Commentary

The midterms were good news for Dems, but even better news for the country | Bruce Ledewitz

Even with a GOP-controlled House, there’s still the prospect of bipartisan wins for President Joe Biden

November 15, 2022 6:30 am

The 2022 midterm election was good news for Democrats. Even some of the apparently bad news will turn out to be good news.

But the election was even better news for the country.

First, the good news for the Democrats. 

For very good reasons—the historical tendency of the party-in-power to lose seats in Congress, the low approval ratings of President Joe Biden, and the highest inflation in 40 years—most observers expected a red wave in 2022.

Instead, the Democrats retained control of the U.S. Senate, and might even pick up a seat in the Georgia Senate runoff on Dec. 6; held their own in state-level races, including making big gains in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, and probably only narrowly losing the U.S. House. 

Majority control of the House will not be formally known for awhile, but Republicans lead in enough races to predict a no-more-than-a-few-seat GOP majority.

Retention of the U.S. Senate mattered a great deal, because the Senate must confirm Presidential judicial nominations and many Administration posts. If Republicans had won the Senate, current Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., would likely have slowed down or blocked many of President Joe Biden’s nominations when he became floor leader.

And, as unlikely as the event may be, Democratic Party control of the Senate means that Biden could name another justice on the Supreme Court if a seat were to become open.

Even the likely loss of the House is actually good news for the Democrats, despite the mischief that can be expected to ensue.

The reason the loss of the House is good news for the Democrats is that with the filibuster in the Senate, narrow Democratic Party control of Congress had already gone as far as it could go.

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In his first two years in office, Biden had notable legislative successes to go along with his foreign policy and Executive Branch initiatives. But the votes were never there to pass other Biden priorities: paid family leave, universal pre-K, voting-rights legislation, and a ban on assault weapons. Narrow Democratic control of the House going forward would not have changed that.

What Republican control of the House gives Democrats is a simple explanation to give to voters for the coming legislative deadlock that was likely to happen anyway.

Also, some of Biden’s successes were achieved with bipartisan majorities. Republican control of the House does not preclude that possibility. 

In addition, the loss of the House will satisfy voters who wanted to punish Democrats for inflation. Those voters will be more likely to now reset and look at things anew in 2024.

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One more piece of good news for Democrats out of 2022 is the performance in rural areas of newly elected Democratic U.S. Sen-elect John Fetterman’s strategy of “Every county, Every vote.” Fetterman, currently Pennsylvania’s lieutenant governor, has shown Democrats a path to winning back not only disaffected rural America but working-class voters in general. The party needs that strategy to become a genuinely dominant national party.

Now it is certainly true that Republican control of the U.S. House gives the GOP a national platform to shop its policy prescriptions for 2024. In the next two years, the House could pass sensible center-right legislation on entitlement reform, immigration policy, and sensible market solutions to climate change. Such legislation might even pass the Senate.

But are the Republican going to do that?

Members of the House Freedom Caucus, chaired by U.S. Rep. Scott Perry, R-10th District, are already pressuring current House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy to promise more specifics on investigating, and a willingness to launch impeachment proceedings against, Biden and other Administration figures.  

Nothing could help Biden more.

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Now if you add to all that the threat by some Republicans to refuse to raise the national debt ceiling, thus possibly causing the U.S. to default on its debt obligations and throwing the world economic system into chaos, you have a solid case for voters in 2024 to doubt the wisdom of Republican control in Washington. 

There was some genuinely bad political news for Democrats in 2022, but even that was good news for the country. The biggest winner of the election was Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. Not only did he win reelection by a wide margin, he was the first Republican governor to win Hispanic-majority Miami-Dade County

DeSantis plainly intends to run for president in 2024—he refused to disclaim that ambition even during his campaign for Governor.

What makes DeSantis potentially a potent Presidential candidate is the other bad news for Democrats coming out of the 2022 election—the possible end of Donald Trump as a national political force.. 

Republicans in leadership already knew that Trump had become albatross around the Party. But this year everybody could see that Republican candidates closely allied with Trump performed worse than Republican candidates generally. 

Part of the reason Democrats did better than expected in 2022 was Trump’s support for weak candidates, like Mehmet Oz and Doug Mastriano in Pennsylvania, who respectively lost their races for U.S. Senate and governor.  A more mainstream   Republican might have beaten Fetterman and certainly a mainstream Republican would have given Gov.-elect Josh Shapiro a closer race.

The failure of both candidates led one media outlet to ask in a headline, Is “Trumpism” dead in Pennsylvania after Oz, Mastriano losses?

It was not just Trump’s poor judgment in picking candidates that was the problem for Republicans. Trump’s absurd big lie that there was massive voter fraud in 2020 and that he actually beat Biden is wearing thin. Election deniers did not do well in 2022.

Although Trump could help himself by simply abandoning this claim, to do so at this point would hurt him with the very base voters whose passionate support is the key to his current political standing.

Simply put, there is no path forward for Trump to significantly increase his national standing. He is the one candidate Biden could clearly beat. 

Of course, it is possible that Republican voters will award Trump the 2024 Presidential nomination anyway, especially if the Republican field is crowded. But DeSantis did so well in 2022 and has so deftly managed to position himself in the center of the Republican Party without much if any political baggage, that he may emerge as the main anti-Trump candidate.

Head to head, DeSantis could beat Trump in many Republican presidential primaries. 

The emergence of a strong, conservative Republican Party, without the threat to democracy that Trump uniquely represents, would be a formidable challenge. Democrats might well lose the Congress and the Presidency in 2024. But even this bad political news for the Party would be good news for America. 

We might be able to go back to disagreements over policy without the vitriol and division of our current hyper-partisanship and fact-denying lunacy. That would be the best news of all.

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Bruce Ledewitz
Bruce Ledewitz

Opinion contributor Bruce Ledewitz teaches constitutional law at Duquesne University Law School in Pittsburgh. His work appears biweekly on the Capital-Star’s Commentary Page. He hosts the “Bends Toward Justice” podcast. His latest book, “The Universe Is On Our Side: Restoring Faith in American Public Life,” is out now. His opinions do not represent the position of Duquesne University Law School.

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