If only it was 2023.
Imagine that instead of turning our clocks back one hour, we turned them forward two years. In that case, Republicans would be poised to ride the momentum of significant off-year wins — not least of which a clean sweep in Virginia — to next November.
Given Biden’s abysmal approval ratings, and even worse ones for Kamala Harris, now the most unpopular vice president in modern history, it would be an almost foregone conclusion that in proceeding to reclaim the House and Senate, Republicans would also win back the presidency.
There’s one problem, though, that cannot be overlooked: Standing in the way of the 2024 Republicans’ path to victory are the Republicans of 2022. We haven’t seen them yet, but if recent history is any indicator, the odds are not in their favor that they’ll get it right.
By the end of October, the Democrat-controlled Congress’ approval ratings plummeted to an embarrassing 21 percent. Yet for a generation now, horrendous numbers like that are nothing new.
The last time a majority of Americans approved of how Congress was doing its job was way back in 2003. Since then, Republicans controlled both houses of Congress four times, Democrats three times, and control was split the other three times. Regardless of party, the approval ratings during that entire period mostly hovered in the teens and 20s, sometimes edging over 30 percent. The last time more than 40 percent of Americans viewed Congress favorably was in 2005.
The last time the Republicans reclaimed both houses of Congress was in the 2014 midterm elections. Two years later, they held on to both majorities and elected a Republican president, to boot. One would think they were in the driver’s seat, but they let it all unravel.
An early contributor to the Republicans’ failing image was their disastrous attempt to repeal Obamacare. Politically, it was an amateurish maneuver to begin with.
Their messaging to convince Americans to embrace an alternative was atrocious. It seemed that they banked on winning purely on an anti-Obama agenda, except that Obama, who had just left office, was not an unpopular president by any means. Despite having critics (who doesn’t?) Obama won both terms by near-landslides and left office with a 59 percent approval rating.
At the precise moment the Republican Congress attempted to repeal Obamacare (the Affordable Care Act) itself, a majority of Americans wanted it retained.
The point is that if you’re elected to Congress, the odds are that you’ll quickly lose support. In many instances, the only reason challengers win elections is because they benefit from being “anyone but the incumbent.” The problem is, once they take office, they’re the ones who become the incumbents.
In 1960, during the first-ever major party general election presidential debate (also, the first ever of its kind to be televised) between John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon — now famous for how the optics of a pallid Nixon and a bronzed Kennedy helped the latter win the election — one of Kennedy’s advisers fumed that the camera crew didn’t give the candidates equal time.
When the puzzled crew told him that Kennedy was getting more airtime, the advisor explained that was the problem: He wanted Nixon, who looked terrible, to be on camera longer.
Analogously, the governance to this point by the Biden-Pelosi-Schumer-led Democrats has looked worse than Nixon’s five-o’clock shadow. The longer they stay in the spotlight, the better for Republicans. But timing is everything, and if the Republicans are back in command in 2022, they may blow reclaiming the big prize — the White House — in 2024.
But there is a way out of this conundrum, if Republicans would only listen to the sage words of their former leader, ex-House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who in many ways is so knowledgeable that Google should use him as a search engine.
In his latest book, “Beyond Biden,” Gingrich recalls that one of the most important things he ever learned from Ronald Reagan was to “stand next to 80 percent issues and smile.”
In other words, Gingrich implores Republicans to stick to the big-ticket items that the overwhelming majority of Americans want, such as a photo ID required for voting, mandatory deportation upon arrest of noncitizen gang members, tax credits for products manufactured in America, and a colorblind society in which people are judged, as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.
If Republicans take the reins in 2022 and govern effectively, they’ll give voters a reason to re-elect them in 2024 and beyond. We’ll get a Republican back in the Oval Office, and Congress may even salvage its tattered reputation.
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