By Earl Ofari Hutchinson
To hear many in the media, assorted political pundits, pollsters and, of course, the Republican Party, tell it one would think the November midterms are just an exercise in going through the motions.
The midterms are six months off, yet here are a few of the headlines that appeared in five different publications recently: “Why Republicans are likely to win the 2022 mid-term election,” “Republicans may win not just House but also Senate in midterm,” “Biden is handing the midterms to the GOP,” “Obama insists worried Dems should just tell their ‘story,’ too,” and “Historic win shows just how much trouble Dems are in for midterms.”
This was just the tip of the midterm headline iceberg. There were at least a dozen other publications that screamed similar headlines in the months before the midterm elections.
The drumbeat media message was that the election — still months away — was practically over and that President Joe Biden and the Democrats would suffer a crushing midterm defeat. The much-talked about “red wave” would cost the party lots of Senate and House seats They almost certainly would lose control of the House or Senate or both.
There was a spate of other articles that double downed on this theme. They painted all kind of doom and gloom scenarios for Biden and the Democrats supposedly when, not if, the GOP took back Congress.
The doomsday predictions had a life of their own and set off near panic among Biden and the Democrats. There were grim warnings and loud exhortations among state, local and national Democratic groups to double and triple down on efforts to impress the danger of the loss of Congress to Democratic supporters and sympathizers. It was a matter of extreme urgency to get the maximum turnout in the midterms.
The implicit message in the press and among political pundits that prophesize disaster for the Democrats in the midterms is that Republicans are better than the Democrats at getting people to the polls. The historic record of midterm performance does indeed show Republicans usually beat the Democrats in the midterms.
The problem is not simply turnout, but who turns out.
The 2018 midterms were the rare exception. President Donald Trump’s overall ratings tracked low during the entirety of his first two years in office. At the same time, the Democrats’ fervent hopes and even predictions that they would make the midterms a blue wave and take back the House and maybe even the Senate became a reality. Their hope was based on several valid notions.
One was that women, Blacks, Hispanics and young persons were so furious at Trump and the GOP that they would storm the polls in November 2018 in the couple of dozen up for grabs contested congressional districts. That swell of voters would be more than enough to tip those districts to the Democrats.
The white-hot battle over Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court confirmation, and the insults heaped on women who told their harrowing story of sexual abuse, did much to seal the midterm election fate for Republicans that year.
The stakes in 2018 in some ways were even greater than the 2016 presidential election for Democrats. They had two years of Trump attacks, name-calling, hard rightist, and racist pandering under their belts. Their worst nightmares about Trump had come true. Democratic voters knew that.
The intense voter registration drives, the massive amount of small donor donations that poured into Democratic candidates’ coffers, and the willingness of top Democrats to finally take off the gloves and urge Democratic candidates to get down and dirty with Trump and the GOP were good signs that Democrats understood that the 2018 mid-term election would tell much about the immediate future direction of the country.
Trump and the GOP understood that, too. They also worked overtime to stymie any Democratic surge in that year’s midterms.
Trump reached back into his stockpile of racist, inflammatory, incendiary and scare rhetoric and tactics from name calling immigrants to heaping praise on a thuggish congressman who body slammed a reporter. Then he piled that on with a hysterical trash of anyone who voted for a Democrat as “crazy.”
This stuff worked to an extent in 2016 with some frustrated, angry and fearful non-college educated, blue collar and rural white males, in a handful of must-win states. Trump hoped the ploy would work again in the midterms. It didn’t.
The Democrats were able to stir enough rage and passion among its traditional supporters and many others at Trump’s hideous policies, antics and borderline lawbreaking to dramatically boost the turnout for the 2018 midterms.
This time there’s no Trump as a foil. The Democrats are on their own and will sink or swim in the midterms on how effective they are with the message to Democrats and others that a GOP take back of Congress would be, as Biden warned, “a sad, sad, two years for the country.”
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is the host of the weekly Earl Ofari Hutchinson Show on KPFK 90.7 FM Los Angeles and the Pacifica Network Saturdays at 9 a.m.
This is the first in a periodic series examining the November midterm elections. The series is based on excerpts from a forthcoming book by Earl Ofari Hutchinson.