It’s tempting to draw dramatic conclusions from the balloting for speaker of the House. Avoid the temptation.
It’s undeniably true that Democrats were united behind their leader, New York Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, while the GOP looked divided and chaotic. If Republicans couldn’t even pick a House speaker until the 15th round of voting, it’s fair to ask, how in the heck are they ever going to run the country?
That is a good talking point for congressional Democrats right now.
But Election Day 2024 is still more than 600 days away, and that means both parties have countless opportunities to score points with the electorate — or screw up — before voters pick the next president, the next House and the next Senate in 2024.
House Republicans looked inept, but upcoming battles over the debt ceiling, appropriations bills and the 2024 elections (to mention just a handful of upcoming battles) will give both parties opportunities to reframe the political landscape.
Unexpected developments could have a huge impact on the positioning of the two parties and the shape of the presidential race. Who knows what the economy will look like, how international events will impact the United States, how Supreme Court decisions will alter the national debate, and what surprises are in store?
But there still are reasons to believe that the GOP will snatch defeat from the jaws of victory next year, just as they did in 2022, when they underperformed during the midterm elections.
The narrow Republican House majority includes more than a few troublemakers who seem to place a higher priority on demonizing President Joe Biden and Anthony Fauci than passing legislation to address the nation’s fundamental needs.
It is easy to imagine House Republicans devoting more time to critical race theory, gender identity, parents’ rights and the so-called weaponizing of the federal government than immigration and the economy.
Will House Republicans really support raising the debt ceiling? Are they going to pass appropriations bills? And if the House, Senate and White House can’t agree, does anyone really believe the party of Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz, Arizona Rep. Andy Biggs and Pennsylvania Rep. Scott Perry has the advantage on messaging?
And then there is the problem of Donald J. Trump.
Republicans are just starting the process of picking their 2024 presidential nominee, and while Trump clearly has lost some of the mojo he once had, he has enough left so that newly elected House Speaker Kevin McCarthy felt the need to credit the former president with helping McCarthy over the finish line.
“I don’t think anybody should doubt his influence,” the new speaker said of Trump. “He was with me from the beginning.”
Trump’s prospects as a presidential hopeful are nothing close to what they once were. But that doesn’t mean he won’t be a factor in the 2024 presidential race or in framing how the public sees the GOP over the next two years.
Trump remains radioactive in upscale suburbs, and his nomination next year by the Republican Party would likely produce another electorate that favors Democrats.
In the era of the “permanent campaign,” presidential races begin immediately after midterm elections. So do fights for the House and Senate.
With Republicans sitting in 18 congressional districts carried by Biden in 2020 and only five Democrats representing seats that went for Trump, Democrats start off with more House opportunities for 2024 than do Republicans.
The larger turnout in presidential years should also benefit Democrats in two crucial states — California and New York — where Democratic nominees underperformed in House races last year.
On the other hand, with Democrats defending 20 Senate seats — 23, if you count independents who caucus with or normally vote with Democrats — to the GOP’s 11 seats up for election next year, it is Republicans who start with a golden opportunity to take back the Senate in 2024. (The numbers reflect a Nebraska special election in November 2024.)
Of course, Senate Republicans had a similar opportunity last year.
So, while the daily drumbeat of politics will produce big controversies and small ones over the next year and a half, we don’t now know what issues will be on voters’ minds in 2024.
The battle for speaker was entertaining, but it doesn’t guarantee which party will have the advantage next year or what issues and political decisions will frame the choices next year for the White House, the Senate or the House of Representatives.