A GOP win is a loss for everyone — including Republicans
Although analysts disagree on the magnitude of the coming Republican midterms rout, few believe that Democrats will retain their House majority. Despite a few losses during redistricting, Republicans need to net only five more seats to win the Speaker’s gavel.
The Senate landscape is a bit more uncertain for the GOP. Whereas Democrats are defending four incumbents in competitive seats, Republicans have two vulnerable incumbents and three open seats in states that could go either way. Former President Trump’s controversial endorsements in some of these primaries may be dividing, more than uniting, Republicans, which could prove problematic come the November elections. Still, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is spending widely to maximize the chances of Senate Republicans netting the one more seat they need to make him the chamber’s majority leader.
But even if the Republicans win majority control in both chambers of Congress in November, what exactly will they have won?
Without question, Republicans will win the three most cherished legislative powers: control over the legislative agenda; committee chairmanships; and investigatory discretion. But they may get more than they bargain for, and Trump’s power may grow in Washington, even in absentia.
This means that shortly after the new Congress is sworn into session, House Republicans are likely to shut down the Jan. 6 commission and launch an investigation into Hunter Biden’s financial activities. Part of the purpose is to downplay the insurrectionist (and possibly criminal) activities of fellow Republicans, while attempting to normalize the allegations of nepotistic corruption by Trump with a “whataboutism” strategy for President Biden’s family. Despite what House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) says, some Republicans are champing at the bit to impeach Biden to discredit him in advance of 2024.
This issue sheds light on McCarthy’s other problem. He believes winning will make him Speaker, but with the possibility of more far-right members joining his conference, his elevation to the position is likely to garner some challenges — including perhaps, one from Mar-a-Lago. And even assuming McCarthy wins the gavel, a Republican majority with fewer institutionalists is likely to make controlling the agenda in the House difficult. Plenty of pests may spoil this party’s unity picnic.
While a future Majority Leader McConnell will not likely be able to advance much policy in a closely divided Senate, the Republicans would be in position to obstruct, and possibly defeat, several of Biden’s nominees to the federal courts. Still, herding McConnell’s conference around a single political agenda when Sen. Rick Scott of Florida has released his own proposals already and a few Trump-boosting senators (Ted Cruz of Texas, Tom Cotton of Arkansas, Josh Hawley of Missouri and Tim Scott of South Carolina) may launch presidential runs, could prove exasperating at best.
And let’s face it, neither McCarthy nor McConnell is currently well-regarded. According to a recent survey by The Economist-YouGov, they have higher net negative approval ratings (McCarthy is at -15 percent and McConnell is at -31 percent) than Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who is at -12 percent, and Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), who is at -8 percent. Do they believe that more high-profile obstructionism will make voters like their party more next year?
Further, if culture war issues are all that are on the Republicans’ policy agenda, will the public persist in blaming Biden and the Democrats’ first-year spending spree for high inflation and a faltering economy, or will they be reminded of why they wanted Trump out of the White House?
Republicans winning congressional majorities on the backs of conspiracy-believing populists who are committed to overturning the last election and working with like-minded state officials to rig future elections is not a positive outcome for the country — even if you prefer conservative policies over liberal ones. Because, as Juleanna Glover and Kalee Kreider explained earlier this year, “What’s really on the ballot isn’t one party or another; it’s democracy itself.”
But even aside from this high-minded appeal, the bizarre truth of the 2022 midterm elections is that the Republican Party may be better served by losing. Losing, which might be defined as giving up a couple more Senate seats to the Democrats and netting fewer than 20 House seats, likely would undercut Trump’s boss-like power in the party and allow the GOP to position itself more favorably as the “out-party” in 2024.
It should be recalled that the “shellacking” the Republicans gave the Democrats in 2010 didn’t help them secure the White House in 2012. McCarthy and McConnell may want to be careful what they wish for this November.
Lara M. Brown is director of the Graduate School of Political Management at George Washington University. Follow her on Twitter @LaraMBrownPhD.