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Gerald Malone

Bye bye Biden?

Photo: American Photo Archive / Alamy Stock Photo

The President’s dire approval ratings bode ill for the midterms - and beyond.

Remember WinRed and ActBlue. Focus. Screen out Biden and Trump. Look away from lurid headlines to understand the likely ebb and flow of American politics in 2022. Important midterm elections shimmer on the fall horizon.

WinRed and ActBlue are where the real action is. They are the gruesome twosome, online social media based fundraising platforms of Republicans and Democrats. Their fortunes will prove a more reliable bellwether of shifting popular support than swinging polls responding to here today, gone tomorrow triumphs or missteps.

The Donald Trump will rant, perhaps on his new social media platform, GETTR. GETTR, apparently, is meant to imply “Getting Together”. Good luck working that one out. Joe Biden may nod off at summits, as he did at COP 26 in Glasgow. Pundits on FOX or CNN will froth.

Under the boiling sea of media talking heads, steadier fundraising currents will flow. Less drama, but more impact on parties’ efforts to get the vote out in the crucial tight races.

It would be the ultimate irony of American history if, after dumping George III in 1776, Americans allowed the British monarchy to sweep back to office in 2028 in the shape of Duchess President Markle and First Muppet, Harry.

The Democrats were first to the punch in the smart tapping of social media, recruiting a dependable broad base of small donors. They have been on the case for 14 years. Over that period $2.5 billion was raised. Then the Republican National Committee (RNC) woke up.

WinRed kicked off in 2019 and has already passed that $2.5 billion blue finish line. The Republican late starter is fast overtaking the Democrat veteran.

These apps are controversial. They clip a 1% fee from donations and pass the balance on to the party. Gerrit Lansing, the RNC’s former funding guru, founder of the technology that underpins WinRed, and the platform’s president, was accused of conflict of interest in taking a nearly $1m fee from the firm he co-founded, REVV, which provides the technology. He severed ties with the RNC and Trump’s White House in 2018, before WinRed’s launch.

But the apps are now a permanent feature on the landscape. As special interests become increasingly wary of ever-stricter disclosure donation rules and back off from overtly supporting either party, small donors are coming to the fore.

They respond to every turn in the political tide. When liberal icon Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg died in September 2020 a record $30m was raised by ActBlue the following day.

Biden v. Trump in 2024?

Time to confront the two elderly elephants blundering around America’s political drawing room. Will President Joe Biden run for a second term? Will former President Donald Trump seek re-election?

I bet on both maintaining their “Will he, won’t he?” equivocation until the midterms are over. Biden has already put the issue on ice by failing to rule candidacy out, or really in. A terse, non-committal, White House third party statement about seeking another term - “He is,” immediately downplayed to “That is his intention” - was as po-faced as these holding statements come.

Asked the same question in 1987, Margaret Thatcher famously declared she hoped to “Go on and on”.  For the record, within three years she was toast.

The President’s team is faced with a disastrous 40% approval rating following the Afghanistan retreat fiasco and a flood of immigrants across the Rio Grande that make it look like the English Channel.  Biden will not be a midterm vote winner for Democrats.

At the equivalent time in his Presidency, Barack Obama was scoring 69% approval, yet in his first midterms in 2010 Democrats lost control of the House of Representatives and nearly lost control of the Senate, with the Republicans winning seven seats. The Democrats also lost six gubernatorial elections and 20 state legislatures flipped. This was a Republican wave in defiance of a still popular president.

At 40% approval, Biden offers Congressional candidates no coattails. A loss of control of the House of Representatives would likely prove fatal to the President’s hopes to run again, if he harbours any seriously. His candidacy would offer a rocky road to ruin for Democrats in 2024, when Biden will be 82.

What of The Donald? Trump is a mere stripling at 75. He will play a canny game, hates losers, thinks he won in 2020 and will not want to risk the inevitable loss in 2024 should the Democrats be on course to pick a sane, middle of the road candidate. Don’t discount him failing to reach the start.

The dilemma for Republicans is that Trump holds the nomination in his own hands. After his ruthless dismantling of the opposition slate in the 2016 primaries, volunteers to raise their heads above the parapet and face Trump-fire will be few.

Democrats have much to fear in 2022. To the horror of the woke, the GOP is making strong headway among voter cohorts they long considered their own – the working class, Latinos and African Americans.

Look out for clever manoeuvring from GOP candidates. Being a Trump denier loses “base” votes and invites challenges against incumbents in primaries. But blind Trump loyalists risk losing the middle ground they need to win elections. There must be a better way.

There is. The new “Elections for Dummies” manual has been written recently by newly elected Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin. He handily beat Democrat veteran and former Governor Terry McAuliffe to the governorship in September. He fronted a surprising sweep of all major offices – Governor, Lieutenant Governor and Attorney General, and control of the House of Delegates.

Youngkin fought on issues and cannily sidestepped the Trump question. Neither subservient nor disloyal, he pilloried McAuliffe for opposing Virginia’s right-to-work law and trashing education standards. On McAuliffe’s watch no school received a failing grade. He banged on about the appointment of parole board members who became mired in controversy. Things that mattered to the ordinary Joe.

Tapping into the rich vein of disdain for controversial critical race theory, the emasculated role of parents in their kids’ education, and school safety paid huge dividends. Middle America is waking to the woke agenda and does not like what it sees.

Youngkin boxed clever. The Trump administration’s achievements were lauded. The man himself left on the political sidewalk. Trump boxed clever too. Old – pre 2020 - Trump would have weighed in on any sign of lack of enthusiasm for his MAGA (Make America Great Again) memes from Youngkin. Non-conformist candidates, especially in primary elections, used to be ruthlessly thrown under the bus.

New, controlled, Trump - well, Trump as self-controlled as he is ever likely to be - remained surprisingly shtum.
He and his groupies clocked that Youngkin’s nimble footwork won the Republicans a governorship in a state Biden won handily by 10.1% only a year ago.

Aspiring GOP candidates will have noticed and will seek to press home the advantage of that winning strategy across the board. Being a Trump puppet will not be a winning strategy in 2022.

The Republican party is a mean machine. Like its UK Conservative counterpart, it is ruthless in the quest to win, and my guess is Trump will grudgingly go along with a winning narrative if the Youngkin strategy works for candidates in the midterms. So long as he is not pinned into that “loser” corner.

Presumptive heirs

By December 2022, the realities of a seismic electoral shift and the absurdity of either Trump or Biden as a credible leader of the free world – a role America still aspires to - will have sunk in. The candidacy of either may seem only a bad dream.

To gain some perspective, it’s worth recalling that the much-mocked doddering Soviet Leader, Leonid Brezhnev, died at the ripe old age of 76.

The public mood will likely be, why provide more good material for satirists? “The Slugfest of the Gerontocrats” would be a neat follow up novel to Tom Wolfe’s “The Bonfire of the Vanities.” Sadly, Wolfe is no longer with us to oblige. Talking to political friends from both sides of the aisle in the US, I sense an overwhelming urge to turn the page.

Behind the tapes on the Democratic starting line are – in no particular order: Pete Buttigieg, former Mayor of South Bend with a decent showing in the 2020 stakes; Cory Booker, Senator, New Jersey; Joe Kennedy, Representative from Massachusetts, with a winning pedigree; Amy Klubachar, Senator from Minnesota, respectable first 2020 outing; Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Representative from New York, winner in the Woke Handicap, but likely to crash and burn early in the 2024 Cup.

Kamala Harris’s inconsequential White House presence makes her a non-starter for 2024. In primaries she would be scorched as she was in 2020.

Missing from my list is Kamala Harris, Vice President. Her inconsequential White House presence makes her a non-starter. Scratched. In primaries she would be scorched as she was in 2020.

On the Republican side expect: Greg Abbott, Governor of Texas; Ted Cruz, Senator from Texas; Ron de Santis, extrovert Governor of Florida; Nikki Haley, former Ambassador to the United Nations; Mike Pompeo, former Secretary of State; Rick Scott, Senator from Florida; and, if he enjoys his newfound limelight, Glenn Youngkin.

One observation. Governorship prepares candidates for electoral runs better than service in either house of Congress. My hot tip to win out in the Republican race for nomination is a serving governor. In the Democratic camp there is a dearth of governors with a national profile, save for New York’s recently disgraced Andrew Cuomo. 

The shifting midterm battleground

Virginia proved the coming campaign will likely be “all about issues”, not posturing. Democrats have much to fear in 2022. To the horror of the woke, the GOP is making strong headway among voter cohorts they long considered their own – the working class, Latinos and African Americans. Polling agency, Pew, found in 2020 that 81% of Hispanic Trump voters were working class and he won 41% of the under-30 Hispanic vote. This used to be exclusive Democratic territory.

Sure, most Latinos still support the Democrats – 61% voted for Biden – but Trump secured an 8% swing, and that trend seems set to continue. That’s not all. The swing to Trump in the African American vote was 6%.

Why the tectonic shift? There is growing intolerance of tin-eared Democrat politicians who bang on about their liberal agendas which are of little interest to the average American.

The level of self-deception is stunning. Do I hear echoes of Jeremy Corbyn, “One more push, comrades and socialist victory will be ours,” just before the Boris landslide?

According to Jesse Ferguson, a veteran Democratic strategist, “This time, our agenda is popular, and voters are scared of the damage that would be done by putting Republicans back in power.”

Tell that to the family I met in November, decamping from Chicago, Illinois, to Nashville, Tennessee. In their case, it was for the future of their children. 

A loss of control of the House of Representatives would likely prove fatal to the President’s hopes to run again, if he harbours any seriously. His candidacy would offer a rocky road to ruin for Democrats in 2024, when Biden will be 82.

Fed up with education battles against an establishment determined to set an agenda of gender awareness, teachers wearing “Black Lives Matter” apparel while protesting political neutrality – try wearing a MAGA hat to school – and the debunking of conventional teaching of history, now mocked as a white supremacist narrative, this family is voting with its feet.

Others are fleeing a Chicago plagued by lawlessness, fuelled by police defunding. It’s not about the money. Illinois and Tennessee share state levels around 7%.

Theirs is not an untypical story. High taxes coupled with an increasingly alien political culture are just two reasons for a California population rush to Texas. Over the last decade the number was 687,000. In the last two years it has risen to 87,000 annually.

I am told it now costs twice as much to rent a U-Haul removal trailer on the trek east than on the return trip to the Golden State. The market has spoken.

The same tale is told in many US cities. In San Francisco, before the onset of Covid, I was shocked to be told by my hosts not to walk in downtown Union Square. “Take a cab straight to the concert hall”. Drug addiction and aggressive panhandling ruled the San Fran streets.

The same goes for Portland, Oregon, where George Floyd riots turned the city into a no-go zone. In New York, Madison Avenue high-end stores tolerate ram raiding of Gucci handbag displays because the losses are cheaper than hiring security – and New York’s finest rozzers simply turn their ample backs.

A fair fight in the fair land?

Watch out for “salting the political battlefield”. Rude folk call it gerrymandering. Sharp politicos dub it re-districting. The process of changing boundaries of voting districts to reflect drifts in population is underway. In Ohio for Thanksgiving, I learnt that new boundaries proposed by Republicans who hold sway there will produce an expected bonus of probably one seat.

Republicans already hold 12 of the 16 districts, with 57% of the popular vote. Democrats hold only four, but tally 43%. It’s a scandal, until you look at Democratic controlled California. Democrats hold 46 districts with 66% of the vote, Republicans only 7 with 34%. Truth is, they’re all at it. The hand that draws the map controls the outcome.

There is mumbling about independent commissioners being appointed to determine boundaries, as in the UK, but as they would be appointments endorsed by incumbent politicians the same result would be likely, only by a more convoluted and legally contested route.

Redrawn maps have always been fought over tooth and claw. Both parties try to twist the process to their advantage and there is room for legal appeal to local courts against unfairness. That’s a long game and while litigation is underway, elections - the upcoming midterms – will take place on the proposed new boundaries.

An assessment by The New York Times (NYT) predicts that re-districting will deliver five seats in the House of Representatives to Republicans, enough to flip control without winning any other contests. The NYT, no fans of the GOP, sportingly concedes that both sides resort to gerrymandering, but points out Republicans are the better practitioners of the dark art.

And now for something completely different

Lift your spirits and consider Meghan Markle’s mooted bid for a Californian Senate seat in 2028. It must be true. The Spectator World December edition cover screams, “President Markle. How Meghan Wins the White House”. The World edition of The Speccy circulates widely in the US.

“Friends” are quoted. “The duchess’ sights are set higher than celebrity. Has she already started her run?” Well, probably not. Oprah Winfrey took one look at the scrutiny celeb candidates attract and passed the poisoned chalice by.

That said, Markle has been forging connections with senior Democratic Party figures to “explore her options”. She is chummy with the sisterhood of Kamala Harris and Hillary Clinton. It would be the ultimate irony of American history if, after dumping their much-maligned king, George III, in 1776, Americans allowed the British monarchy to sweep back to office in 2028 in the shape of Duchess President Markle and First Muppet, Harry.

Fortunately, for those who wish America well and believe in its relentless capacity for self-renewal a Markle makeover of the White House is some way off.

I prefer the less roller-coaster prediction of Susan Eisenhower, granddaughter of Ike, at a luncheon lecture I attended at The University Club of New York in November.

She pointed out that President Eisenhower, a military man more than a conniving politician, was faced with unknown policy issues in the post-war era. How to handle nuclear weapons. What to make of the Soviet Sputnik challenge. Forging the NATO alliance to confront the Cold War threat. Shaping the United Nations to prevent another global war.

Hers was the hopeful reminder for Americans in despair for their political future. “Cometh the hour, cometh the man”. For the United States, in the persona of Eisenhower in peace time, just as it had been for Britain at a time of war in the persona of Winston Churchill. And now….? She did not say.

Time to jump off the fence. Cometh December 2022, Republicans will control the House of Representatives, the Senate will be gridlocked and fresh-faced candidates for both parties will be emerging for the 2024 presidential race.

 

Gerald Malone is a British writer, businessman, former Conservative MP and Government Minister.