6 October 2022
Hey, What’s Your Name
by J.R. Thomas
We can’t even say “Well, we’ve all done it”. Many of us have forgotten the name of a close friend or where we born or where we parked the car, but nobody, almost nobody let’s say, has called out for a friend and colleague to step forward soon after their death. Joe Biden has previously publicly forgotten the name of his own health secretary, the name of the Australian Prime Minister, and that of his own wife. And now that of Jackie Walorski, a moderate Republican congresswoman who died in August and of whom Joe gave a moving valediction at the time. But at a White House meeting last week he asked her to step forward, and wondered where she was. With God, her daughter said when the President called later to apologise. At least he did make that personal call to apologise.
These things happen, and the White House Press staff have wisely adopted the strategy of never explain, just as they have wisely hidden Vice-President Kamala Harris. Anybody seen Kamala recently?
All of which is to do with the big thing coming up shortly; the midterm elections, just five weeks away. This is crucial for the rest of the Biden presidency. And perhaps also for the next phase in the history of the Republican Party. This election is a bigger thing than you might assume from the publicity given the election in the British media (shout out for the Guardian, which does give some coverage), but even in the USA it does not appear to be causing much excitement yet.
One third (33) seats of the Senate are up for re-election, and every seat in the House of Representatives – 435. Three months ago the Democrats looked likely to lose control of both houses leaving Joe as that unappealing bird, a lame duck; still the President of course, but one unable to get any controversial legislation onto the books. Politics would be deadlocked; the two Houses could not stop the President doing those things which he has the power to do and which they maybe would prefer he did not do. The Founding Fathers knew all about checks and balances, if not downright chucking of spanners in governmental works.
Swerving off to the right, a GOP controlled Congress would not be likely to impeach any former Presidents, one Donald Trump for instance. But equally they could not stop the various investigations been carried out by federal agencies into what documents Mr Trump may have, absentmindedly or otherwise, removed from the White House when he so inelegantly moved out. That process, insofar as it is controlled by the executive, is under the President’s jurisdiction. (Mr Trump also has a whole raft of litigation heading his way from New York, to do with tax and accountancy practices within the Trump business interests, but they are state matters, not federal. American business tends to involve a lot more litigation than business in many parts of the world, so don’t get too excited about that – Donald doesn’t seem to be.) The President could not increase the numbers of Justices in the Supreme Court to try to overturn its right leaning majority, which Mr Biden would like to do, but needs an effective majority in the Senate. And so on. The system is jammed so far as law-making is concerned, at least, without much negotiation between the leaders of the parties.
This is a much bigger problem for the Democrats than for the Republicans. We will come back to that. But the Republicans are also in something of a bind; though a cynic might argue that whatever happens in November is a sort of victory for them. If they win control of the Senate (maybe) and of the House (probably but not as certain as it was) then they can mess up the rest of Mr Biden’s presidency. But also they will find a Florida businessman claiming the credit for the victory – Mr Trump of course, and quite a lot of the senior folk in the party don’t want that. If the GOP lose, preferably narrowly, that would enable Mr Biden to achieve a few policy wins in the two years to come and strengthen his case to run in 2024. The Republicans of course would like Joe to be the chosen one on the grounds he will be 82 and not, shall we say, in great shape to fight a major campaign. But devious Democrats might like to lose the midterms, reject a Biden second term candidacy, and then find a younger modernising candidate. But….. some Republicans would also like to lose the midterms so that they also can deal elegantly with their own albatross and get a new candidate or two before the public. It can get complicated, this politics business.
As we said last time out, what looked like a major Republican victory in November is much less certain now, partly due to the FBI raid on Mar-a-Largo, and partly due to the abortion controversy stirred up by the Supreme Court.
The opinion polls moved quite strongly towards the Democrats after those events. We won’t bore you with opinion poll numbers, but the Democrats looked as though they might hold their current numbers in the Senate – half the seats but with two Democrat senators who are of conservative leanings. The Republicans still looked like they might just win control of the House, but it began to look like a very close run thing. And the President’s personal ratings improved quite a lot (from a very low datum), partly because Mr Trump slipped heavily in the wake of the FBI raid, and Joe looked honest and decent, if only by default. There is also a view that although Mr Biden has never been the most popular of presidents, he does have a certain “aw-shucks-all-American-grandpa” appeal, and this rose in the summer when he was not doing much but looking happy at his holiday home with his family.
But since he went back to work he has, as politicians do, started upsetting people. He is hawkish on Russia and looks confused on economic strategy (and indeed on Covid still) and there is that memory problem. He is not the one running for election, but the standing of parties of course go up and down with the fortunes of their leaders. And the Democrats are now again declining with the fortunes of their president.
But two things may yet help them. If Mr Trump declares soon that he is a candidate for the Republican nomination in 2024, that may well galvanise Democrats – not directly the voters, but party workers and “influencers”, to work a lot harder for Democrat victories in November. And the Supreme Court ruling against Roe vs Wade is something where the “free choicers” are much more stirred to anger and action than the “pro-lifers”, which must be having a similar effect on promoting activism.
It would be a very strange thing if success next month for the Democrats resulted in a rebirth of the GOP and the emergence of a moderate Republican candidate for the presidency in 2024, and even more if such a figure defeated dear old Joe. But politics is a strange business indeed.