Even as we look ahead to the new year, we can be assured that the political media focus will be trained, as it has for the last five years, on Donald Trump—his continuing legal and political troubles, the ‘reckoning’ within the GOP about the former president’s role in the party’s weak midterm performance and the rise of the potential Trump challengers like Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.
But there are a number of other key developments that I’ll be watching that could give us more insights into what 2024 could bring (as well as what we really learned from the 2022 midterms).
Most of what we know about the make-up of the 2022 midterm electorate comes from the exit polling and some precinct-level analysis. But, a much more accurate assessment comes in the spring of the next year when experts like Pew Research are able to match voters who answered their post-election survey with a voter file. In other words, the people who say they voted can actually be matched with voter files to find out if they really did. This process, as Pew describes it, can provide more accuracy than “relying on self-reported turnout alone.” It is through surveys like these that we can get a more realistic idea of the role that certain demographic groups—like younger voters or Latinos—played in the midterms. And, because they have validated voter data going back to 2016, they can provide an apples-to-apples comparison with previous elections.
Of all the consequential developments of the 2022 midterms, the decision of GOP Senators Rob Portman (OH), Richard Burr (NC) and Pat Toomey (PA) to retire was one of the most significant. There’s no guarantee that they would have been re-elected, but their retirements created major headaches for the GOP and helped Democrats expand their majority. The fact that Democrats had only one retirement—Vermont’s Pat Leahy—was another crucial factor in Democrats’ success.
This cycle, Democrats are the ones who have to be most concerned with incumbent retention. The good news, thus far, is that at least one of those incumbents, Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown, has indicated that he’ll be running for re-election. But we still don’t know if the other two Democratic incumbents from red states—Montana Sen. Jon Tester and West Virginia’s Joe Manchin—will be on the ballot in 2024. While both incumbents are in for tough races next cycle, it’s hard to see a scenario in which Democrats hold either seat without those incumbents.
Thus far, we know there’ll be at least one open seat in 2024: Indiana Sen. Mike Braun (R) will be giving up his seat to run for Governor. While Indiana is a red state, a complicated, messy or unpredictable primary can provide an opening for a surprise (see: Donnelly, Joe; 2012).
The last Congress was defined by division and discord. The events of January 6th set a tone of distrust and disgust. There were fights over everything from mask mandates to metal detectors. Trump was impeached—again. Traditional norms were ignored or denied. Democrats voted to remove Republicans Marjorie Taylor Greene and Paul Gosar from committee assignments. Republican members—including leader Kevin McCarthy—failed to comply with congressional subpoenas to testify in front of the January 6 Committee.
Already, McCarthy has indicated that he will seek to remove at least three Democrats from their committee assignments and reinstate Greene and Gosar on their committees. McCarthy has also floated the possibility of impeaching the secretary of Homeland Security, Alejandro N. Mayorkas. Only one cabinet official in American history has ever been impeached.
Moreover, there’s little incentive for either side to work with the other next year. Democrats have a good opportunity to win back control of the House in 2024, while Republicans will be eager to put the Biden administration on defense.
The better-than-expected midterm outcome have put President Biden in a strong position for 2024. Gone is the hand-wringing and second-guessing from his allies that dominated much of the 2021-2022 chatter. But, anyone who follows politics knows that the winds can shift at any moment. As The Washington Post’s Dan Balz noted, “despite Biden’s good fortunes in 2022 and Trump’s failures, there’s nothing certain about how 2024 will play out. Biden’s age and capacity to handle the job remain issues to many voters.” There will be unexpected events and crises. For now, the spotlight is trained on the former president and his troubles. But it won’t stay there permanently.
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