Will Republican Discontent or Democratic Turnout Prevail in November?

Thumb Increasing Voter Turnout min
Thumb Increasing Voter Turnout min

Midterms Will Depend on Biden’s Approval Rating and Republican Candidate Quality 

By Scott Jennings, Republican strategist and CNN political contributor, and Robert Boatright, Department of Political Science, Clark University

Republicans are Eager to Vote and Send Biden a Message

By Scott Jennings – Republican strategist, CNN political contributor, and partner at RunSwitch Public Relations

Make no mistake: Republicans are excited to vote. Their disgust with Joe Biden’s presidency—combined with crushing inflation, the loss of American prestige abroad, and a reduction in quality of life (crime, schools)—have given Republican strategists a clear blueprint for the fall election.

Biden’s approval ratings are in the toilet—on average 15 points underwaterand just one-third of Democrats want Biden to run for a second term. Democrats are trying to manufacture enthusiasm for an Inflation Reduction Act that doesn’t actually reduce inflation, but that’s as ridiculous as it sounds.

Biden’s Declining Approval Ratings Will Send Republicans to the Polls

Getting Republicans out to vote on November 8th is simply a matter of telling the truth. Democrats in Washington have shown their leadership to be incompetent, pugilistic, and far out of step with American values. Conservatives should take every opportunity to be honest about the train-wreck happening before our very eyes. No amount of spending, tax increases, climate legislation fantasies, or new IRS agents can solve the economic problems facing Americans every day.

We can trace the tipping point to a single day, one year ago, when Biden stumbled through a disastrous withdrawal from Afghanistan. Images of Afghans literally falling from U.S. aircraft are seared into our brains. Thirteen American heroes were killed, and our nation was humiliated on the world stage. The debacle in Afghanistan emboldened our enemies there and opened the country up to again become a safe haven for terrorists. It also sent Biden’s approval ratings into a downward spiral from which they’ve never recovered.

Since then, the White House and its allies have adopted a domestic strategy of simply trying to dupe the American people. Gas prices are up? Don’t blame Biden for clamping down on domestic production; blame greedy corporations and Putin. Inflation at a 40-year high? Don’t think about the trillions of dollars Democrats have poured on the economy. Instead, the administration tried to dismiss inflation, then called it merely “transitory,” before finally settling on the ludicrous insistence that there is “zero inflation.” That’s a whirlwind that would make anyone dizzy. Unfortunately, the White House’s message to the American people of “don’t believe your lying eyes” just isn’t working. 

As kids head back to school this fall, we’ll see another round of parents demanding greater accountability in the classroom. For the first time anyone can remember, Republicans have the winning message on education (one that worked in the Virginia governor’s race last year, where a solidly blue state elected a Republican governor). Parents are on high alert after years of Zoom school, mask mandates, and radical racial and gender theories getting forced into curriculums. Parents are struggling mightily with the disastrous learning loss faced by their kids and they have Democrats to punish for the unnecessary school closures. 

All indications suggest Democrats will try to make the midterms a referendum on two things: President Trump and abortion. Progressives have pinned their hopes on the primetime January 6th Committee hearings and some indictment to follow the FBI raid of the former president’s Florida home. They’re hoping that, at long last, this will be the straw that breaks the camel’s back and sends Trump packing. Fat chance. We’ve seen Democrats beat this dead horse before. Based on anecdotal evidence, Merrick Garland may have actually juiced Republican turnout with his raid on Trump’s home a mere 90 days before the election.

Democrats Can’t Rely on Invoking Trump’s Name to Win Elections

In Virginia last year, the Democratic gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe staked his entire campaign on comparing Glenn Youngkin to Trump. In the end, voters of a state Biden won by 10 points sent the Republican to the Governor’s Mansion. When Trump’s name isn’t on the ballot, it’s a lot harder to make him the boogeyman. If Trump chooses to run again in 2024, he will have a lot to reckon with. But that’s not this election, and voters are smart enough to know the difference.  

Democrats also look to energize new voters in the wake of the Dobbs decision that overturned Roe and sent abortion questions back to the states. Unfortunately for them, a recent Gallup poll showed a mere 8% of Americans called abortion their top issue. I don’t discount that the issue could mobilize some Democratic voters, but what’s often lost in the coverage is that there are millions of conservative voters who are just as energized. To summarize: Republicans should stay focused on inflation, the economy, and in making this election a referendum on Joe Biden’s presidency. It’s not rocket science.

Republicans May be Eager to Vote, but What Message Will They Really be Sending?

By Robert Boatright – Professor and Chair, Department of Political Science, Clark University

Let me begin by conceding Scott Jennings’ three main points: Yes, Republicans are eager to vote. Yes, President Biden’s approval ratings fell in August of 2021, at the time of the U.S. withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan, and have never really recovered. And yes, it appears likely that Republicans will gain seats in Congress this November. I disagree, however, with Mr. Jennings’ contention that Republican strategists have a “clear blueprint” for the fall election. If there is such a blueprint, it is one whose existence is a secret to Republican voters. 

Poor Quality Candidates Will Hurt Republicans in the Midterms

Republicans have nominated some truly awful candidates this year. The party’s Pennsylvania gubernatorial candidate is a self-proclaimed “Christian nationalist” who has had to contend with allegations of antisemitism and the Pennsylvania Senate candidate is a celebrity doctor who lives in New Jersey. In Arizona and Wisconsin, the party’s nominees have promised to rescind their states’ 2020 electoral votes. In Maryland, popular outgoing Republican Governor Larry Hogan described the party’s nominee to succeed him as a “QAnon whack job” who has “no chance whatsoever” of winning. Republicans appear poised to follow a similar strategy in choosing a successor to Charlie Baker in Massachusetts. And in Ohio, Republican nominee J.D. Vance is running on a novel platform of punishing people who didn’t vote for him. Sure, a few of these people may win. But to paraphrase our former president, when Republicans send these people, they are not sending their best. This will cost the party seats and it may cost them the Senate. 

Mr. Jennings’ bill of particulars against President Biden is accurate, but it has little to do with establishing a Republican agenda. Republican voters are unhappy about inflation and high gas prices. Democratic voters certainly are unhappy about these things as well. Presidents always suffer when inflation is high. Most economists agree that presidents have little direct control over the economy, however, and right now inflation and gas prices in the U.S. are actually lower than in other Western democracies. The president has little involvement in the teaching of “critical race theory” in schools. Biden has been criticized for how the Afghanistan pullout went, but the agreement to withdraw troops was made by President Trump. The procedural wrangling about the Build Back Better Act and the Inflation Reduction Act has been ugly to watch, but a case can be made that Biden has passed more major legislation—and more popular legislation—than his predecessor. 

The Republican Party Is in Disarray

It is normal for the out-party to gain seats in midterm elections. But unlike the midterms of 1994, 2010, or 2018, I don’t see the out-party making a case about what it will do if put in power. There is no Contract with America—in the last election there was not even a Republican Party platform. There is so little discipline in the Republican caucus in Congress that aspiring Speaker Kevin McCarthy is powerless to prevent the more extreme members of his caucus from publicly speculating about impeaching Merrick Garland, imprisoning Anthony Fauci or Hunter Biden, revisiting the question of who won the 2020 election, and pursuing a nationwide abortion ban. Such antics would do little to address the problems Mr. Jennings raises or the concerns of American voters.

None of this is good for the country. Apart from the unusual 2002 election, it has been the norm for 30 years that presidents really only have two years to govern. If they are lucky, they can pass one or two bills before their party loses control of Congress and they spend the remaining two years of their term fending off investigations. Democrats have had their two-year window to govern, and that window is closing. When my liberal friends have come to me to complain about politics in the past year, I’ve told them to enjoy it while they can, that the next two (or four or six) years will be worse.  

While these observations do not disprove Mr. Jennings’ main points, they do not guarantee an easy road for Republicans, either. Following their 1994 and 2010 victories, Republicans in Congress overplayed their hands and probably helped beleaguered Democratic presidents win reelection. There is more to winning elections than simply waiting for the other party to lose. 

In a Referendum on Joe Biden’s Presidency, the Facts Speak for Themselves

By Scott Jennings – Republican strategist, CNN political contributor, and partner at RunSwitch Public Relations

My opponent’s main problem with Republicans appears to be that the GOP lacks an agenda, or at least one he can discern. Allow me to clear this up and offer some advice to Republican campaigns. This election is a referendum on Joe Biden’s job performance. Every Republican should oppose his policies that have led to dramatic inflation, a southern border that is being overrun, and a loss of American prestige in the world.

You can easily run as someone who wants to stop wasteful spending, enact greater border security, and increase domestic energy production (thereby reducing the need for Biden to beg Venezuela, Iran, and Saudi Arabia for oil), but the real focus should be on inflation. Biden has spent too much money with too little regard for its inflationary impact and continues to do so via his student loan repayment order, the most expensive unilateral executive action in American history (upwards of half a trillion dollars). The Republican agenda is simple—spend less, secure the border, and give the international community a reason to respect us again.

Other issues could be salient locally, especially in areas where crime rates are high, but a successful agenda here need not be more complicated than addressing the things voters care about. Democrats are focused on things at the bottom of the list, while Republicans must focus on the top.

Democratic Shortcomings Cannot Make Up for a Lack of Qualified Republicans

By Robert Boatright – Professor and Chair, Department of Political Science, Clark University

I didn’t offer my prior comments here as Mr. Jennings’ “opponent,” nor am I convinced that I have a “problem with Republicans” that needs to be “cleared up.” In my comments, I tried to describe the state of the 2022 election as I saw it. Mr. Jennings has some advice for Republicans on how to campaign. I suspect they would be wise to heed it. I’m not convinced that they will—there are just too many inexperienced and, quite frankly, unqualified Republican candidates running in races that more conventional Republican candidates could win. 

Ultimately, there is a difference between what Republicans should say to win elections and what candidates like J.D. Vance, Doug Mastriano, Herschel Walker, Mehmet Oz, Dan Cox, Kari Lake, and Blake Masters (to name the most obvious examples) are saying. A quick perusal of these candidates’ websites yields a lot of promises to investigate the alleged irregularities of the 2020 election, bromides about “protecting freedom,” and vague insinuations about Joe Biden, Kamala Harris, and Nancy Pelosi. Mr. Jennings’ agenda simply isn’t there. Poor candidate selection may cost the Republicans seats in the House, it will certainly cost them governorships, and could even cost them control of the Senate. Perhaps I missed the meeting where Republicans agreed to an agenda, but it seems to me that a lot of Republican candidates missed that meeting, too.

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Scott Jennings 1 min e1662937607545
Scott Jennings
Republican adviser, CNN political contributor, and partner at RunSwitch Public Relations

Scott Jennings is a Republican adviser, CNN political contributor, and partner at RunSwitch Public Relations. He was a special assistant to President George W. Bush and a longtime political advisor to Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell.

RobertBoatright 1 min e1662937948246
Robert Boatright
Professor and Chair, Department of Political Science, Clark University | Website

Robert Boatright is a professor and chair of the department of Political Science at Clark University and the director of research for the National Institute for Civil Discourse at the University of Arizona. He has written extensively on campaign finance and primary elections. His books include "Getting Primaried: The Causes and Consequences of Congressional Primary Challenges" and "Interest Groups and Campaign Finance Reform in the United States and Canada." He is currently completing a book on the historical changes in American primary election laws during the 20th century.


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