ANDREW NEIL: With the Republicans poised for victory in midterms, a huge political crisis beckons
Crime, inflation and recession are the three issues uppermost in American minds as the country votes in its midterm elections this Tuesday. All that and President Biden, whose approvals ratings remain submerged.
They are all issues which play to Republican strengths and put Biden’s ruling Democrats on the back foot. They are the reason why Republicans will do even better than the polls suggest and make major gains across the nation.
The Democrats control the White House, the Senate and the House of Representatives. This two-year hegemony will now end. The Republicans will take back the House, by a comfortable majority, and probably the Senate too, though that race will be closer.
This will turn Biden into a lame-duck president (Right-wing wits will say he’s been that from day one), unable to do much of significance once his party has lost control of Congress. Unless he decides to run again in 2024 — and win again — his presidency will be effectively over.
This is all coming as a growing shock to the Democrats. As the midterm campaigns got under way in earnest only eight weeks ago, the Democrats thought things were going their way.
Yes, Biden’s approval ratings were still dire. But a conservative-majority Supreme Court had taken away the federal right to abortion, firing up the party’s female base, and Donald Trump was stalking the land again, reminding centrist voters of their narrow escape from his clutches in 2020.
Crime, inflation and recession are the three issues uppermost in American minds as the country votes in its midterm elections this Tuesday. All that and President Biden (pictured), whose approvals ratings remain submerged
All this, it was argued, was re-energising the Democrats. The losses they had feared during the summer would be mitigated. There would be no wipeout. The Senate would remain theirs.
Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi even claimed they could hold on to the House. Given that her party has just eight seats more than the Republicans — 220 to 212 — even in the rosiest Democratic scenario this was a nonsense.
This narrative was sedulously pushed by the pro-Democratic media which, in America, means around 90 per cent of newspapers and broadcasters — to such an extent that they even started to believe it themselves.
Then reality hit. It was a classic lesson in a political elite mistaking its own obsessions and priorities for the people’s. Politicians around the world should take note.
The more Democrats ramped up the rhetoric about the dangers of returning to a reactionary regime on abortion, the more voters wanted to talk about rising food prices, rising petrol prices at the pump and rising crime.
Even suburban women, for whom abortion is rightly a serious concern and who had been leaning Democrat in the summer, started leaning Republican. Earning enough to put food on the table and fill the tank in the car had become more immediate priorities.
The more Democrats tried to scare the horses with the prospect of (an admittedly frightening) Trump 2.0, the more folks worried about their wages keeping pace with near double-digit inflation and a looming recession that could lead to the dole queue.
The Republicans will take back the House of Representatives (pictured), by a comfortable majority, and probably the Senate too, though that race will be closer
Biden, egged on by Hillary Clinton and other leading party luminaries, started to claim that Trump and his acolytes now represent a clear and present danger to U.S. democracy. Americans seem more concerned that it doesn’t feel safe to walk their streets any more.
Rising crime rates have proved to be a particular vulnerability for Democrats. Murder, violent robbery and mugging plus a general sense of lawlessness have returned big time to America’s major cities. And all of the metropolises involved are controlled by the Democrats.
Left-wing Democrats backed ‘defund the police’ movements, pushed easier bail conditions (freeing even those charged with serious crimes back onto the streets) and campaigned against sending too many criminals to prison. They have tainted the whole party in the process, which is now seen as soft on crime.
Not that you’d gather this from the pro-Democratic media, which has tried to downplay or even ignore rising crime. And not just crime. On so many fronts, Biden has been handled with kid gloves.
His mutterings about ‘nuclear Armageddon’ were downplayed then buried. If any leading Republican had uttered these words they would have been hounded for weeks as a warmonger.
The media would still rather the Hunter Biden story would just go away rather than give it proper scrutiny. The immigration crisis on the southern border is largely ignored, even though 2.4 million illegal migrants have crossed it in the last year.
The abject failure of Biden’s efforts to get the Saudis to release more oil is rarely commented on.
Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (pictured) even claimed they could hold on to the House
The serious and long-lasting damage to pupils’ education as a result of school closures during the pandemic is not treated by the media as a scandal because the Democrats and their teacher union allies were largely behind it.
Yet despite this media complicity in sweeping vital matters under the carpet, voters still sense a lot has gone wrong. And still is.
As a result, the Democrats face the possibility of some real setbacks in their heartlands. You can’t really get more Democratic than New York State, but even there the incumbent Democratic governor is struggling to see off a Republican challenger who has made crime the dominant issue, helped by regular reports of commuters being shoved on to the tracks of the New York City subway for no particular reason.
The polls suggest the Democrats will hold on to the governorship — just. The fact it’s even in contention is quite remarkable.
On the other side of the country, in hippy-dippy west coast Oregon, the Democrats are in even more trouble. The Republicans could well win the governorship — for the first time since 1982.
Why? Because the election has become a referendum on the condition of Portland, the state’s largest city. Parts of its centre have been ravaged by rioting and fires.
Crime, homelessness and drugs have become endemic in the Old Town district, once a charming tourist destination.
The outgoing Democratic governor is the most unpopular in all America. The Republican candidate is ahead in the polls to be her successor, this in a state which Biden won by 16 percentage points only two years ago.
Go back a month or so and the Democrats actually had hopes of picking up a seat or two in the Senate, a chamber in which they enjoy a wafer-thin majority thanks to the support of two independents and the tie-breaking vote of Vice President Kamala Harris.
Wisconsin looked especially vulnerable since the seat up for election next week is occupied by an unimpressive Trumper who buys into to Trump’s ‘stolen election’ schtick.
The more Democrats tried to scare the horses with the prospect of (an admittedly frightening) Trump 2.0, the more folks worried about their wages keeping pace with near double-digit inflation and a looming recession that could lead to the dole queue. Pictured: Trump at a campaign event in Iowa yesterday
But the Democrats chose a candidate who personified wokery, opined that the founding of America was ‘awful’ and, naturally, wanted to defund the police. Wisconsin will stay Republican.
In their bid for a Senate majority, the Republicans have made it more difficult than it need have been by choosing some bonkers candidates of their own in crucial seats, courtesy of Trump’s endorsements. In Pennsylvania, which the Republicans must hold, Trump backed a political novice — Mehmet Oz, a celebrity TV doctor — for the Senate contest in a seat the party must hold. In winnable Georgia, he lumbered his party with a former American football player, Herschel Walker, with no political skills but a cupboard full of skeletons.
He’s running on a strict anti-abortion, family values platform. But if you’re one of his ex-girlfriends that he got pregnant, not only is he in favour of abortion, it seems he’ll help pay for it.
If, despite this litany of Trump-inflicted handicaps, the Republicans still take the Senate (I think they will) the breakthrough is likely to come in Nevada, and that will be pregnant with significance.
Nevada would be a Senate gain from the Democrats. It has a large Hispanic vote and the Democratic party has long been their natural home. That is now changing.
Hispanics are becoming more Republican. They are often victims of the crime wave, they struggle with inflation, they fear illegal immigration will undercut their jobs, they are socially-conservative and family-orientated.
In winnable Georgia, Trump lumbered his party with a former American football player, Herschel Walker (pictured), with no political skills but a cupboard full of skeletons
This is perhaps the most important trend in American politics for the 2020s. A majority of Hispanics will still vote Democrat next week. But the margin will be much lower than during the last midterm elections in 2018 and the 2020 presidential election.
The swing to Republicans will be enough to give them some crucial Senate gains including, I believe, Nevada and perhaps even Arizona, another state with a large Hispanic vote (though, again, the Republicans have fielded another weak Trumper, thanks to the Donald).
Democrats will console themselves that the party holding the White House nearly always suffers losses in the midterms and that does not preclude holding on to the presidency two years later.
Bill Clinton and Barack Obama both had bad midterm results. They were still re-elected.
But Biden is not Obama or Clinton. They were in the full flush of their careers when they won again. Biden will be 80 this month and his cognitive capabilities are in clear decline.
Campaigning in Florida this week (largely for candidates that have no chance of winning since Democrats who think they can win don’t want him near their states), he claimed, bizarrely, to have gone to a black college. Of course, he hadn’t.
He boasted about how he’d managed to get enough votes together to squeeze through a massive write-off of student loans. In fact, there was no vote: Congress was not involved.
He blamed inflation on the Iraq war. He meant Ukraine. He corrected himself, explaining he had been thinking of his son, Beau, who ‘died in Iraq’. He didn’t. Beau was indeed deployed to Iraq, but he died of throat cancer in Maryland after six years back in civvy street.
For many Democrats, who anticipated this sort of decline, the plan was always to switch to Vice President Kamala Harris to head the ticket in 2024. That was before they discovered she was an even bigger clunker than Biden, with her very own and extensive line in gaffes, absurdities and non-sequiturs. No leading Democrat now wants her to be the party’s presidential candidate in 2024.
Bill Clinton and Barack Obama (pictured) both had bad midterm results. They were still re-elected
But if not Biden and not her, who? As calls for Biden not to run again grow louder in the wake of next week’s defeats, they will be undermined by one fact: there is no clear alternative.
Gavin Newsom, the progressive governor of California, is too progressive for the rest of the country. Young Pete Buttigieg, former small town mid-western mayor, in the Biden cabinet, has not made much of a mark in government and looks like he could crumble under the fierce scrutiny that being a presidential candidate entails.
There is even talk of Hillary Clinton having a third go at being president. File that under ‘Desperate Democrats’. But next week’s likely victories don’t resolve the Republican’s big problem either. It looks like Trump is gearing up to announce shortly that he’s running again. Even though I suspect these midterm elections will show that Trump is not the vote-winning machine he thinks he is — his candidates will probably underperform the party as a whole — it’s not clear who could stop him winning the nomination again.
Ron DeSantis, the most prominent Republican in the land after Trump, will be easily re-elected as governor of Florida, a former swing state that DeSantis has helped make pretty solidly Republican.
But that’s unlikely to be enough to derail Trump, who still has a cult-like grip on a huge chunk of the Republican grassroots.
And he will have many more supporters in Congress and state capitals after next week.
When the dust settles after the midterms, the political class will take stock of what happens next. For me, one overriding fact is already apparent. The Democrats have a president and vice president neither of whom deserves to be renominated. The Republicans are likely to put up a candidate who’s already shown he’s unfit for the highest office.
These are not prospects to gladden the hearts of those of us who love the great Republic. A huge American political crisis is beckoning, whose outcome we cannot yet discern.