It presently appears only one thing can stop the Republicans from taking over Congress next year – themselves.
The path is clear. The country is ready. Democrats have overreached and underperformed. The president’s job approval rating is abysmal. The country is rebelling against the Democrats’ “woke” ideology and culture wars. Suburban Republicans, including women, are ready to come home to the Republican Party – assuming it stays reasonable.
But Republican in-fighting, a tilt to the ultra-right, and especially ill-timed and unwanted intrusions by Donald Trump, could allow the Democrats to avoid a severe beating in the mid-term elections one year from now.
Glenn Younkin, the governor-elect of Virginia, showed Republicans how to win. He was genuinely conservative; he took the fight to the Democrats on identity politics and victimhood; he welcomed Trump’s support and especially the turnout of the GOP base; but he still kept Trump at arm’s length and, although the Democrats tried hard, they were never able to make the race a referendum on Trump.
If Republicans can replicate the Youngkin formula across the country, and hold together the coalition he built, they will be resoundingly successful.
But they will manage to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory if they nominate ultra-right candidates or allow Trump to become the center of 2022 races – which is where he seems to want to be.
Among the challenges for Republicans is that Trump is endorsing dozens of congressional and gubernatorial candidates all over the country. Some are just fine. Some are incumbents and solid conservatives. But others are challenging good incumbents for the GOP nomination and some of them are so far to the wacky right that they can’t win a general election.
Just to the north of us in Idaho, for example, Trump has endorsed Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin for governor over incumbent Brad Little. Little is actually a very conservative governor and is pretty popular. McGeachin is on the far-right fringe. As lieutenant governor, she has done all sorts of wacky things when Little goes out of state. She constantly picks fights with Little and other mainstream Republicans.
Idaho is enough of a solidly Republican state that Little can probably win even if he beats McGeachin in the primary election and her supporters stay home in the general election. But in a swing state, such a situation could be disastrous for Republicans.
Besides endorsing some weird candidates, Trump will also hurt if he barges into states where he’s not popular and campaigns for Republicans who would prefer he stays away. Trump would like to make 2022 all about himself, but that will produce GOP losses.
So, in a normal political year, Republicans would be almost a lock to win control of Congress. But Trump is so unpredictable, so determined to do what he thinks is best for himself, even if it hurts the GOP, that anything is possible.