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Confused about 2022? You should be

Frequent outlandish events make handicapping a challenge

President Joe Biden's bad poll numbers should make predictions for the fall campaign easy, but 2022 is not a normal year.
President Joe Biden's bad poll numbers should make predictions for the fall campaign easy, but 2022 is not a normal year. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

ANALYSIS — I’ve seen more than a few election cycles, but I’m not certain I have seen many that are more confusing than the one we are now in.

Which “rules” of handicapping still hold in the current environment, and which fell by the wayside as our parties changed, our political institutions crumbled, and our political leaders looked increasingly incapable of governing?

Yes, everyone knows that midterm elections are a disaster for the president’s party when the economy is bad and voters are unhappy.

But 1998 and 2002 remain exceptions because the Clinton impeachment added a wild card that ultimately benefitted the Democrats, and the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks boosted incumbent President George W. Bush’s standing.

It has been relatively easy to handicap individual races and entire election cycles when nothing out of the ordinary happens. In those cases, the old rules still apply.

But it’s more difficult to sketch out the trajectory of an election when outlandish events occur — and outlandish events seem to have occurred each day since Donald Trump announced he was running for president in 2016.

Over the past few months, I’ve read how terrible this election cycle is for President Joe Biden and the entire Democratic Party. The House will flip in November, and the Senate looks headed that way as well.

Inflation has made Biden the least popular president in the history of the planet, and a recession is on the horizon. Democrats complain that Biden has been either too pragmatic or not pragmatic enough, and many think their party must dump him to have any chance of winning in 2024.

The next week, I read that candidates still matter and Republicans are nominating enough crazy people to the Senate that Democrats now have a very good chance of keeping control of the chamber, or even adding to their numbers.

Not only that, but Trump is meeting with advisers, supporters, and deep-pocketed financial contributors. He’ll be announcing his candidacy soon, which will whip his supporters — and Democrats — into a frenzy, likely turning the 2022 midterms into something akin to the 2024 presidential contest, without the actual presidential race being on the ballot.

Those developments, combined with recent Supreme Court decisions on abortion and gun owner rights, will make the United States look like the Handmaid’s Tale. That will scare the dickens out of suburban women and progressives, producing a massive Democratic turnout more typical of a presidential year.

On the other hand, we hear, Hispanics and black voters are surging over to the GOP, which will make Democrats a party of brie-eating, chardonnay-sipping, mostly white, college-educated, left-wing progressives who want to do away with pronouns, defund the police, and outlaw the internal combustion engine.

However, I also hear that Trump and some of his cronies (including former chief of staff Mark Meadows) are in deep trouble because of what the Jan. 6 select committee has uncovered, as well as what the special Fulton County grand jury is doing.

As the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported on July 7, the “criminal investigation examining potential interference in Georgia’s 2020 elections is entering a new, more contentious phase that’s drawing increasingly closer to former President Donald Trump.”

All of this guarantees, we are told, that Trump will be challenged by someone in his own party — possibly Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis — for the 2024 presidential nomination. Voters, even Republican voters, are tiring of Trump’s schtick. They want to move past the 2020 election, and DeSantis basically is Trump without the lunacy.

Meanwhile, across the partisan aisle, Biden is assuring everyone that he will run for a second term. Nobody believes him. He is too old and too frail, and the only person he could beat in 2024 is Trump.

All of which brings us to the Democratic presidential nominee in 2024. Nobody seems to know who it will be, though Democratic strategists and media talking heads seem to agree that it won’t be Vice President Kamala Harris, who in 99 out of 100 other cases would be the certain successor to Biden.

Politically, over the past half-dozen years the country has gone nuts.

GOP leaders in the House and Senate blamed Trump for what happened on Jan. 6 before flip-flopping and cozying up to him again. The wife of one Supreme Court justice is a political activist who may have sought to overturn an election because she didn’t like the outcome.

Trump probably broke the law in trying to muscle state and local officials in Georgia to change the state’s 2020 results, and, according to Gallup, confidence in the Supreme Court has sunk to a historic low.

The Pillow Guy and Overstock Guy seem to have as much or more influence with the former president of the United States as anyone, while the “independent state legislature theory” gets more attention than the doctrine of stare decisis.

Meanwhile, some Democrats want to spend their time complaining about what Biden has not accomplished, even though he doesn’t have a working majority in the Senate, and therefore can’t possibly do what he’d like.

Yes, I know what the old rules of thumb say is going to happen in the 2022 midterms. And I haven’t given up entirely on those old rules. But we live in such a crazy time that I have no idea where the country is headed.

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