is doing what’s necessary to make Kevin McCarthy speaker in January 2023, which would instantly squash the never-very-plausible talk of Joe Biden being the next FDR or LBJ.
The foundation of the GOP’s unity, of course, is that Donald Trump, with a very brief exception of the immediate aftermath of January 6, effortlessly maintained his control of the GOP. The anticipated civil war came and went with barely a shot fired.
Cheney is certainly a casualty, although she is now less a leader of a significant faction of the party and more a voice crying in the wilderness. That is an honorable role, and she may well be vindicated in the fullness of time (and deserves to be on the merits).
But the party will pay no electoral price for the drama over her leadership role, or, likely, for its continued loyalty to Trump.
Despite Trump’s grip, he’s not front and center for the average voter. He isn’t president and he isn’t on the ballot anywhere. Republicans aren’t going to be running next November on relitigating the 2020 election or January 6. The focus inevitably will be on Biden and his agenda, which will loom much larger than anything the former president can do from Mar-a-Lago.
The Democratic polling outfit Democracy Corps just did a survey of 2022 battlegrounds that confirmed for Republicans this general picture. Fully three-quarters of the GOP are Trump loyalists or Trump-aligned. As Stanley Greenberg writes in a memo about the poll, among Republicans, “the percent scoring 10, the highest level of interest in the election, has fallen from 84 to 68 percent. But Democrats’ engagement fell from 85 percent to 57 percent.”
Greenberg calls the GOP base “uniquely unified and engaged.”
More evidence is the boffo fundraising by the National Republican Campaign Committee so far. It raised $33.7 million in the first quarter, a bit less than the Democrats, but the Democrats have an overhang of debt. Meanwhile, GOP candidate recruitment is ahead of the pace of prior midterm cycles, whereas Democrats are seeing worrisome retirements.
It’s not as though there’s a high bar for the GOP. Republicans need to flip only six seats in the House, when in the post-World War II era the president’s party has lost on average 27 seats in midterm elections.
With the margin so slim, even a marked overperformance, say, where Biden matches George H.W. Bush’s feat in 1990 of holding losses to eight seats, wouldn’t be enough to save the House.
On top of this, the playing field is tilting the GOP’s way. Reapportionment gave more seats to states where Republicans predominate and fewer to states where Democrats predominate. Based on their strength in state legislatures, Republicans also have the upper hand in redistricting, including in Texas, Florida and Ohio.
The Biden theory is that $6 trillion in spending will deliver a roaring economy that will take the edge off typical midterm losses. But the latest jobs and inflation numbers show that it might not be so simple, and there is considerable doubt whether Biden can get his spending. Democrats may find themselves in the same dispiriting position as Trump-era Republicans after John McCain’s thumbs-down on Obamacare—controlling the elected branches of Washington, but largely stymied on substance.
Greenberg derives some comfort from his belief that, in contrast to 2020, “this time, Democrats cannot fail to see how early Trump’s party is fully engaged with its ongoing culture war, focused on crime, open borders, and defunding the police.”
Yet there is no indication of any effort to seriously defuse these issues. Biden’s polices have needlessly created a crisis at the border, and murder rates continue to climb in major cities, even as much of the left still talks of the police as if it’s a racist occupying force.
There are miles to go before November 2022. Biden might find a way to thread the needle of cooperating with Republicans on infrastructure and police reform without alienating his own base, and unforeseen events always take a hand.
But the story of 2021 is emphatically not a Republican meltdown. Despite what you read, the GOP stands a good chance to end its bout in the wilderness after two short years.