Way back in 2015, after reality-star, talk-show host Donald Trump announced he was running for president, Democrats were ecstatic.
“Hey,” they said giddily to one another, “let’s make that wacky billionaire the face of the Republican Party!”
That didn’t work out so well. In fact, it can be (and has been) argued that CNN and The New York Times had as much to do with electing Trump president as did Fox News and The Wall Street Journal. Mr. Trump was ratings gold that even the far-Left networks and “news” outlets couldn’t resist.
But after four years of negative coverage — Mr. Trump apparently just couldn’t do anything right — Joe Biden was able to harness the mainstream media in a way even Hillary Clinton was unable to do. The MSM simply held its nose and applauded Uncle Joe’s every utterance (a year later, of course, it turns out Mr. Biden is almost wholly unsuited for the job, but hey).
In a few weeks, it’ll be 2022, and 11 months after that, Americans will once again go to the polls, this time to select all 435 members of the House of Representatives and a third of the U.S. Senate. So the question now is: Can Democrats really run against Mr. Trump, who will have been out of the White House for two years, chilling down in Mar-a-Lago?
Mr. Trump longs to be a kingmaker: He’s already endorsed dozens and dozens of candidates running for office in 2022. As always, he’s hoping for wall-to-wall coverage of his every utterance. But Democrats have another thing coming if they think they can just hit the campaign trail, say “Trump! Trump! Trump!” and win.
Take Virginia 2021. Mr. Trump endorsed Republican gubernatorial candidate Glenn Youngkin not once but three times. But Mr. Youngkin walked a tightrope throughout the campaign. He accepted the endorsements. Then he kept Mr. Trump at arm’s length.
As his Democratic opponent, Terry McAuliffe, brought in a string of heavy hitters — President Joe Biden (twice), former President Barack Obama, first lady Jill Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris — Mr. Youngkin didn’t invite Mr. Trump or other national party leaders and even steered clear of an 11th-hour telephone rally headlined by Mr. Trump.
CNN’s Chief Resident Liberal CNN Chris Cillizza said this week that “tying Republican candidates to former President Donald Trump won’t save Democrats from a midterm Armageddon,” citing a “prominent party pollster.”
“If our most effective message in 2022 is that Republicans equal Trump, we’re going to get creamed,” wrote pollster Brian Stryker, a partner in the Democratic firm Anzalone Liszt Grove Research, in a memo for the centrist think tank Third Way.
“Stryker drew that conclusion based on a series of focus groups with suburban Virginia voters who voted for Democrat Joe Biden in 2020 and either voted for (or strongly considered voting for) Republican Gov.-elect Glenn Youngkin last month,” Mr. Cillizza wrote.
“The thing that these people disliked about Trump was that they didn’t like Donald Trump, the person; it wasn’t Donald Trump the constellation of policies,” Mr. Stryker told The New York Times. While Mr. McAuliffe, Mr. Obama and Mr. Biden sought endlessly to connect Mr. Trump to Mr. Youngkin, “the respondents kind of laughed at that approach.”
“They said, ‘Oh, these silly ads that compared Youngkin to Trump — he just doesn’t seem like that guy,’” Mr. Stryker said.
When asked by the Times what he would say to Democrats running in 2022, he said, “I would tell them that we have a problem. We’ve got a national branding problem that is probably deeper than a lot of people suspect. Our party thinks maybe some things we’re saying aren’t cutting through, but I think it’s much deeper than that.”
Mr. Biden’s polls are in the dumper. Soaring inflation, bringing sky-high gas prices and supply chain woes, coupled with rising crime in cities, a blundering departure from Afghanistan and a dwindling approval rating abroad may abate by next November. Still, voters are notorious for having short memories, even as some economists say it could turn around by next November.
“Jobs numbers, wage numbers and the number of people we’ve put back to work don’t move them,” Mr. Stryker said. “We should still talk about these … but we should realize that they will have limited impact when people are seeing help wanted signs all over Main Street, restaurant sections closed for lack of workers, rising prices, and supply disruptions.”
Still, even trying to focus on good news might not work. “Even where things are getting better, Biden doesn’t get credit,” he said.
And one last thing: Mr. Stryker says 2020 voters didn’t reject Trump’s policies. They rejected the man who was maligned for four years in the mainstream media.
Mr. Trump won’t be on the ballot in 2022, even though Democrats wish he would be. Without him, it’s clear to see that liberals have a losing agenda, and almost nothing will prevent the party from losing both the House and the Senate.
• Joseph Curl covered the White House and politics for a decade for The Washington Times. He can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter @josephcurl.