The brutal reality of political risk analysis is that you can never rest on your laurels. However good your predictive call record, there are always more elections to come and more geostrategic risks and opportunities to make sense of. Much as is true with sports, even winning a political risk analytical “championship” just means everyone will be gunning for you come the next season.
In 2020, my firm reached one of its peaks, correctly calling close but clear wins for the Democrats in the House of Representatives and the presidency, as well as precisely predicting the 50-50 split in the Senate. For all our pride in this, the 2022 midterms are just around the corner, with a new set of political imperatives that need to be mastered. So, without further ado, here we go: The 2022 midterms will result in a Republican wipeout of the Democrats, with the GOP gaining upwards of 30 seats in the House and one or two in the Senate, giving them full control of the Congress. Here is the case for our bold prediction.
First, the historical record is squarely against President Joe Biden and the Democrats. Since 1870, only four elections out of 38 resulted in the party holding the White House losing fewer than five seats, which is the size of the party’s present paper-thin majority in the House. Traditionally, the country tends to have so-called buyer’s remorse after the first two years of a presidency, either faulting the new team for failing to live up to its campaign promises or conversely fearing the new White House is trying to do too much. In either case, the opposition party has been supported 34 out of 38 times as an institutional check on the new president’s power.
The rare exceptions to these overwhelming numbers merely prove the rule. Only exceptional circumstances (such as George W. Bush benefiting from the rally-round-the-flag sentiment prevailing after 9/11) or presidents possessing exceptional political skills (such as Franklin Roosevelt and Bill Clinton) buck this historical near-inevitability.
To put it mildly, Biden has neither of these attributes going for him. In the past generation, the best guide to a party’s congressional results has been the president’s approval numbers, as House elections have increasingly become nationalized referendums on the occupant of the White House. The RealClearPolitics’ average of polling finds Biden’s approval ratings under water, with only 42 percent supporting him, while 53 percent disapprove of the job he has been doing. Far from bucking the historical trend, Biden’s polling looks set to make it even worse than usual.
Second, out-of-control 8 percent inflation is seen as by far the most important issue in polling and the Biden White House entirely owns it. No one is buying that this is “Putin’s price hike,” as the president has feebly taken to saying in an effort to pass the policy failure on to the Russian leader. This is not working out in the country for the simple reason that the beast of inflation had already loosed its chains well ahead of the Ukraine war starting in late February. The timing simply does not work for rampant inflation to be anything other than primarily a Western institutional failure.
While spikes in energy and food prices have resulted directly from the conflict, they amount to only the icing on the cake. As former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers has made incisively clear, the Biden White House and the Federal Reserve greatly overestimated the damage the COVID-19 pandemic would do. As a result, the overegged economy had to deal with 15 percent extra federal spending even as it quickly bounced back. The obvious result of this pouring gasoline on to a roaring fire is the present 8 percent-plus inflation the US has and the cost-of-living crisis that flows naturally from it. Stagflation (the US economy declined in the first quarter of the year) absolutely destroyed the presidency of Jimmy Carter 40 years ago. It is now doing the same to the hapless Biden White House.
Third, a series of important but secondary issues — all seen as traditional weaknesses of the Democratic Party — are coming back to bite them. A crime wave in American inner cities has been blamed on earlier suicidal calls by the left wing of the party to defund the police. And illegal immigration at the southern border, another traditional weakness of the party, has swollen to a torrent. Finally, America’s families are sick of recalcitrant (overwhelmingly Democratic) teachers’ unions who indefensibly seem to want their members to stay home for ever, however badly the country’s children are doing educationally after years of distance learning. Parents blame the unions for this calamity, along with their woke allegiance to a critical race theory that paints America as irredeemably racist. The self-hatred of the Democratic progressive left is generally a bad political platform; it is badly wounding the party in general.
Worse still for the Democrats, none of these things are likely to change. The historical numbers are what they are; inflation is unlikely to dramatically trend downwards, and immigration and the crime wave will not be greatly altered in the next few months. There is no avoiding the reality that a Democratic Party wipeout in the midterms is by far the most likely outcome of the 2022 race. This call is an easy one to make.
This post was originally published in Arab News.