The future for Dems may be in the past — Jan. 6, 2021, to be exact

It’s a new year, which usually means it’s time to look forward, not back. But if you think Jan. 6, 2021, is now in our rearview mirror, you might want to think again. We’re going to hear a lot about it between now and November.

The midterms are looming and Democrats know they can’t run on their president’s popularity — not if his approval ratings remain in the dumps. They may try to run on the economy — unemployment is on the low side — but inflation is on the high side. When the cost of just about everything keeps going up, voters take out their frustrations on the party in charge.

The southern U.S. border? That’s still a mess, thanks in large part to President BidenJoe BidenMacro grid will keep the lights on Pelosi suggests filibuster supporters 'dishonor' MLK's legacy on voting rights Sanders calls out Manchin, Sinema ahead of filibuster showdown MORE’s non-policy policies. The crime rate? Democrats will take a hit on that, too. Everybody sees what’s going on in big cities where Democrats are in charge and progressive district attorneys have decided that criminals are the real victims of an unfair society, and so they refuse to prosecute many things that we used to call “crimes.”   

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Candidate Biden told us he’d “shut down” the virus. He hasn’t. He told us he’d get us out of Afghanistan. He did — but he botched the job so badly that he made the United States look incompetent, here at home and around the world, to just about anybody who saw the chaotic pullout in real time on television.

So, where does that leave Democrats for the midterms? It leaves them, I believe, back on Jan. 6, 2021. They will tell voters that Republicans don’t believe in democracy — not only the mob of Trump supporters who stormed the Capitol, but pretty much all Republicans. And while they’re at it, they’ll also tell us (as the president already has) that Republicans are acting like a bunch of Old South segregationists who don’t believe in voting rights. They’ll play that one over and over between now and November.

As CNN reported online: “As Democrats look ahead to what could be a challenging midterm election the party — from operatives in key states to top officials in Washington — is publicly and privately gauging the political application of the violent insurrection and whether voters, many of whom are more concerned by pocketbook issues immediately impacting their daily lives, will set aside those frustrations in order to punish Republicans who have either aided Trump's anti-Democratic maneuvers or stood idly by as his allies took hold of the party.”

So yes, there’s a good chance Democrats will try to make Donald TrumpDonald TrumpSanders calls out Manchin, Sinema ahead of filibuster showdown Laura Ingraham 'not saying' if she'd support Trump in 2024 The Hill's 12:30 Report: Djokovic may not compete in French Open over vaccine requirement MORE the albatross they tie around the necks of Republicans running for Congress come November. After all, they will remind voters, it was Trump who said that the “real insurrection” happened not on Jan. 6, 2021, but on Nov. 3, 2020, the day he claims that Democrats stole the election that he rightly won.

It’s all a lie, of course, a delusion. But the argument will be that Democrats are the ones who universally condemn what happened on Jan. 6, not Republicans.  

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Never mind that Joe Biden is president today, despite numerous court challenges from Trump’s legal team, because judges — a lot of them Republican judges — tossed out Trump’s frivolous allegations of widespread fraud; because a Republican vice president carried out his constitutional duties and allowed the Electoral College vote count to go forward; because a Republican attorney general publicly said he found no evidence of widespread fraud in the election; because important Republicans in Georgia refused to put up an alternate slate of electors, as Trump demanded.

It would help Republicans, though, if more of them said out loud that Donald Trump is perpetuating a dangerous lie about a supposedly stolen presidential election — and point out that he’s the one who tried to steal it. Profiles in courage are hard to come by, but cowardice these days is all too common — and is always seen as pitiful. But fear is a powerful force, and Republicans are afraid of Trump-inspired primary challenges if they stand up to our former president.

“Today, it has become heresy among conservatives to question Mr. Trump’s legacy,” the New York Times reported. “The cabinet secretaries and White House aides who resigned in protest of his role in the violence now largely keep to themselves. … The congressional Republicans who angrily denounced the president after their headquarters was invaded have gone silent or even made the pilgrimage to Mar-a-Lago, all but pretending it never happened.”

But what would those same Republicans have said if Joe Biden had lost and then claimed, without evidence, that the election was stolen? What would they have said if Biden’s supporters stormed the Capitol? We know what Republicans would have said. We know what every Fox News opinion talking head would have said. They all would have said it was not simply a riot, but an insurrection, an attempted coup, that the insurrectionists were domestic terrorists, and that Joe Biden is a threat to democracy.

Too bad so many Republicans won’t say that about Donald Trump. Too bad so many of them are so afraid of him and his most passionate supporters. Too bad that hanging onto their jobs is more important to them than standing up for principles.

For Democrats running in this year’s midterms, the future may very well be in the past — Jan. 6, 2021, to be exact. That old saying is in their political DNA. You know, the one about how you should never let a serious crisis go to waste.

Bernard Goldberg is an Emmy and an Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University award-winning writer and journalist. He was a correspondent with HBO’s “Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel” for 22 years and previously worked as a reporter for CBS News and as an analyst for Fox News. He is the author of five books and publishes exclusive weekly columns, audio commentaries and Q&As on his Patreon page. Follow him on Twitter @BernardGoldberg.