McConnell wins, Biden loses, Trump fumes

Often in politics, letting your opponents sink themselves is the best strategy — something Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has learned; President Biden can’t stop, and Donald Trump finds impossible.

Missing from the celebrations and the recriminations from election night 2021 is that the Republican triumphs were set in motion by the D.C.-insider everyone loves to hate (especially Trump): Senate Minority Leader McConnell. As much as anything, the Democrats’ inability to pass a popular infrastructure bill prior to election day and the open civil war within the party, doomed Virginia Democrats and nearly sank New Jersey Democrats, as well.

Back in the Spring, McConnell read the tea leaves and let the infrastructure bill pass the Senate. Infrastructure remains a popular government program — and I mean bricks and mortar construction, not the various Orwellian extensions Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) uses. In its August poll, YouGov found overall support for infrastructure at 51 percent to 19 percent, with more favoring than opposed in all partisan and ideological groups. Even conservative Republicans favored the bricks and mortar bill 40 percent to 31 percent. While that support may have eroded among the GOP of late, it seems rather likely this type of investment still maintains some Republican support and is likely still polling well with independents, who favored the bill by 30 points.

What McConnell set in motion was an epic fight within the Democratic Party, as progressives decided — in their infantile wisdom — to hold the popular bill hostage to their multi-trillion-dollar wish list. McConnell and the Republicans escaped the obstructionist epithet and let the internal fractures of the Democrats take center stage.

Passage of the bill after losing in Virginia was not much of a win for Biden, more like political crumbs.

Biden can celebrate his “win” all he wants, but the political carnage is likely to continue. Passage of the $1.75 trillion (or more) somewhat trimmed-down “Build Back Better” is hardly assured. The bill is only modestly less of a grab-bag of policy and spending sops for the seething mass of interests called the Democratic Party.

The new bill has some popular components, but, as with its now-dead predecessor, it also contains plenty of poison pills. Foremost among the problems is the demand to repeal the SALT tax deduction limit passed during the Trump administration. After caving in on one issue after another, Bernie Sanders is not exactly in a mood to hand a big tax cut to wealthy New Yorkers.

The Democratic civil war is the gift that keeps giving to McConnell.

Biden looks impotent — sidelined and waiting for Democratic congressional leaders to try to forge a compromise. Such a compromise might not even happen, leaving bitterness to fester on all sides.

And, even if some kind of deal is cut, the progressives have been completely humiliated. Their gambit to hold hostage the infrastructure bill failed spectacularly; their candidates and issues were routed at the ballot box, and the Democratic establishment is blaming them for the whole mess — and setting them up to be blamed for the inevitable loss of the House majority. 

While the Democrats flail, Trump fumes to no benefit 

One would think that Trump would be a prime beneficiary of the Democrats’ daily debacle. One would be wrong.

The collapse in Biden’s approval and fumbling by the Democrats has not been accompanied by a rise in the polls for Trump. While Biden has sunk to an average approval disadvantage of 43 percent approve to 52 percent disapprove, and a more recent deficit in the Rassmussen and USA Today polls of 20 points, Trump has barely budged. 

YouGov has Trump at an anemic 39 percent approval (to 55 percent disapproval). Biden is at 42 percent approval. Trump continues to poll badly with independents, down by 9 points. Trump’s overall numbers are unchanged from mid-October and September. Morning Consult has Trump down 44 percent to 53 percent (Biden slightly higher at 45 percent to 51 percent).

The news is a bit better in the ballot test with Biden. Trump leads Biden 44 percent to 40 percent in a recent Suffolk poll, 45 percent to 43 percent in Emerson and 38 percent to 36 percent in Redfield & Wilton (but tied at 42 among likely voters). But Trump scored 47 percent at the actual polls last year, meaning he has not even held on to his existing vote, not to mention gaining anyone.

Not surprisingly, even Republicans would prefer someone else as their nominee, with only 44 percent wanting Trump to make another run. That represents an over 40-point fall from his former approval numbers among Republicans.

Worse for Trump over the long term is that he has little to say outside of raging against his enemies, attacking Biden and grabbing credit for anything and everything he can. 

Trump’s claim that he put Glenn Youngkin over the finish line is so comic, even the most dedicated MAGA has a hard time swallowing it. Not only did Youngkin treat Trump like a 21st Century Typhoid Mary, but the Virginia exit polls showed Trump underwater on approval by 15 points, far worse than Biden. If anything, Trump was a drag on Youngkin’s performance.

But Trump will still be able to make McConnell’s life unpleasant.

There is zero chance Trump will stay out of the 2022 mid-terms. Trump will undoubtedly try to push his favorites through Republican primaries and will barge into races throughout the country. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and House Republicans are probably safe from Trump as individual House races are relatively small potatoes (and a GOP majority is practically a foregone conclusion).

But Senate contests and the control of the chamber will be a very big and high-profile deal. No amount of pleading and cajoling will stop Trump from stealing as much limelight as he can. He will be determined to “help” wherever he wants, regardless of whether that help is wanted.

The recent decision by Governor Chris Sununu to decline to run for a U.S. Senate could foreshadow trouble for McConnell. Who can blame Sununu for declining? The race would not only be hard-fought, but Sununu would have to contend with the threat of Trump parachuting in at any time.

Both parties enter 2022 with more political problems than solutions.

Republican prospects look much better, as they are carrying winning momentum and are not in the midst of a civil war. But they still have to contend with Trump dragging down their ticket.

Keith Naughton, Ph.D., is co-founder of Silent Majority Strategies, a public and regulatory affairs consulting firm. Naughton is a former Pennsylvania political campaign consultant. Follow him on Twitter @KNaughton711.

Tags 2022 midterm elections Bernie Sanders bipartisan infrastructure bill budget reconciliation package Chris Sununu Democratic civil war Donald Trump Elizabeth Warren Glenn Youngkin Grim Reaper Joe Biden Kevin McCarthy long game long-term political strategy Mitch McConnell obstructionism progressive agenda Progressive wing Republican Party trumpism Virginia Governor race

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