January 20, 2022
Given the results of the statewide races in Virginia in 2021 (and a much-narrower-than-expected loss in New Jersey, which had not even been on the radar), the low approval ratings of the president, and the rampant inflation and supply chain shortages that affect every American, it looks like 2022 could be a good year for Republicans. Midterm years usually are, indeed, good for the party that’s out of power.
Nevertheless, as we think about what will work in 2022, we must maintain a focus on what’s right in front of us. In the spirit of the new year, here are two political thoughts on 2022:
1. Resist the temptation to compare everything to 1980, 1994, or 2010.
There is a bizarre tendency to search for historical analogues while also claiming that this election is the most important election ever.
Yes, it’s true that the supposed economic growth the Biden administration touts is not being felt by most Americans; what growth we do have is negated by inflation. It’s also true that the ever-widening political divide in America contributes to the feelings of insecurity and dissatisfaction that generally help the opposition party. Widely available vaccines, much to the establishment’s chagrin, have not brought about the end of the pandemic, itself a source of anxiety and exasperation.
Still, the number of conservatives who treat the 2022 midterms as if they’re a done deal, with allusions to the days of Presidents Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan, Newt Gingrich’s Contract with America, and the Tea Party wave in the early Obama era, is concerning. It’s concerning not only because of the problem of overconfidence, but also because the issues we face today do not always correlate to what we faced in previous years.
For example, Reagan-era platitudes will not address online censorship of conservative speech, the incessant corporate “wokeness” racket, or infringements on medical freedom by government and business alike. Conservatives have long lamented what is taught in schools, but before 2021, we had not won an election on this topic. We need to go where the action is today, and not rely on elections from decades ago as our guide. If 2022 is the most important midterm election ever, we should act like it.
Confronting the midterm elections of 1994 and 2010 more directly, it is also clear that there are now far fewer swing voters and swing districts than there were in those years. There were an astonishing 49 House seats in 2010 that were held by Democrats but had voted Republican at the presidential level in 2008 (and 34 seats held by Republicans that had voted Democratic at the presidential level in 2008). There was much room for a giant red tsunami.
Today, there are 7 Democrat-held House seats that voted for President Trump and 9 Republican-held House seats that voted for President Biden. Redistricting is unlikely to affect these numbers significantly.
A gain of 25 House seats for Republicans would be a very strong result. A Youngkin-like swing of 12 points, under the district lines of 2020, would bring a gain of around 40 House seats nationwide–a great result, but smaller than the 54 gained in 1994 and the 63 gained in 2010. In the fantastic year of 2014, Republicans gained only 13 House seats–largely because the low-hanging fruit had already been scooped up in 2010.
Expectations on this front should be set ahead of time.
2. Be very skeptical of anyone who cites the looming midterms as a reason we can play only defense in 2022.
We’ve all heard some version of this theory:
“Republicans are poised to win, but if we focus too much on [insert topic], we’ll come off as too [insert derogatory adjective].”
“Now’s not the time; that’ll have to wait until after we take the majority.”
“Hopefully the Supreme Court won’t make a decision that’s too extreme and gets in our way.”
It is true that we do need the majority if we are to run the legislative calendar and pass legislation. But simply being in the minority does not mean we cannot or should not exercise the power that we do have–at the federal level, forcing votes in Congress, for example; or objecting to unanimous consent requests.
What is the point of having political power at all, even in a minority, if one is unwilling to use it?
In addition to offering a vision of a brighter future, those states with conservative trifectas should be aggressive in using their political power to protect the lives of their citizens against federal overreach wherever possible, with politicians delivering for the voters who elected them. And it goes without saying that one hopes the justices of the Supreme Court will not be dissuaded from doing what they must do because they care about public opinion or worry about an election for another branch of government. Where our side has power, we must exercise it.
That’s why at FreedomWorks, our 2022 programs will focus on what’s in front of us: getting conservatives involved in the institutions that matter, like school boards and election offices; and flipping the seats we need to fire Nancy Pelosi while also electing proven fighters who will use their political capital to change our country and our culture for the better without worrying about the next election or becoming distracted by exogenous factors outside their control.
We will put in the hard work and take nothing for granted.