Egad is one of those fusty words that you associate with Dr. Watson in a Sherlock Holmes mystery or P.G. Wodehouse mocking the British aristocracy. But taken as the acronym EGAD, it becomes a handy guide to the 2022 midterm elections.
Just four months until early voting begins in earnest, the issue contours of the election are coming into focus. And they spell the letters in EGAD — the economy, guns, abortion and democracy.
There was a time when I optimistically believed that 2022 would be a victory-over-COVID-19 election. While the virus no longer registers as a major factor in the polls, it is difficult to mask its continuing toll on American life.
Even though the National Republican Congressional Committee has been running an ongoing press-release campaign titled, “Biden Border Crisis,” immigration ranks as a secondary issue with all groups except Republicans, according to a recent FiveThirtyEight/Ipsos survey. And it is difficult to believe that the latest breathless accounts of another caravan of 6,000 people heading north to the border will change that political calculus in November.
Even though Joe Biden’s approval rating is slowly dipping below 40 percent and the generic ballot question tends to narrowly favor the Republicans, the EGAD issue cluster may somewhat balance the scales on Election Day.
Most political commentators believe that you can’t spell economy without a capital “I” for inflation.
And indications are that prices — even gas prices — won’t ease before November, despite Biden’s planned hat-in-hand, all-is-forgiven visit to Saudi Arabia next month.
Of course, last I checked, the unemployment rate is also part of the economy.
Biden may not get direct political credit for boasting, as he did Friday night at a Democratic fundraiser in Beverly Hills, “We have the fastest-growing economy in the world. No, no, not a joke.”
But there are American workers who are reveling in the near-record 3.6 percent unemployment rate as they get a new unsolicited job offer every other week. It remains mystifying why job security is not considered a voting issue along with the price at the pump.
The latest conventional wisdom is that the bipartisan Senate deal on gun legislation takes that issue off the table for the midterms. But that may be wishful thinking by Republicans who want the political support of the gun lobby with none of the electoral baggage that goes with it.
Ten — or even 15 — Senate Republican votes will not erase the reality that even this minimal legislation will be opposed by almost all House Republicans and most GOP challengers aiming to defeat Democratic incumbents.
Moreover, the conservative Supreme Court — which was shaped by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell — is expected in the next few weeks to overturn a New York law strictly regulating the right to carry concealed handguns. The decision in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen could also roll back many other state laws limiting gun ownership.
All of this suggests that guns will remain in the sights of the voters in November, no matter what Congress does in the next two weeks.
Abortion is another issue that the Republicans would love to wish away. The theory is that the leaked draft of the Supreme Court majority opinion overturning Roe v. Wade has already done about all the political damage the issue could. As a result, the actual Supreme Court decision will be anticlimactic.
The problem with this argument is that once the Supreme Court rules, the action will immediately shift to the states. That will guarantee almost constant news stories until November as the blue states struggle to uphold abortion rights while red states vie with each other to see which can approve the most draconian anti-abortion legislation.
Democracy is the hardest political issue to handicap since so much depends on the final verdict by the voters on the work of the Jan. 6 committee. The short-term political question is whether swing voters will punish the bulk of the Republican Party for aiding and abetting Donald Trump’s bonkers “stolen election” fantasies.
Last Thursday night’s prime-time hearing offered a powerful prosecutor’s brief as Republican Liz Cheney outlined Trump’s frenzied efforts to overturn a democratic election that climaxed with the assault on the Capitol.
The second hearing, on Monday, seemingly had less immediate impact, both because it was conducted in the daytime and because the key witness, former Trump campaign manager Bill Stepien, could not attend because his wife had gone into labor.
Already, it is difficult for Trump defenders — who include almost all Republicans on the ballot in November — to ignore the pointed testimony by leading GOP figures such as former Attorney General William Barr, who said the former president had become “detached from reality” with his rigged-voting-machine conspiracy theories.
Beyond the televised hearings over the next two weeks, the committee will also trigger new headlines with its final report in September. Like guns and abortion, the Trumpian threat to democracy will not vanish from public consciousness in the fall.
A Gallup polling assessment by Jeffrey Jones and Lydia Saad, released Tuesday, concluded, “Americans’ dour evaluations of the president, Congress, the economy and direction of the country all suggest that the typical pattern by which the president’s party loses seats in midterm elections will hold this year.”
That assumes, of course, that 2022 will be a normal political year. But if the Democrats hold their own on Nov. 8, despite Biden’s poll numbers, you will know how to explain it. Simply say, “EGAD.”
Walter Shapiro has covered the last 11 presidential campaigns. He is also a fellow at the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU and a lecturer in political science at Yale. Follow him on Twitter @MrWalterShapiro.