Opinion | Democrats are on course to lose in 2022 and 2024. If they do, we may lose our democracy.
Supporters of Virginia Republican gubernatorial nominee Glenn Youngkin cheer at a rally in Chesterfield on Nov. 1. (Steve Helber/AP)
I’ve never been more worried about the future of the country than I am today. I briefly exhaled a year ago when Joe Biden defeated Donald Trump, but now my concerns are rising as President Biden’s poll numbers are dropping. In the new Post-ABC News poll, Biden is down to 41 percent approval and 53 percent disapproval. That’s a record-high disapproval rating for a recent first-year president not named Trump.
Even worse, the poll shows that registered voters prefer Republicans over Democrats in congressional races by 10 points. If the midterm elections were held today, the result would be a GOP landslide. Given how extremist and authoritarian the Republican Party has become (the 13 House Republicans who voted for a bipartisan infrastructure bill are receiving death threats), that is deep cause for concern.
The White House hopes to rally the public by passing the $1.75 trillion Build Back Better Act. But the passage of the infrastructure bill didn’t stop the slide in Biden’s support, and the Build Back Better Act probably won’t either. Recall the wipeout Democrats suffered in 2010 despite the Affordable Care Act and that Republicans suffered in 2018 despite the Trump tax cut. The country at large doesn’t care as much about these big bills as Washington insiders do. Indeed, while voters in the Post-ABC News poll support both the infrastructure and social spending bills, 59 percent also say Biden is expanding government too much.
It is still possible that an improving economy and Republican stumbles will save the president and his party. But I spy three threats ahead that together could doom Democrats.
The first and most worrisome is inflation. Democrats are paying a price for disregarding warnings from former treasury secretary Lawrence H. Summers that the $1.9 trillion stimulus bill that Biden signed in March was too large. Prices rose 6.2 percent in October compared with a year earlier — the biggest annual increase in about 30 years. If inflation keeps rising, the Federal Reserve will be forced to hike interest rates. That could trigger another recession, and that in turn could give Trump a path back to power by promising to Make the Economy Great Again.
Summers tells me that the Biden administration needs to reconsider its “Buy America policies, tariffs, cheering for all wage increases, and its limits on fracking,” all of which “push up prices.” The administration also needs to stop “claiming inflation is transitory, not advocating for a strong dollar, and making social concerns a major issue in the selection of a new Fed chair.” Unless Biden acts, he will risk repeating with inflation the mistake that Trump made with the pandemic by pretending that it will magically disappear on its own.
The second big threat is, no surprise, covid-19. Those who were longing for a clear exit from the pandemic aren’t going to get what they wanted. After weeks of declines, cases have plateaued — and could rise again as winter arrives. Robert M. Wachter, chair of the department of medicine at the University of California at San Francisco, predicts “that ‘this is it’ — today’s Covid situation is a version of the one we’ll live with for at least [the] next 1–2 years.”
That’s bad news for Biden because a lot of people expected him to end the pandemic. Now voters might punish Democrats even though the fault really lies with all the Republicans ( nearly 40 percent) who refuse to get vaccinated. At some point, Biden will need to risk telling the truth: We have to learn to live with a virus that for the vaccinated is less threatening than the flu. So return to normal life now (e.g., to in-person meetings and maskless classrooms).
The third threat is progressive overreach. I recently visited my alma mater, the University of California at Berkeley, and got an earful from friends about the excesses of “cancel culture,” the unwillingness of many progressives to confront crime and homelessness, and, above all, all the damage done by Zoom classes and mask requirements for young children.
These are complaints from liberals in one of the most progressive cities in the United States. Democrats are living in a dreamland if they continue to dismiss such worries as phony Republican attacks. Similar concerns cost Democrats in New Jersey and Virginia — and could haunt them again next year.
Biden needs a “ Sister Souljah moment”: He needs to attack the far-left activists who want to defund the police, boycott Israel and divide Americans by race. He could start by criticizing what liberal columnist Jonathan Chait describes as the “ kooky, harmful, and outright racist ideas “ peddled by “White Fragility” author Robin DiAngelo. Biden should champion liberalism, not leftism.
With a year to go before the midterms, it’s not too late for Democrats to change course. But now is the time to hit the panic button. Biden needs to make some dramatic changes if Democrats are to have any hope of holding onto even one house of Congress and the White House. I am terrified that Democrats will lose in 2022 and 2024 — and that as a result we could lose our democracy.