The GOP’s strategy is galvanizing Democrats ahead of 2022
Less than a year after a brutal election that only further divided an already fractured nation, members of both sides of the aisle have begun to turn their attention to the upcoming 2022 midterm elections. It may seem entirely too early to begin talking about the midterm elections, but as we all recognize, election season is now a never-ending cycle. Historically, the party in power loses seats in Congress during the midterms. Nevertheless, Democrats stand a strong chance at bucking that trend in 2022, if Republicans aren’t careful.
Democrats’ win in Georgia during the 2020 general election, and subsequent runoff in 2021, was a blueprint on how to win Southern states with a progressive message and energetic turnout among communities of color. Winning one Senate seat in Georgia would have been a big deal for Democrats heading into a presidential election, but winning two Senate seats in Georgia would have been a bet that practically no Democrat would have taken this time last year; yet, here we are. Some of the credit for Republicans’ wipeout in Georgia certainly sits at the feet of former President Donald Trump and his mishandling of COVID-19. Changing demographics in the suburbs of Atlanta, coupled with Trump’s insistence that going to the polls was a wasted effort, undoubtedly played a role in Democrats’ big win. But the most important takeaway for Democrats to implement around the country heading into the midterm elections is that year-round party infrastructure and organizing matters.
For far too long, Democrats thought they could drop into ruby red states during election season and attempt to persuade voters that they were the best party to speak to their issues. Unsurprisingly, those efforts were routinely rebuffed. Not because Democratic policies weren’t the best fit for Southern states, who often rank at the very bottom on issues of access to healthcare and economic mobility, but because — like everything else in politics — it’s all about relationships. When Democrats meet voters where they are and spend time understanding what motivates them, the investment tends to pay off. After losing the gubernatorial election in 2018, Stacey Abrams and her Fair Fight organization doubled down on their efforts to register new voters and combat voter suppression efforts across the South. That investment of both time and resources paid off handsomely when it came time for Democrats to mobilize voters during an international pandemic that upended door-to-door campaign efforts.
Democrats’ decision to strengthen party infrastructure and adapt to a year-round campaign model isn’t the only move that has them positioned to overperform in 2022. Trump continues to motivate turnout among a large swath of the Democratic party. Historically, supporters of the party in power are lulled into a sense of complacency by their recent victory and a belief that they now control the immediate direction of the country. This year feels much different from previous post-election years, when settling usually takes place among the electorate. Much of that can be attributed to the Jan. 6 insurrection and a lack of political courage among Republicans to speak honestly about how and why the events unfolded. Most of which is a direct result of the power that Trump still yields within the Republican party. His ability to bend the party to his will and remake it in his own vision has left few Republicans willing to speak truth to power.
More so than any policy or piece of legislation, Democratic voters are worried about whether institutions can sustain Republicans returning to power and continuing the divisive and damaging tone that gripped the nation over the last four years. To put it simply, Trump may turnout Republicans, but he supercharges Democratic turnout. Most Democrats see no difference between Trump and Republicans actually on the ballot, for good reason. The more that Trump continues to push conspiracy theories and implement litmus tests for Republican office holders, the more likely it is that Democrats continue to see Trump as an existential threat, thereby driving up turnout.
What’s more detrimental to Republicans’ chances of retaking the House or Senate in 2022 isn’t just Trump’s attacks on Democrats and the Democratic process — it’s his attacks on members of his own party. The “Big Lie,” as it’s commonly referred to, hasn’t just suppressed Republican turnout and made them believe that voting is a fool’s errand; it has also created an environment where communities of color would rather crawl over glass than give in to suppression efforts. The more that Republicans attempt to implement laws directly intended to deny Black voters their full voting rights, the more motivated African Americans will be to turn out to the polls. It’s not rocket science — instead of lulling Democrats to sleep and taking advantage of a party in complete control of every level of government, Republicans have found a way to activate the base of the Democratic party and ensure another cycle of record turnout. History may not be on the side of the party in power, but Republicans’ strategy of feeding their base an endless amount of red meat, while rationing universal truths, could backfire spectacularly and lead to Democrats maintaining control and bucking the trend.
Michael Starr Hopkins is a senior vice president at Firehouse Strategies.