Failing to deliver on a host of popular promises, coupled with Biden’s dwindling popularity, could be an ominous sign of what’s to come for Democrats in next year’s midterm elections.
After the election of Barack Obama in 2008, the Democratic Party held both the White House and Congressional majorities, and had a public mandate to enact real change in the midst of a financial crisis.
The result was catastrophic for the party in the 2010 midterm elections, with the rise of the Tea Party and electoral shellacking Democrats received in Congress. Ultimately, it was that disillusionment and blowback which paved the way for Donald Trump’s ascent in 2016.
Twelve years later, history might be rhyming once again.
After defeating Trump in 2020, Democrats strutted into office on the back of a host of populist promises, among them to tax the wealthy, raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour, and lower prescription drug prices.
At the beginning of Biden’s presidency, there was some evidence that Democrats had learned the lessons from a decade ago. The American Rescue plan was much bolder than Obama’s lackluster stimulus plan.
But, as evidenced by the gutting of what was billed to be Biden’s New Deal-style ‘Build Back Better Act’ (BBBA), coupled with growing public disenchantment around the Democrats handling of the economy, are developments that don’t bode well for the midterm elections in 2022.
“Upon his victory, Biden promised an ambitious recovery and reform program, but has since largely read from the standard Beltway playbook while presiding over an all too predictable climb down from the various policies inserted into the Democratic platform to cajole the Left,” wrote Luke Savage in Jacobin.
There are already signs that the Democrats are experiencing an erosion in trust. A survey last week shows that nearly two-thirds of Americans see the party as “out of touch with the concerns of most people.”
With millions of Americans being crushed under the weight of healthcare costs, high energy prices, and opioid-related deaths crossing 100,000 from 2020 alone, Democratic lawmakers abandoned $15 minimum wage in the BBBA legislation, and stripped popular initiatives to expand Medicare and lower medicine costs in favour of a regressive proposal to provide tax breaks for the wealthy in blue states.
Any way Democrats frame it, raising the SALT tax deduction cap would be "a significant tax cut for wealthy Americans in liberal states."https://t.co/Dp5GCAHl48— Tim Scott (@SenatorTimScott) November 4, 2021
Those moves are only likely to harden working class perceptions of a party that is firmly beholden to elites – something that Republicans are sure to run with and demagogue on come 2022.
Generally, the incumbent party’s only chance to compete at the midterms – which tends to be a tough election for the party in power – is to show how they’ve improved voters’ lives materially. If not, then be prepared for a drubbing the kind Democrats experienced in 2010.
One doesn’t have to look far to see how the Democrats’ recent loss in the bellwether Virginia gubernatorial race could prove to be a dress rehearsal of what’s to come a year from now.
As Ryan Grim points out in The Intercept, the results from Virginia highlighted a worrying trend: Democrats were seeing a drop of voters from across all racial demographics, not just white swing voters. Focus groups showed that pandemic policy exhaustion has played a big role with lower-middle class voters, a bloc which Democrats continue to be hemorrhaging in favour of fickler suburban voters.
Then there’s the question of Biden himself.
As of last week, his approval rating sat at a lousy 36 percent, lower than any modern US president at this stage of his first term other than Trump. Polling data consistently shows Americans have been raising serious questions about the physical and mental fitness of Biden to serve as president.
Things have gotten so dire that Democratic party insiders and those on the Biden campaign team have tried to reassure themselves that Biden will run again in 2024 amid growing fears, the Washington Post reported.
Barry Goodman, a donor who served in Biden’s 2020 campaign, told the Post many insiders are “praying that Trump runs” since any Democrat with a pulse – the logic goes – would beat him.
As bleak as the political landscape looks under Biden right now, it could get much worse.
Donors and consultants who run the party have chosen to anoint vice president Kamala Harris (who has a 28 percent approval rating) and transportation secretary Pete Buttigieg (a slightly better 37 percent approval rating) as the future of the party.
That may well spell electoral suicide come 2024.
A groundbreaking study released earlier this month by Jacobin, YouGov and the Center for Working-Class Politics, sought to identify the type of candidates that perform best with a multi-racial working class. It found that progressive populists that leaned into class politics did the best, while “woke moderates” – like Harris and Buttigieg – who cloaked their corporate agenda in academic language, did the worst.
So, naturally, Democrats are leaning hard into the worst possible lane.
For now, finding ways to address voters' material needs would arrest a growing sense of betrayal. Or else another electoral shellacking could well be on the cards for 2022.