Democrats’ best model for 2024 might be 2022

By Jennifer Rubin, Washington Post, October 10, 2023.

Rather than obsessively study premature polls 13 months before the 2024 election, we can get a better grasp of the state of the two parties by examining what has already happened over the past couple of years. Political winds can shift, but it isn’t hard to figure out that Democrats have rather consistently had the wind at their backs.

The Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision in 2022 overturning Roe v. Wade lit up the Democratic Party as no issue has in my lifetime. After the ruling, reproductive freedom activists compiled a string of wins on state ballot measures and a big win in Wisconsin’s Supreme Court race in April. Democrats defied expectations in the 2022 midterms by expanding the party’s Senate majority and nearly holding the House.

If not for a batch of districts, later challenged, in six states, Democrats might have retained their House majority. (It might turn out that Wisconsin’s and New York’s maps also end up being junked.) The 2022 election was widely seen as a rejection of extremism, both on the abortion issue and on election denial.

Depending on which analysis you prefer, Democrats since then have either overperformed in 23 special election races by an average of eight points, or in 38 races by 10 points. Just last month The Post’s Aaron Blake explained that in New Hampshire and Pennsylvania, Democrats again “overperformed in a special election — a trend that has held very steady ever since Roe was overturned last summer.”

That was the state of play before extreme MAGA Republicans threw out their own House speaker, plunging Congress into confusion and again risking a shutdown (after a 45-day continuing resolution expires). Republicans themselves, and not just Donald Trump, have been revealed as clearly as possible as anti-government provocateurs of chaos.

“Donald Trump was in some ways a logical extension of the nihilistic, radical politics that emerged in the two decades before his emergence as a presidential candidate and president,” Norman Ornstein wrote Friday in Politico. “But he was an accelerant, not the cause. The GOP transformation into a radical cult was there before he became its leader, and was itself shaped and incited by the rise of tribal media and social media, and advanced by gerrymandering and other political tools that insulated a minority in the country from the consequences of their radical statements and actions.”

The prohibitive favorite for the Republican nomination faces 91 criminal counts, is under a gag order for criticizing court personnel and, we now learn, “allegedly discussed potentially sensitive information about U.S. nuclear submarines with a member of his Mar-a-Lago Club — an Australian billionaire who then allegedly shared the information with scores of others, including more than a dozen foreign officials, several of his own employees, and a handful of journalists, according to sources familiar with the matter.”

In no other era would such a figure be in contention for, let alone leading, a major party’s presidential race.

With the destruction of a governing GOP majority in the House and a potential Washington visit from the four-time indicted former president whom some Republicans want as speaker, the nation might be witnessing peak unhinged MAGA politics. Trump feeds the MAGA extremists’ ambitions in the House; they in turn demonstrate they are inseparable from the cult leader. A vote for either a Republican House or Trump amounts to a demand for chaos, lawlessness, vengefulness and extremism.

Put differently, after blowing the 2022 midterms and getting repeatedly beaten in special elections, the GOP has doubled down on the very elements that repulsed voters outside the MAGA base. Trump (especially if the Trump-helpful No Labels fields a candidate) and/or House Republicans can certainly still win in 2024. However, they have given Democrats two powerful arguments.

First, unlike most reelection campaigns, the 2024 race now looks to be as much a referendum on GOP rule (and misrule) and Trump antidemocratic extremism as it is a referendum on President Biden. With the economy roaring along and Biden’s record of bipartisan accomplishment, Republicans are reduced to hyperventilating about Biden’s age.

Biden has been handed the perfect comeback: I’m three years older than Trump, but I am sane and responsibleI will defend the Constitution. As former Wyoming congresswoman Liz Cheney put it, if Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio succeeds in winning the speakership — he has Trump’s endorsement — then “there would no longer be any possible way to argue that a group of elected Republicans could be counted on to defend the Constitution.” Voters need not approve of everything Biden has done to understand that a return to Trump would be devastating.

Second, Democrats now can own the national security issue. The other party has lined up behind the candidate who was accused of stashing secret documents in his bathroom, allegedly blabbed about military secrets and wants to defund the FBI. Worse, Republicans seem determined to sell out Ukraine to Russian President Vladimir Putin. Does the country want to give Trump legal access to government secrets again and let the likes of Jordan be responsible for funding U.S. intelligence and military?

No one should think Democrats have anything close to a lock in 2024. The country has been through far too much to underestimate the wannabe authoritarian’s ability, with assistance from the right-wing propaganda machine, to gin up his followers, spread massive amounts of disinformation and obscure the stakes (democracy vs. authoritarianism).

But if Democrats had to construct a message and define their opponents any way they wanted to, they’d be hard pressed to do better than “Don’t let the crazies back in.” It even fits on a bumper sticker.

 Image Credits: Voters cast their ballots at the William R. Talley Recreation Center in Frederick, Md., on Tuesday. (Ricky Carioti/The Washington Post)