Was it dodging a bullet or achieving a miracle? Without resorting to old cliches about half full glasses, I would suggest that holding the Senate was a dodged bullet and also a half-miracle. Let's consider the lessons that turned out to be wrong and to suggest other lessons that turn out to be right.
I'll start with that suggestion that was pushed by Republicans -- that abortion was on people's minds last Spring, but right now they're interested in prices of food and gasoline. The undertone of that argument is that Americans are kind of stupid because they can't keep any one thing in mind for longer than a month, and they can't keep two things in mind at all.
Clearly that was wrong. American voters were highly aware of the need to vote in favor of abortion rights but were also painfully aware of inflation. My guess is -- at least for the many who voted for a Democrat -- that they understood that inflation isn't something that any president can defeat by the wave of a magic wand and that supermarket chains and oil refineries have been profiteering on Covid restrictions and the supply chain problems. Those with a three digit IQ understand that the Covid effect will eventually go away as the underlying mechanisms right themselves.
But what about Joe Biden's terrible approval rating? My guess is that people give an automatic grade to any president according to the economic situation, but they don't dislike Biden personally. I'm not talking about the more rabid right wingers or their devout followers, but for the center portion consisting of Democrats and slightly more than half the independent voters, Biden is seen as a likable fellow who is currently dealing with a difficult situation and hasn't been able to find exactly the right approach for an instant cure.
In this sense, Joe Biden's low approval rating, although numerically similar to Donald Trump's rating, is not really the same thing. Biden's is a grade based on performance and outcomes over the past year. The other is based on a visceral dislike for the Trump personality and his chronic dishonesty. Trump had low approval ratings when the economy was humming along. Biden can improve his ratings as economic trends improve.
To continue tangentially on the Approval business: You really have to work hard to try to believe Trump's excuse for having top secret papers in his possession. Then you have to work even harder to believe his next excuse, which contradicts and is even sillier than the first excuse. You don't have to go through these intellectual contortions with Biden.
The Democrats have been trying to show that they are different. We might consider the response by Nury Martinez when caught in her scandal -- she apologized and resigned. Democrats are trying to demonstrate through their demands (i.e.: Kevin needs to go too) that they do not accept racism. By their votes for alternative candidates in the Los Angeles City Council races, they are showing that corruption isn't acceptable either. Then compare our Los Angeles elections to the votes of millions of Republicans who, knowing how corrupt Donald Trump is, wearily voted for his reelection. But even Republicans get tired of lies and corruption at some point, particularly when the widespread perception of corruption becomes a drag on the candidacies of other Republicans.
The take home lesson in this week's election, as many analysts have now pointed out, is that enough Republican voters are tired of the Trump approach -- and particularly the Big Lie over Biden's election victory -- that they rejected their own candidates for Secretary of State when those candidates were election deniers who pledged to pervert the current system.
Voters did remember the Supreme Court's abortion decision, and voted accordingly.
Yes, we dodged a bullet in not losing the Senate to Mitch McConnell's control, but what gave us that result was Trump's appointment of the three new clowns to the Supreme Court. The American people have lost (at least temporarily) a nationwide, universal right to reproductive freedom, but it was only lost in the most socially conservative states, where abortion has been all but fully abolished by state law. Notice that in California, the right to abortion is now enshrined in the state's constitution. Michigan, along with traditionally conservative states like Kentucky and Kansas, have said No to the anti-abortion side.
And what once was a taboo term has entered the usable dictionary. At one time, the word "abortion" was something that wasn't said on the political stump. Back in 1992, Barbara Boxer won an unlikely primary victory for the U.S. Senate and then a fairly close victory in the November election. In her victory speech, she talked about what she stood for and right near the end, added, "And yes, a woman's right to choose." That in itself was going out on a limb back in those days. Now, we have governors and congressional candidates using the word abortion in political ads. We seem to have entered an era where real words describing real actions and anatomical parts are acceptable on television.
What's next in the Capitol?
We should also consider the ultimate effects of the midterm elections, assuming a Democratic Senate and a Republican House. As of this writing, it is still mathematically possible for the Democrats to win 218 House seats, but I see it as quite unlikely in that pretty much every contested seat would have to break Democratic, even some where the Republican is currently in the lead. CNN has declared 212 seats so far for the Republicans, and only 204 for the Democrats. If you look at the latest counts, the Democrats are leading in 9 out of 19 races, which would give them a final count in the House of 213 seats, and the Republicans would have the majority at 222 seats. That's not a huge majority, but it's a ruling majority with an 8 vote cushion. The Democrats are extremely unlikely to hold all those 9 plus pull another 5 out of the hat.
So the one big switch is a narrow majority by Republicans in the House of Representatives. This means no more January 6 committee, and most likely a ritualistic investigation of Hunter Biden which may indeed find that favors were done. But Hunter Biden does not seem to be running for office, so this will be an attempt to tie something to Joe Biden. Hunter got high paying work when somebody who was not the son of a Vice President surely would not have been so blessed, and Joe knew about it.
At the risk of both-sides-ism, I would whisper that the Trump kiddies have worked the Donald Trump presidency for all its worth, where that number is in the hundreds of millions of dollars and, in one instance, to the tune of $2 billion. Hunter would have to work the hustle for three thousand lifetimes to match that one haul, but we aren't going to hear much about Jared from the new Republican House, methinks.
We can foresee the attempts by the House Republicans to engage in all kinds of smears and both-sides-ism, but the rest of us will treat them as The Clown Car and respond that way when we are asked.
But there is one issue that is central to human freedom on the European continent, and that is the war in Ukraine. If the Russian incursion is beaten back and the Ukrainian people get some war reparations and aid from the NATO allies, then a great service will have been done for human freedom. It also won't be a coincidence that Joe Biden will get a lot of credit for knitting the NATO alliance back together as a trans-Atlantic endeavor.
But for all this to come together, it is critical that the U.S. keep sending money and weapons to Ukraine. Maybe the Republican House would keep the funding going, but they have made guarded allusions to reconsideration. In other words, the Republicans have been continuing along the Donald Trump path of supporting Russian aims. Let's not give them the chance. Its time for the lame duck session of the Congress to pass a Ukraine aid and weapons passage while they still have control.
The continuing problems for Trump and his attempt at a comeback
Donald Trump seems to live in a different universe where he never makes mistakes and cannot be prosecuted. This is particularly true, he seems to think, if he is a presidential candidate. In the current moment, where he has a potential opponent in Ron DeSantis, he is particularly pressed to be that candidate and to cement his hold over Republican voters in the primary states. He is also looking over his shoulder as the criminal prosecutions are gaining on him. There is that pesky matter of his attempt to corrupt the Georgia presidential election in 2020, and there is that matter of him taking and keeping boxes of top secret documents.
A brave but correct act for the Department of Justice to take would be to indict Trump on his Espionage Act violations this week, and if possible, before Trump announces his reelection campaign. If not now, then as soon as possible. Trump will scream and holler that it is a witch hunt. Some of his supporters will repeat his defenses. But the majority of Americans will at least understand that the indictment is justified by the facts.
A federal indictment would also give psychological aid to a possible indictment in Georgia.
Can Biden thread the needle by retiring gracefully?
For an American president, it's always hard to be a lame duck. But that identification usually refers to a president who is serving out his term after losing his reelection bid, or for a president who is finishing his second term. If Biden were to start dropping hints about retiring com the 2024 election, that would make room for some other candidate to run against whoever is the Republican nominee. It would make Biden a lame duck in some sense, but only in the sense that every president has a limited time remaining, whether it is one month or seven years.
Biden, when asked, says he intends to run for reelection, but that is what presidents have to say in order to maintain power and influence. The part about threading the needle is that the new, young candidates need time to make names for themselves on the campaign trail before the primaries. Let's see what Biden says after the New Year and into the spring of 2023.
An old argument of mine
In the meanwhile, the Democratic National Committee could (I know this is a long shot) show a little principle and courage by replacing Iowa and New Hampshire as the first primary/caucus states. It's long, long overdue, and this is the most propitious time for it. Neither represents the modern Democratic Party, and they have made a lot of money and twisted Democratic policy over the years. Let's at least create a lottery for states which have been pushed out of the early discussion through their late appearance in the primaries. If it's so important to have a small state, how about Nevada or Oregon? Better yet, set the first primary date for three or four states. And if Iowa insists on doing the caucuses at the earliest date, then disqualify them from voting in the national convention and schedule three other states on the same day.
Or how about this: How about if California sets its primary to be on whatever day is first for all the other states? Can you imagine the Democratic Party attempting to penalize or disqualify the California delegation?
Addendum: Not quite news, but consider the source
As reported by Caitlin O'Kane, reporting on an interview ABC's David Muir did with Mike Pence, the former Vice President spoke ill of the former president:
"The president's words that day at the rally endangered me and my family and everyone at the Capitol building," Pence told ABC's David Muir in an interview that aired on Sunday."
Perhaps this signals that Mike Pence understands he is not going to run for the presidency ever again.
It's become obvious that the voters of Los Angeles have gotten well beyond the activists and, in particular, the neighborhood councils who are supposed to speak for them and defend their interests. In a coming column, I will suggest an approach that could in theory result in real reform.
(Bob Gelfand writes on science, culture, and politics for CityWatch. He can be reached at [email protected])