Expect disaster anyway, but …

William Otis:

The midterms are six weeks away. There appears to be a consensus that Republicans, currently with 210 seats, will win a House majority (218), although there’s a good deal of debate about the margin. The Senate is up for grabs, partly because in several closely divided states, Republicans have nominated seemingly non-optimal candidates, and partly because of simple math: Republicans have many more seats overall to defend.

Paul will tell you that I’m nobody’s version of an optimist. Since we met in law school 50 years ago, I’ve been regaling him with one jeremiad after the next about impending doom. But I’m optimistic about the coming election, in which I think Republicans will have a net gain of 27-30 seats. I see it this way basically for two reasons.

First, Biden is way underwater, and the “in” party for decades has had a very rough road when its incumbent President is below 50% approval, losing an average of 37 seats. Second, the dominant issue, the economy, is in worse shape than is ordinarily reported. We are in a recession, and over the next month and a half I expect it to get visibly worse and more painful in ways the press will be unable to conceal. Already, we see the stock market diving deeper in the tank almost every day; interest rates high and climbing; real wages plummeting; labor force participation at pitiful levels (which is why you see Help Wanted signs everywhere you go); and housing prices headed through the roof.

(1) The overall political landscape is toxic for the Democrats.

None other than the Washington Post delivered the news two days ago. Here are some of the juiciest items from the poll it reported:

BIDEN and the MIDTERMS – The president’s standing customarily is critical to his party’s fortunes in midterms – and Biden is well under water. Thirty-nine percent of Americans approve of his job performance while 53 percent disapprove, about where he’s been steadily the past year. Specifically on the economy, with inflation near a 40-year high, he’s at 36-57 percent, a 21- point deficit.

Each election has its own dynamic. But in midterm elections since 1946, when a president has had more than 50 percent job approval, his party has lost an average of 14 seats. When the president’s approval has been less than 50 percent – as Biden’s is by a considerable margin now – his party has lost an average of 37 seats.

Oooooooops. At 39 percent approval, Biden isn’t even within shouting distance of breaking even.

If Donald Trump is the face of the Republican Party, as the MSM relentlessly (and hopefully) tells us he is, then Joe Biden is even more clearly the face of the Democratic Party — which in an odd way is good news for it, since it could easily be Nancy Pelosi or Bernie or AOC. But the “good news” is only so good, as the Post poll makes painfully clear (emphasis added):

Looking two years off, just 35 percent of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents favor Biden for the 2024 nomination; 56 percent want the party to pick someone else. Republicans and GOP-leaning independents, for their part, split 47-46 percent on whether Donald Trump should be their 2024 nominee….

In a head-to-head rematch, the poll, produced for ABC by Langer Research Associates, finds a 48-46 percent Biden-Trump contest, essentially tied. Among registered voters, the numbers reverse to 46-48 percent. That’s even while 52 percent of Americans say Trump should be charged with a crime in any of the matters in which he’s under federal investigation, similar to views after the storming of the U.S. Capitol on January 6.

Translation: The odds are that Trump would win a head-to-head contest with Biden even though the MSM constantly, loudly and viciously (although quite possibly accurately in a sense) paints Trump as a predatory, democracy-bashing criminal.

But wait! Looking at the the House races specifically, the news for the Democrats goes from grim to lethal. Buried far down in the report of the Post/ABC poll is this lonely but dynamite sentence:

Among those living in congressional districts that are rated as at least somewhat competitive by ABC’s FiveThirtyEight (neither solid Republican nor solid Democratic), registered voters favor Republican candidates by a wide 55-34 percent – nearly as big as the Republican lead in solid GOP districts (+24 points).

It’s a commonplace by now that control of Congress depends on which party wins the swing districts. When the Republicans are twenty-one points ahead in those districts, as the Post poll says they are, they’ll be winning all of them or very close to all of them. And that as much as anything will tell the tale of this election.

(2)The economy and inflation — the most important issues to voters — are at DefCon 5 for the Democrats.

National Review has the news, and it’s worse than grim. I perforce quote it at length.

“Based on what I’m hearing throughout all the industries that I work with, this month’s job report might be brutal. People are getting skinny everywhere they can, so that they don’t lose their [butts]. Unfortunately, that means huge groups of people getting fired….”

Meta — you know, Facebook — plans “to cut expenses by at least 10 percent in the coming months, in part through staff reductions.” Google is eyeing similar cuts, with CEO Sundar Pichai characterizing it as “being a bit more responsible through one of the toughest macroeconomic conditions underway in the past decade.” Twilio has announced plans to lay off 11 percent if its workforce, and Snap has announced plans to lay off 20 percent of its workforce.

A lot of big companies, even outside the tech sector, are announcing the elimination of executive positions. The Gap is eliminating 500 corporate jobs. Boeing has announced that it will eliminate about 150 positions in finance and accounting in October. Last month, Walmart announced that it would eliminate 200 corporate jobs.

FedEx is enacting a hiring freeze and closing more than 90 FedEx Office locations.

It’s not just big brand companies: It’s also an ice-cream plant in New York; it’s also a slew of hospitals nationwide. God help you if you work in real estate: “Some of the biggest players in the real estate industry, including RE/MAX, Redfin and Wells Fargo, have announced layoffs in recent months totaling thousands of jobs. Industry analysts are projecting the cuts could eventually be on par with what was seen during the housing crash of 2008.”

None of these individual company moves, by themselves, are likely to make a big difference in the national jobs numbers, and you can find companies announcing layoffs in any month. But cumulatively, these announcements suggest that we’re in a period of not-so-subtle belt-tightening. Businesses doesn’t know what to expect in the coming months, except higher costs to heat their facilities this winter. The stock markets are jittery. Sooner or later, those rising interest rates will reduce customer demand — which should reduce inflation, but will also lower sales, profits, and eventually, jobs.

This is not to mention the certainty of rising energy prices as cold weather spikes demand for heating oil, and the increasing grip of Biden’s anti-growth policies takes effect. Nor have I scratched the surface of the housing shortage, and consequent climbing prices, both for rental and owner-occupied dwellings.

Yes, there are drags on how well Republicans will do on November 8. Donald Trump keeps talking and talking (most recently with the observation that he can declassify documents through telepathy), and there is evidence that the backlash against Dobbs is real. But both longstanding historical trends and the current political and economic realities point to to a resounding Republican win.

Paul Mirengott adds a Wisconsin touch:

I agree with Bill’s analysis of the battle for control of the U.S. House of Representatives. It seems highly likely, FiveThirtyEight notwithstanding, that the GOP will retake the House.

However, I question whether Election Day will truly be a happy one for America if Republicans are unable to gain control of the Senate. I like to think I’m a glass-half-full guy. But a half-full glass is only half satisfying.

Bill’s election analysis correctly focuses on well-founded concerns about the economy. Another factor helping Republicans is well-founded concern about crime.

That concern certainly concerns Democrats. The Washington Post acknowledges this in a front-page article called, in the paper edition, “GOP focus on crime stirs fears among Democrats.”

According to the Post, Democratic candidates and their media cheerleaders have a two-prong response to the GOP’s focus on crime. First, the candidates argue that they are tough on crime. Second, their surrogates claim the GOP’s focus on the issue is racist.

These two contentions aren’t logically inconsistent. In the real world, however, they cannot be reconciled.

It is precisely because Democratic candidates subscribe to BLM’s view that a focus on fighting crime through traditional tough measures is racist — or are afraid to resist this line — that Democrats have not been, and still are not, tough enough on crime.

The Post’s prime example of a Democrat under fire for softness on crime is Mandela Barnes, the Dems’ candidate for the Senate in Wisconsin. According to the Post, Barnes is running ads “seeking to assure voters he will fight crime and support law enforcement.”

Barnes accuses Republicans of lying when they say he wants to abolish ICE and defund the police. Yet, as the Post admits, Barnes was photographed wearing a T-shirt that said “Abolish ICE.” You can’t be much more clear than that. Barnes also advocated cutting what he called “over-bloated budgets in police departments.”

Johnson’s focus on the issue of crime appears to be helping him. Polling in August had Barnes in front by 2-7 points. (Trafalgar was the poll that showed a lead of only two points). In September, four of the five polls reported by Real Clear Politics have Johnson ahead. The other poll, by Democrat-leaning PPP, has the two candidates tied.

The worsening economy, especially the declining stock market, undoubtedly has contributed to this turnaround. However, the director of the Marquette Law School poll tells the Post that Johnson’s crime-focused ads have come “fast and furious” and have probably contributed to the worsening of Barnes’ numbers.

Naturally, the Post sympathizes with the Democrats’ claim that the GOP’s focus on the crime issue is racist. It quotes a black pollster who worked for Barack Obama’s presidential campaigns. He calls the GOP’s ads “Willie Horton 2.0.”

This, of course, refers to a highly successful attack ad against Michael Dukakis in the 1988 presidential campaign. Horton was an inmate at a Massachusetts corrections facility serving a life sentence for murdering a man when he received a weekend pass thanks to a prison furlough program maintained by then-governor Michael Dukakis over the objection of the state legislature. While out of prison, Horton twice raped a Maryland woman after pistol-whipping, knifing, binding, and gagging her fiancé.

Democrats howled “racism” and have been invoking the Horton spot for decades in order to ward off ads attacking them for being soft on crime. This amounts to an attempt by Democrats to escape the dire consequences of their lenient social engineering projects by shouting “racism.”

The stunt has succeeded in part because of Republican cowardice, but mostly because crime receded dramatically thanks to tough-on-crime policies adopted after Dukakis’ defeat.

Now that crime is again rampant — thanks in large part to the abandonment of tough-on-crime policies — invoking Willie Horton isn’t going to deter any sensible Republican candidate.

Nor should it. The Willie Horton was neither illegitimate nor racist. Dukakis’ decision to release Horton, in violation of the wishes of a liberal state legislature, directly led to multiple felonies and serious injuries.

Dukakis endlessly claimed credit for “the Massachusetts miracle.” This was an economic upsurge due mainly to national trends and Reaganite policies. (The alleged economic miracle would end while Dukakis was still governor.) Why shouldn’t he have been held accountable for the consequences of his unilateral decision to release a convicted murderer for a weekend?

Nor was the use of Horton’s picture in the ad racist. Horton was a scruffy-looking black man. There’s little room for doubt that the ad would have used his picture if he had been a scruffy-looking white man.

If the 2022 campaign finally ends more than three decades of Republicans being cowed by unfair blowback against the Willie Horton ad, this will be a happy biproduct of what, I hope, will be a happy midterm election.



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