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Democrats' chances in the 2022 midterm elections are better than doomsayers predict

Twice in the modern era, a president’s party gained seats during midterm elections — and the circumstances then exist in 2022.
Photo illustration: Top half of a donkey's head shown against flying stickers in red, blue and white colors that read,\"Vote\" and \"2022\".
There are multiple signs that tell us Democrats could not only hold on to the House but even pick up a few Senate seats.Anjali Nair / MSNBC; Getty Images

Anyone else sick and tired of hearing so-called political experts predict that Democrats are going to lose badly in this year's midterms? Apparently it doesn’t matter that in President Joe Biden’s first year, 6.6 million new jobs were reported, the strongest first year of job gains of any president since our government began collecting such data in 1939. Nor does it appear to matter that unemployment is down from 6.7 percent in former President Donald Trump’s last full month in office to 3.8 percent and that wages are up 5 percent over the past year.

There are multiple signs that tell us Democrats could not only hold on to the House but even pick up a few Senate seats.

Pundits tell us it’s an “ironclad” rule — as put it — that the president’s party loses congressional seats in midterm elections. Hence, headlines that predict Democrats will lose this November in a “wipeout” and a “bloodbath.” If you listen to these people, you might be tempted to cancel the 2022 election and simply crown the GOP the winners of the House and the Senate.

Democrats should be concerned going into November. They hold only a nine-seat margin in the House, and the Senate is divided 50-50, with Vice President Kamala Harris serving as a tie-breaking vote. However, there are multiple signs that tell us Democrats could not only hold on to the House but even pick up a few Senate seats given that there is an open Senate seat in Pennsylvania and a vulnerable GOP incumbent in Wisconsin, both states Biden won in 2020.

For starters, while Biden won the White House in 2020, Democrats lost 13 seats in the House. That wasn’t good for the party, obviously, but for 2022 purposes, it means the most vulnerable Democrats are already gone. On the flip side, not a single Republican incumbent in the House lost in 2018. Good luck with GOP pulling that trick twice and not losing even one of the 213 House seats they currently hold in 2022. For example, in New York, the recently finalized congressional map that reflects the 2020 census data is expected to result in Democrats picking up three current Republican seats in November.

Plus, history tells us that there have been two times in the modern era that a president’s party gained seats during midterm elections —and the circumstances that led to those victories apply to 2022 in varying degrees. In 1998, with Bill Clinton in the White House, Democrats gained five House seats. How did Democrats buck history? GOP arrogance and overreach. The House GOP, led by then-Speaker Newt Gingrich, impeached Clinton for lying about his affair with an intern, Monica Lewinsky. But as midterm exit polls found, two thirds of voters didn’t think Clinton — who was leading a strong economy — should have been impeached, and they cast their votes accordingly.

Today’s GOP is even more arrogant and heavy-handed than Gingrich’s GOP was. Consider the Texas law that bans abortion after six weeks and forces a woman who is raped to carry her rapist’s fetus to term. That abomination of a law is being copied by numerous Republican-controlled states despite the fact that 65 percent of Americans believe the Supreme Court should uphold its landmark Roe v. Wade decision and only 29 percent support the Supreme Court striking down the constitutional right to abortion access. The Republicans don’t care what a majority of Americans think; they only care about imposing their extreme religious beliefs upon the rest of us.

In 1998 with Bill Clinton in the White House, Democrats gained five House seats. How did Democrats buck history? GOP arrogance and overreach.

Ditto for the party’s overreach by banning books and what they wrongly call critical race theory (CRT). Americans are becoming increasingly aware that so-called CRT bans are racist laws designed to prevent teachers from sharing the history of Black achievement and Black suffering at the hands of white bigots. Look at Virginia where Republican Glenn Youngkin won the governor’s race in 2021 based in part on his attacks on CRT. A recent poll found that 57 percent of Virginians oppose banning CRT and only 37 percent support it. That finding helps explain why Youngkin, who won in November with 51 percent of the vote, is already underwater with a 41 percent approval rating.

With only a few exceptions, these extreme abortion bans, bans on books and CRT, and voter suppression efforts in 19 states are embraced by Republicans nationwide. To animate their own voters, Democrats can and should use the GOP’s tyranny against them in 2022.

The second time in recent history that a president’s party picked up seats during a midterm election was 2002, the year after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, when President George W. Bush was in the White House with a sky-high approval rating and Republicans gained eight House seats and two in the Senate.

While Jan. 6, 2021, and 9/11 are not nearly the same, the 2022 election will be the first after the “domestic terrorism” waged on the U.S. Capitol by Trump supporters trying to prevent the peaceful transfer of power. The big difference, of course, is that after 9/11, Americans united against those who attacked us. In contrast, the GOP overwhelmingly supports and celebrates former President Donald Trump, who radicalized his supporters with lies about the election and called them to Washington to “stop the steal.” Since then, Trump has defended the attackers and suggested he would pardon them if he were elected president again.

Republicans want 2022 to be a referendum on Biden’s performance given that his approval ratings are in the low 40s, but Democrats should turn the tables and frame the election as a referendum on Republican extremism: from the oppressive laws mentioned above to their embrace of the man who gave us Jan. 6. That could spike Democratic turnout.

Midterm elections are won and lost on turnout. In the 2018 midterm, when voter turnout was the highest in 100 years, Democrats won 40 House seats. Contrast that with 2014 when voters came out in the lowest number in over 70 years: Democrats lost 13 House seats and nine Senate seats.

Ignore the pundits and the noise. When Democrats come out big, Democrats win big. This year is no exception; in fact, history tell us that victory in this November’s election is completely in the hands of Democrats.