Could the GOP sweep both houses of Congress and the presidency in November? That outcome would be a nightmare scenario for many Americans, but it’s possible.
The combination of a less than popular Democratic president seeking re-election, a Senate class that includes many more vulnerable Democratic than Republican seats, and a Democratic Party filled with voters who are so unhappy with President Joe Biden that they stay home in November could produce a Republican president and GOP control of both houses of Congress.
Democrats note the economy looks strong, inflation has slowed, and the stock market has rebounded. They point to important infrastructure and semiconductor legislation in arguing that the Biden administration is not getting the credit it deserves.
Politically, Biden’s weak job approval poll numbers seem to be offset by Democratic electoral successes this year in places like Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and even Ohio. Abortion looks like a strong Democratic issue nationally, as does gun control.
But the public is in a sour mood. In the past, that has made it difficult for the party of the incumbent president to get credit for his successes. Unfortunately for Democrats, there is plenty of bad news out there, including chaos at the southern border, the war in Ukraine, and crime in large cities.
Poor Democratic turnout would all but guarantee a strong Republican year, even though former President Donald Trump has done his best to alienate swing voters, moderates, and suburbanites.
If Biden isn’t getting credit now for the economy and his legislative accomplishments, why should anyone believe he will in November?
Democrats rightly point out that most voters haven’t focused on November’s elections, arguing that when they do, they will not see the presidential balloting as a referendum on Biden but rather as a choice between Biden and Trump.
Whatever Biden’s shortcomings, he isn’t an authoritarian who would use government against his adversaries, thereby undermining key institutions (including a free press and the civil service).
But the existence of anti-establishment candidates in the general election — including Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. and Cornel West — could well make it more difficult for Biden in the fall.
Biden drew a bit more than 7 million more votes than Trump did in 2020, yet the election came down to the Democrat’s relatively small margin in a handful of states. It’s important to remember that Democrats overperform nationally in the popular vote because the party wastes so many votes in California and New York.
Democratic strategists clearly want to make November’s election a referendum on Trump and his threat to democracy. If they can do that, Biden has a reasonable chance to win. But it is far from certain that Democrats succeed when their own nominee has such glaring weaknesses.
Meanwhile, the fight for the Senate must be giving Democratic strategists a migraine headache.
Democrat Joe Manchin III is not seeking reelection, which virtually guarantees that his West Virginia seat will flip to Republicans in November. That will drop the Democrats from 51 seats to 50 seats.
Incumbent Democratic senators in Montana and Ohio will need to overcome substantial Republican advantages at the top of the ticket. If they can’t, the GOP surely will take back the Senate.
GOP strategists believe they can flip seats in Arizona, Nevada and Pennsylvania, and Democratic Senate seats in Michigan and Wisconsin could also be at risk, especially if key Democratic demographic groups stay home in the fall.
Yes, Democrats may be on the attack in Texas and Florida, where Republican Senate incumbents have some weaknesses, but the overall outlook for the Senate is bordering on the bleak in the fight for Senate control.
The House, on the other hand, gives Democrats some reason for optimism, according to all the major House handicappers.
Redrawn districts should provide Democrats multiple opportunities in New York state, which could turn the House into a real battleground — but only if Democratic turnout doesn’t plummet generally and in important minority districts and suburban seats, in particular.
Democrats must continue to hope that they can ultimately make the 2024 election into a referendum on Trump and the threat he poses to democracy. If they can do that, Independents and crucial Democratic constituencies who now appear unhappy with Biden could be mobilized.
That would make current polling obsolete, fundamentally altering the trajectory of the 2024 contest.
A GOP sweep in 2024 certainly is not guaranteed. But it is possible, especially given Biden’s current standing. For Democrats, avoiding the worst-case scenario is an absolute necessity. So is returning to the White House.