Talking Points

The Democrats need a unified adversary in 2022

The generic congressional ballot — a national poll question on which party should control Congress — has been moving toward the Republicans. While there is some variation among pollsters, the RealClearPolitics polling average has the GOP ahead by over 3 points, and FiveThirtyEight has the parties effectively tied.

These numbers are probably better than what Republicans need to erase the Democrats' razor-thin congressional majorities in the midterm elections. And this lead is coming earlier in President Biden's term than a comparable ruling party slump in former President Obama's administration — and without the same kind of organized opposition supplied by the Tea Party. (Granted, the angry parents at local school board meetings who helped turn the Virginia governor's race evoke memories of protesters at congressional town hall meetings discussing ObamaCare.)

Maybe that's a good thing for Republicans. The public has gradually lost confidence in Biden's ability to restore normalcy and even in his basic competence. To register their disapproval of Biden and the Democrats, voters have little choice but to vote for Republicans — even if they still don't like them very much.

It's also an ironic thing for Biden. He won in large part because he succeeded well enough in defining the election as a referendum on the incumbent president rather than a left-right binary choice. His party may lose power in the midterms and he himself may be defeated in 2024 because voters still see the election as more of a referendum on the incumbent.

Republicans are no longer defined by one leader, despite Virginia Democrats' best efforts to keep former President Donald Trump at the forefront (not to mention Trump's own efforts to the same end). Now Democrats are under scrutiny, and voters have turned against them

Democrats know they need to change that to win the midterms, let alone the next presidential race. They had some success with this strategy in the California recall election, where conservative commentator Larry Elder was easier to tie to Trump than Governor-elect Glenn Youngkin (R) in Virginia. But that is an especially blue state. Trying the same tactic with parents who take issue with their children's public school curricula, as some Democratic operatives reportedly propose doing to opponents of critical race theory, is much riskier in terms of the potential backlash, albeit not a complete longshot.

Unless Democrats can succeed at making the midterms a binary choice, Republicans are poised to mirror Biden's 2020 win. It's their turn to benefit from joining forces with voters outraged by the political system in general. Rinse and repeat.