Could the coming ‘red wave’ election become a ‘red tsunami’?

President Biden speaks to reporters after a Democratic caucus luncheon at the Senate Russell Office building to discuss voting rights and filibuster reform on Thursday, January 13, 2022.
Greg Nash

It seems President Biden can’t buy a good headline these days, which is a wonder. He’s been using taxpayer money to try to buy just about everything else. But his legislative overreach – trying to do too much, too fast, with too little support – is tanking, as are his poll numbers

There’s a growing conviction in the media, and even among Democrats, that the coming November election could see a “red wave” of Republicans winning their respective races in the House and perhaps the Senate. 

But by comparing the coming election to the red waves of 1994 and 2010, we may instead be looking at a “red tsunami.” 

A recent analysis in “Sabato’s Crystal Ball,” produced by Larry Sabato at the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia, looks at potential outcomes of the November election in light of the fact that a president’s party usually loses seats in the first midterm election. “With some key national factors seemingly in their favor, Republicans could win a healthy majority in the House in 2022 — perhaps even their biggest in nearly a century,” the analysis states. 

The past two red waves were 1994, when Republicans won 54 more House seats than they had won in the previous election, and 2010, with 64 more Republican House seats. 

But if we look at what caused those huge Republican victories, we may get an even better glimpse at Democrats’ dismal prospects.  

In 1992, Democrat Bill Clinton won the presidential election with just 43 percent of the popular vote. Incumbent Republican President George H. W. Bush won 37 percent, with third-party candidate Ross Perot taking 19 percent. Even though it was far from a majority of the popular vote, Clinton’s 43 percent was enough to win the Electoral College.

Bizarrely, Democrats immediately claimed Clinton had a “mandate” from the voters to make major changes, especially in the health care system. What came to be called ClintonCare would have been a massive federal restructuring of the U.S. health care system. And unlike President Obama and ObamaCare, Clinton never tried to con the public with a “if you like your health plan, you can keep it” promise — PolitiFact’s 2013 “Lie of the Year.”

Health care reform consumed Clinton’s first two years in office, and it failed — miserably.

Clinton was, however, able to pass several major tax increases in 1993. He increased individual income tax rates for the top two brackets, removed the 2.9 percent cap on the Medicare payroll tax, raised the corporate income tax, increased the taxable portion of Social Security benefits and increased the gasoline tax by 4.3 cents per gallon — all with 43 percent of the popular vote.

In the 1994 election voters registered their strong disapproval. 

When Obama took office in 2009, Democrats again claimed to have a mandate for major changes. Obama immediately started pushing health care reform that consumed and divided the country for his first two years — and beyond. He was able to get ObamaCare passed in March 2010 only by going through a very convoluted legislative process because he did not have enough votes to pass it in the Senate. (Sound familiar?)

Oh, and ObamaCare included 21 new taxes.

So the two largest Democratic defeats in modern history came after massive health care reform efforts and multiple new taxes — and with virtually unanimous Republican opposition. 

Now comes Biden’s first midterm election in which Democrats have a five or six seat majority in the House and no majority in the Senate (unless the vice president weighs in). And they are once again claiming a mandate and putting their Democratic-overreach approach on steroids.

His nearly $2 trillion Build Back Better bill would vastly restructure and expand the welfare state and impose lots of new taxes at a time when the public is much more concerned about inflation and the pandemic. 

And his voting rights push, backed up with over-the-top claims that opposition to the Democrats’ efforts is tantamount to a return to Jim Crow laws and maybe the Confederacy, is playing even less well in the country.

These are staggering overreaches, plopped on the back of staggering failures, such as the Afghanistan withdrawal and growing Russian and Chinese aggression. That’s why so many analysts are predicting a red wave.

But there’s one big difference between the 1994 and 2010 overreaches and the coming November election that could see a red tsunami: Clinton and Obama were masterful politicians who were enormously popular with much of the public and appeared to be at the top of their game — even if the game didn’t always go in their favor. 

Biden appears hapless, confused and stymied. He won the presidential election not because of who he was, but because of who he wasn’t. And that means the November election might not only be a rejection of the president’s agenda – a red wave – but a rejection of the president himself.

Merrill Matthews is a resident scholar with the Institute for Policy Innovation in Dallas, Texas. Follow him on Twitter @MerrillMatthews.

Tags Affordable Care Act Barack Obama Biden Biden's poll numbers Biden; Joe Biden; Bill Clinton Build Back Better Joe Biden Wave election

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