The GOP faces an uphill battle to take back Congress in 2022. President Biden may not be the most charismatic president but after four years of Donald Trump’s narcissism, the absence of drama looks good to an exhausted electorate.
Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy has already guaranteed that Republicans will capture a majority, but he is relying too much on history — the party of the incumbent president has lost an average of 26 seats in midterms since World War II. President Bush followed a scandal-ridden and impeached predecessor too and picked up seats in both chambers in 2002.
In the Senate, the GOP is defending 20 seats — the Democrats only 14 — and five Republicans are retiring. The Democratic seats up for grabs are mostly in places unfriendly to the GOP — the Northeast, West Coast and Illinois.
President Biden will be coming off a year of strong growth — the stimulative effects of $6 trillion in pandemic spending may not peter out before the summer of 2022 — but all won’t be rosy.
Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell has repeated so many times that accelerating inflation is transitory that he sounds like a man trying to convince himself. He offers no credible economic theory or empirical evidence to back his claims. He is simply bending to the political agenda of Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and will prove embarrassing for Democrats as voters’ buying power erodes.
Republicans need to capitalize on what voters don’t like about the Biden agenda — his border policy and opposition to voter IDs — or where Democrats may be vulnerable — rising crime in cities where the Justice Department imposes consent decrees, DC statehood and packing the Supreme Court.
The president will campaign that his genuine infrastructure spending, which will likely become law this year, is creating blue collar jobs. And making permanent family friendly policies attractive to suburban voters — like expanding the Child Tax Credit, more funding for childcare centers and taxing the wealthy to pay for it.
So far, the GOP has either offered to do less than the president — for example, on infrastructure spending — ducked the issue — no credible offer on his manufacturing and worker training proposals — or simply opposed Mr. Biden — taxes on the wealthy.
To boost candidates seeking to unseat Democrats, the GOP needs to take a page from its past — Newt Gingrich’s Contract with America — and offer a coherent national platform. Voters know a congressman may be able to deliver a bridge, but a newcomer can’t deliver much more unless he can point to a potential party majority that backs his agenda.
Americans are cautious about big spending and the inflation now percolating will become embarrassing. It hits hardest on lower-income Americans — the opposite of what Mr. Powell’s and Ms. Yellen’s easy money is supposed to do.
Americans like Mr. Biden but going after incompetence and demanding change among senior officials is smart politics, especially when facile economics and loose thinking puts gasoline above $3.00 a gallon.
The president has a crisis on the border because he is hostage to the left and refuses to embrace a policy that requires immigrants to enter America legally and not rely on bogus asylum claims to gain temporary access and then never leave. Hammering reforms to correct sordid border conditions is the best way to lay bare that the progressive agenda is not about compassion but simply cynical politics.
The same applies to Mr. Biden’s bad ideas about reforming immigration laws. A greater tilt toward the needs of employers for highly-skilled immigrants to boost growth, incomes and employment opportunities for all Americans is beyond the cognitive capabilities of the Democratic left and Mr. Biden’s ideological economic team — but not the understanding of suburban voters who have immigrant STEM colleagues and neighbors.
Some of the social programs Mr. Biden wants are inevitable — globalization, technology and monopolization have driven inequality to unacceptable levels — and embracing Sen. Mitt Romney’s proposal to enhance CTC makes sense. More direct aid to parents to pay for childcare or care for children at home are winners.
Those can be supported with modest adjustments to the corporate and capital gains tax. For example, the revenue maximizing capital gains rate is 28 percent, not the current 23.8 percent, indicating such an increase won’t much sour investment spending and R&D or sink stocks.
Embracing those positions and writing and repeating talking points on them in unison would require ideological compromise for many incumbent Republicans but the Democrats consistently exhibit that kind of flexibility and discipline. That’s why they dominate the national conversation and hold the reins on Capitol Hill.
• Peter Morici, @pmorici1, is an economist and emeritus business professor at the University of Maryland, and a national columnist.