Republicans have had a brutal news cycle over the past month, between the ouster of Liz Cheney from leadership and the intraparty jousting over a Jan. 6 commission.
The overwhelming sense of the coverage is that the party is descending into madness and civil war and is a husk of its former self.
There’s no denying that much of the party has been too willing to indulge or look away from wild theories about the 2020 election and the Capitol riot, but this shouldn’t obscure the fact that the Republicans are well-positioned to take the House next year.
All indications are that GOP voters are united and energized and the party is doing what’s necessary to make Kevin McCarthy the next speaker, which would instantly squash the never-very-plausible talk of Joe Biden being the next FDR.
The foundation of the GOP’s unity, of course, is that Donald Trump effortlessly maintained his control of the GOP. The anticipated civil war came and went with barely a shot fired.
Cheney is certainly a casualty, although she is now less a leader of a significant faction of the party and more a voice crying in the wilderness. That is an honorable role, and she may well be vindicated in the fullness of time.
But the party will pay no electoral price for the drama over her leadership role or, likely, for its continued loyalty to Trump.
Despite Trump’s grip, he’s not front and center for average voters. He isn’t president and he isn’t on the ballot. The focus inevitably will be on Biden and his agenda, which will loom larger than anything the former president can do from Mar-a-Lago.
The Democratic polling outfit Democracy Corps just did a battleground survey that confirmed this picture. As Stanley Greenberg writes in a memo about the poll, among Republicans: “the percent scoring 10, the highest level of interest in the election, has fallen from 84-68 percent. But Democrats’ engagement fell from 85-57 percent.”
Greenberg calls the GOP base “uniquely unified and engaged.”
More evidence is the boffo fundraising by the National Republican Campaign Committee so far. Meanwhile, GOP candidate recruitment is ahead of the pace of prior midterm cycles, whereas Democrats are seeing worrisome retirements.
It’s not as though there’s a high bar for the GOP. Republicans will need to flip about half-a-dozen seats in the House, when in the post-World War II era the president’s party has lost on average 27 seats in midterms.
On top of this, the playing field is tilting the GOP’s way. Reapportionment gave more seats to Republican states and based on its strength in state legislatures, the GOP also has the upper hand in redistricting.
The Biden theory is that $6 trillion in spending will deliver a roaring economy that diminishes any midterm losses. But the latest jobs and inflation numbers show that it might not be so simple, and there is considerable doubt whether Biden can get his spending.
Greenberg derives some comfort from his belief that, in contrast to 2020, “this time, Democrats cannot fail to see how early Trump’s party is fully engaged with its ongoing culture war, focused on crime, open borders, and defunding the police.”
Yet, there is no indication of any effort to seriously defuse these issues. Biden’s policies have needlessly created a crisis at the border, and murder rates continue to climb in major cities, even as much of the left still talks of the police as if it’s a racist occupying force.
There are miles to go before November 2022. Biden might find a way to thread the needle of cooperating with Republicans on infrastructure and police reform without alienating his own base, and unforeseen events always take a hand.
But the story of 2021 is not a Republican meltdown. Despite what you read, the party stands a good chance to end its bout in the wilderness after two short years.
(Rich Lowry is editor of the National Review.)
© 2021 by King Features Synd., Inc.