The moment of maximum danger may be approaching

Joseph Solis-Mullen

With primaries having concluded, the stage is set for an uncertain midterm election just six weeks from now. Whereas even six months ago the betting money would have been on the Democrats receiving an historic two-chamber shellacking, a combination of factors have resulted in the tables possibly having turned, with the Democrats now projected to keep control of the Senate. Of those factors, several stand out.
On the Republican side, battles for influence between Trump and McConnell have been a microcosm of the no love lost contests between competing Republicans in places like Maryland, Michigan, and Florida. With Trump having given indications he might run again in 2024, and prominent GOP regulars such as Marco Rubio saying Trump would be the presumptive nominee, the many wins his endorsed candidates have racked up suggests his ability to command votes among Republican voters remains strong.
This, in McConnell’s view, is what will cost Republicans in November. With competitive districts near a record low, with just thirty-two races considered tossups, Trump’s choices were seen as alienating to the median voter. Two polls by the Wall Street Journal suggest McConnell may have been right, with the findings suggesting so-called independent voters have increasingly tilted toward Democrats over the course of the summer.
The Democrats, for all their jeremiads about Trump’s election-denying candidates being “threats to democracy,” have for months been helping Trump’s preferred candidates in their often uphill battles: such as in Michigan, where they spent almost half a million dollars helping former Trump political appointee John Gibbs defeat the moderate incumbent Pete Meijer, one of the small handful that had voted to impeach Trump. Not missing a beat, Michigan Democrats wasted no time unleashing a barrage of attack ads on John Gibbs once the primary was finished, calling him a, wait for it, threat to democracy.
As for themselves, the fight between centrists and progressives within the Democratic party has continued. But having gotten much of what they had wanted passed during the past term, from infrastructure and social welfare spending, to greening the economy and competing with China, Democrats have largely avoided any acrimonious clashes during the primaries.
With the economy not visibly collapsing and the Ukrainians pushing back against the Russians, the party is counting on the Trump Threat narrative and the post-Roe backlash to get out the necessary votes.
According to a survey of the most recent polls, the combined strategy of sabotaging Republicans and stoking the hottest rails of the political divide is paying dividends. Despite Joe Biden’s still depressed approval ratings, polls from July and August estimate Democrats have seen an eleven point swing in their favor from the end of June. This was in questionnaires pitting so-called “generic” Democratic and Republican candidates against one another. Special election wins in Alaska and New York also suggest an improving outlook for the party’s midterm prospects.
Of course, there is still much that could happen in the six weeks before the election. For example, this past Tuesday’s inflation reading defied market expectations of inflation having peaked, sending every major index plunging.
Though consumers have continued spending and had over the summer reported progressively lower forecasts for future inflation, the reading may cause consumers to revise their beliefs about inflation’s entrenchment. Further, while markets had already significantly priced in the now certain 0.75 increase in the federal funds rate at the Fed’s meeting next week, companies continue to revise their growth estimates down. A string of bad earnings reports during October could further sap what confidence had begun building up through the summer in the runup to the election.
Even if everything were to go right for the Democrats between now and November 8th, the math is solidly against them in the House. With Republicans holding an almost certain 213 seats to the Democrats 190, they need to win only nine of the thirty-two swing district races to capture the chamber. For its part, Ukraine and the rest of U.S. foreign policy ranks just eleventh in voter’s priorities according to the latest Pew Research poll: a fact which, though unsurprising, is scary as it is just now that the moment of maximum danger may be approaching.