Early this summer, the Republican Party appeared headed for a decisive victory in Congress in the midterm elections on Nov. 8.
History generally does not favor the party of the incumbent president in the White House in the midterm elections. Moreover, the elections were already projected to be a referendum on President Joe Biden’s record. With the chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan in July 2021,* the rapid rise of inflation and an approval rating below 35%, one could have predicted that the stars were aligned for the Republicans.
But the game changed on June 24 when the highly controversial Supreme Court ruling on abortion was announced. This had an immediate impact on public opinion.
Since 1973, the Roe v. Wade decision made abortion access constitutional, and more than 60% of Americans wanted the Supreme Court to maintain the status quo.
Immediately following the ruling on June 24, several Republican-led states acted to restrict or eliminate access to abortion. For Democrats, this development gave new life to the political dynamic.
The Biden administration has since had a number of legislative victories in Congress with the passage of bills covering gun control and investments in the semiconductor and microchip industries to be more competitive with China, in addition to the inflation reduction bill, which includes additional investments in the fight against climate change and measures to make certain medications more affordable for seniors.
In August, the Department of Justice obtained a warrant to search former President Donald Trump’s residence at Mar-a-Lago. Highly classified documents, including many directly related to national security, were found there. While Trump still has a firm hold on the Republican Party, these developments have put his party on the defensive.
In short, less than two months from the midterm elections, the Democrats now hope to deliver a surprise.
The Threat and the Enemy: Unprecedented!
On Sept. 1, President Biden addressed the nation to directly attack his predecessor and his supporters, whom he called “MAGA Republicans” and whom he said pose a “threat to democracy.” He referred to them as “semi-fascists” and indicated that the midterm elections will be nothing less than a fight to save the “soul of the nation.”
Clearly, this was an exercise in partisan politics that did nothing to unify the country. And it was predictable that Trump would respond in biting fashion, which he did during a rally in Pennsylvania two days later, referring to Biden as an “enemy of the state.”
This was the first time a sitting president and his predecessor have attacked one another in such provocative and incendiary terms.
For Trump, this retort against Biden was also one against the Department of Justice and the FBI after the raid at Mar-a-Lago. He even called them both “vicious monsters.”
For Biden, these developments have potentially transformed the “referendum on the sitting president” into a duel between the current president and his predecessor, to the great satisfaction of his strategists.
The Democrats Are Bouncing Back
The latest polls show a definite rebound for the Democrats. They now enjoy a slight lead in projected votes for the November elections. In addition, Biden’s approval rating has climbed five points in one month, to 42.7%. Most importantly, among independents, the Democrats have gained nine points in their favor.
Moreover, according to a recent Quinnipiac poll, 67% of Americans think democracy is in “danger.” That certainly does not hurt Biden’s party!
The overturning of Roe v. Wade appears to continue to solidify projected votes for Democrats. A recent Wall Street Journal poll indicated that the attacks on abortion rights would further motivate 83% of Democrats to vote on Nov. 8 compared with 31% of Republicans.
More recently, several election events have brought the Democrats an additional dose of optimism. Among them, former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin, openly pro-Trump, suffered a defeat in Alaska.
Finally, pro-Trump candidates in Pennsylvania, Arizona, Ohio and Georgia are all trailing in voter intention polls. Early summer forecasts are now being called into question. And rightly so.
*Editor’s Note: The withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan was accomplished according to the U.S.-Taliban deal signed in February 2020. The withdrawal was officially completed on Aug. 30, 2021.