Conventional wisdom is cynical. Washington says, and recent history seems to back this up, that the easiest way for a Democratic president to get reelected is to run against a radical Republican Party that has just taken over Congress. Bill Clinton and Barack Obama were both re-elected partly because of this plan. But they lost Congress after just two years and never got it back, so they didn’t have much of a political or policy legacy.
Most importantly, losing Congress so quickly took away from both Clinton and Obama a long time to show frustrated voters that common sense Democratic ways of running the government could work to make people’s lives better in the long run.
Instead, once the GOP took control of Congress, obstructionist Republicans like Newt Gingrich tried to make it as hard as possible to run the government. They did this by shutting down the government often. Their plan for decades has been to hurt the idea that the federal government is a good way for working-class Americans to improve their lives. By winning back Congress so quickly under Clinton and Obama, Republicans were able to say that Democrats couldn’t keep their big promises.
But now, the Democrats, led by Joe Biden, who is always underrated, have a chance to break this destructive pattern. It’s shocking, but if he and his fellow Democrats can pull off a miracle and keep both Houses of Congress, Biden has a chance to make working-class voters who have increasingly voted Republican believe in strategic government as a powerful force for good in their lives again.
For the first time since Bill Clinton became president, it would be possible for Democrats to bring together the concerns of the middle class and the working class. They could also help make Donald Trump’s radical Republican nihilism less appealing. After all, what has Donald Trump done to help working-class Americans in terms of the economy?
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But Democrats can’t make policies like those of Bernie Sanders if they want to win back voters from the middle class and working class and compete in the swing states and districts they need to keep Congress. Voters from the working class don’t want to eliminate capitalism in the United States; they just want it to work better for them. Biden and the Democrats must work on a plan based on their long-held economic beliefs. This includes bringing back high-paying jobs in the private sector for middle-class and working-class voters who don’t have college degrees.
This means we must make changes to our education system, like making it easier for high schools, community colleges, and private employers to work together. The focus should be on helping the two-thirds of Americans without four-year college degrees find good-paying jobs and learn career skills. Voters also care about other things, like inflation, immigration, reproductive rights, and the minimum wage. And in particular, Democrats need to focus on making new plans to help all Americans save money and keep it going over time, with a role for private sector employers, so families aren’t always one missed paycheck away from disaster.
Biden and the Democrats in Congress have gotten off to a good start by investing in infrastructure, making the country more competitive, offering incentives for clean energy that will encourage private investment, and keeping unemployment at a shallow rate. But suppose Biden can improve the economy for average families by giving them better jobs in the private sector and helping them save money for the long term. In that case, Democrats could become the majority party and break Trump’s spell of pessimism over voters.
On the other hand, keeping Congress right now will be very hard and almost never seen in modern politics. At the moment, fivethirtyeight.com’s top analysts say that Democrats have about a 30% chance of keeping both the House and the Senate. This means that the odds are against them. But to give some historical context, FDR, in 1934, was the last Democratic president to gain seats in his first midterm election. Since then, every other Democratic president has lost a net number of House and Senate seats in their first midterm.
In 1994, the Dems lost 52 seats while Clinton was in charge. Obama lost 63 seats in 2010, which was more than McCain. In 2002, after 9/11, George W. Bush gained eight seats. We don’t know if the repeal of Roe v. Wade and Trump’s growing influence on American politics will be enough to change a trend that has been going on for a century. But Trump’s lies about winning in 2020 and his role in the Jan. 6 uprising are turning off suburban middle-class voters, and his chosen candidates, like Herschel Walker, are doing poorly and embarrassing the GOP.
Even though the odds are still against it, if Democrats can pull off a “Midterm Miracle,” they could change American politics by passing policies that make sense and help working-class voters get ahead in the private sector economy. This big, defining goal should be at the centre of what the Democrats say and how many people vote in November.
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