The latest nasty turn of events for Democrats is the release of a redistricting map in New York state, drawn by a court-appointed special master, which has magically transformed a net gain of congressional seats into likely a net loss.

Had the Democratic legislature not tried to get greedy and go for too many seats at the expense of Republicans, they could have had a map considerably better than the one they'll end up with. Redistricting over-reach is often a problem for dominant parties, who invite the courts to throw out their work. Republicans drew maps favorable to themselves in several states, but didn’t go too far for fear of the courts stepping in. Sometimes discretion is the better part of valor.

But that bad news pales in comparison to the overall political fundamentals. President Biden's approval ratings are 41 percent (53 percent disapprove) in the FiveThirtyEight average, and 42 percent (53 percent disapprove) in RealClearPolitics. But for a Fox News survey earlier this month that pegged his approval at 45 percent (53 percent disapprove), his rating would have been even lower.

Biden’s approval numbers in other major national polls of late on the low end were 39 percent from the Monmouth University poll and 40 percent in the Quinnipiac University pollCNN had him a tick higher at 41 percent, while the NBC NewsABC News/Washington Post, and NPR/PBS/Marist College polls all had him at 42 percent approval.

Also last week, the University of Michigan’s closely watched Consumer Sentiment Index showed consumer confidence the lowest in nearly a decade. That pessimism was also apparent in the NBC News poll, where just 16 percent said the country was headed in the right direction, compared to 75 percent who said it was on the wrong track. NBC News senior political editor Mark Murray quoted Bill McInturff, the GOP half of the team conducting the poll, saying that this result "is a flashing red light. ... Americans are telling us this is as bad as 2008.”

Talk that there could be a recession in our future is picking up, though most economists suspect that the country will not tip over into a technical recession until early next year. While that might seem to be a respite for Democrats, it could also mean that terrible economic conditions hurt them across two election cycles, not just one.

The hesitancy on the part of the Biden administration and the Federal Reserve to acknowledge and seriously address the inflation threat is very likely going to cause them to have to stomp on the brakes harder than they otherwise might have, meaning an elevated risk of recession. Efforts to shift the blame to the Russians or greedy corporations have proven unproductive for the administration. On handling inflation, just 23 percent of respondents in the NBC poll approved of Biden's performance, compared to 71 percent who disapproved. Only on handling the coronavirus did Biden have right-side-up approval ratings (59 percent approve, 35 percent disapprove). On the economy, it was 33 percent approve/62 percent disapprove, on the war between Russia and Ukraine it was 41 percent approve/48 percent disapprove, and on border security it was 34 percent approve/58 percent disapprove.

NBC also found that the Democratic Party’s positive numbers are now 4 points worse than those of the Republican Party, and the negative ratings are 4 points worse for Democrats than for the GOP, as well.

The Democratic Party has moved so far to the left and the Republican Party so far right that not only is the center of gravity in each party heading toward the extremes but the parties are each getting narrower; the ideological distance between the most liberal in the Democratic Party and the least liberal is not that great, just as the distance between the most and least conservative elements in the Republican Party continues to shrink. As a result, candidates and policies that were once on the fringes of each party are now squarely in their mainstreams, and what used to be in the mainstream is now the fringe. The parties have each become so self-absorbed, with so little self-awareness, that they seem not to recognize how much they have become caricatures of themselves. Democrats are becoming what Republicans said they were 30 years ago—and vice versa. What were gross exaggerations not that long ago are now appearing more prophetic.

This game of political ping pong is likely to continue, with policy ricocheting from the left to right and back in two- and four-year intervals, with each party taking turns absorbing the hits until they are thrown out of power. A helluva way to run a country.

The article was originally published for the National Journal on May 16, 2022.

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