What’s Next for the Democratic Experiment?

Update 648 — The 2022 Midterm Elections
What’s Next for the Democratic Experiment?

A sense of foreboding attends the countdown to the Congressional midterm elections ending next Tuesday. The stakes include control of Congress, much of the public and economic policy agenda, and possibly the destiny of democracy. Leaders of the Democratic party like President Biden and former President Obama have been on the stump, exhorting voters to see the stakes and vote accordingly. But most are distracted by something else. 

When the votes are counted, more Americans will have voted in the midterm elections than in any previous midterm, and by a large margin. Still, many GOP candidates for Congress this year repeat the shibboleth that defeat is evidence of fraud and push for more voting restrictions. The best way to defend democracy is to vote and to cast your ballot for candidates who will defend your interests and rights, rather than restrict them. This means economic interests, the midterms will remind us. 

In today’s update, we cover candidates’ appeals in defense of democracy, messaging on economic policy, and the political reform mandate the 118th Congress will enter office facing, as we brace for another unpredictable change election. May it not involve acts of violence.

Good weekends, all…



Democrats and Democracy on the Stump

While this election has largely focused on the economy, as most usually are, a more foundational issue overshadows the others this year — how to define and defend democracy. Political reform may seem secondary to swing voters, who say their top concern is the price at the pump, the rising cost of food, or punishing healthcare costs. Still, democracy is in the balance this November. Though it hasn’t been central to campaigns, the implications will be in 2024. 

If Democratic candidates in close races are not making threats to democracy the cornerstone of their campaign, President Biden certainly is as the leader of the Democratic party. After his speech in Philadelphia in September and his speech in DC last night, Biden made clear that democracy is under attack, and the next several elections will determine if the US will continue its democratic experiment.

Biden made the point that following Trump’s Big Lie in 2020, political violence and voter intimidation has risen. Many candidates have followed Trump’s lead, not committing to accept the results of the election if they win or lose. Of particular concern are candidates trafficking in these conspiracies who are running to oversee elections. In Arizona, two statewide GOP candidates, Mark Finchem, running for Secretary of State, and Kari Lake, running for governor, have said they might not accept the results of their elections if they do not agree with them. More than 370 Republican candidates have questioned the results of the 2020 election. Election denialism is no longer a fringe idea but a foundation of the Republican party platform. 

Despite Republicans seeding doubt and fear into the democratic process, many Democrats aren’t making it a campaign priority. Focusing on the economy makes sense when it is the top issue for voters, but a real opportunity is missed by not pointing out that GOP candidates are denying election results and undermining the freedom to vote. However, some candidates like Senator Maggie Hassan in New Hampshire and Lieutenant Governor Mandela Barnes in Wisconsin have made a point of lambasting their opponents on the debate stage for their stances on January 6th and the Big Lie.

Other proxy voices for the party are highlighting democracy as an issue. Outside groups that support Democrats have run ads on this topic, slamming Republican candidates for denying election results. More importantly, former President Obama, on a campaign visit to Nevada, said, “tuning out is not an option… the only way to save democracy is if we together fight for it.” A message of collective power to fight for and participate in democracy needs to be effective or Democrats will likely lose control of Congress and democracy itself.

Republicans: Investigations, Debt Negotiations, and Fewer Voting Stations

If Republicans gain control of Congress, we’ll once again face a divided government. This will make standard, must complete actions more difficult. With Congress in charge of the federal purse strings, Republicans may use items like appropriations and the debt ceiling to engage in political stunts and brinkmanship, leading to shutdowns and struggles between the branches.

To wit, the debt limit. Some Republicans have called for cuts to Social Security and Medicare to reduce federal spending. They see cutting government spending as a top priority and a response to inflation. The Republican Study Committee, which contains an overwhelming majority of the House Republican caucus, released a budget plan earlier this year to cut these benefits and raise the eligibility age.

Republican control during a divided government, even if only in the House, means control of numerous committees and oversight responsibilities. Republicans would stage political circuses to investigate Biden and members of his administration, most likely trying to impeach members of the administration as well. If Republicans control the Senate, they will also block most potential Biden nominees and leave various vacancies unfilled, limiting the effectiveness of our government.

House Minority Leader McCarthy’s Commitment to America plan, while mostly vague, envisions what Republicans deem “an accountable government.” In their view, instead of expanding the right to vote, Republicans focus on “election integrity” and devolving power to the states. Many states are actively making it harder to vote rather than expanding enfranchisement. Twenty-four states have enacted more restrictive voting laws in the past two years, affecting 51 percent of total voters. They see election accountability as voter ID laws, purging voter rolls, and giving outside voices more power to observe elections. All of these reforms seek to infringe on the right to vote and intimidate voters. An Arizona group was placed under a temporary restraining order for intimidating and harassing voters at a drop box.

This year, Rep. Rodney Davis introduced the American Confidence in Elections Act. That bill rests election authority with the states, only providing best practices, while controlling DC’s elections to require photo ID and prohibit same day registration and automatically mailed ballots. Rep. Davis’ legislation is clear hypocrisy, going against their stated objective of restoring power to local and state powers, and overriding the will of the people as long as they are under federal jurisdiction. 

While Republicans would have a hard time passing any of their legislative goals with Biden in the White House, Republican control sets a difficult precedent for misinformation from Congressional committees and investigations and a lack of guardrails for the 2024 presidential election. In this circumstance, Biden can use the power of executive action to push for incremental but vital reforms to strengthen our democracy. Moreover, it prevents Democrats from improving upon the work they started this Congress to create a more just, forward-looking, and equitable society.

Defending the Sanctity of the Vote

Democrats can continue the work they’ve started this Congress to expand economic opportunity, fight climate change, access to healthcare, lean forward on intentional industrial policy, and more. As the party in power, Democrats could expand on priorities like the care economy, extending the child tax credit, and creating universal pre-K. Additionally, Democrats could expand America’s manufacturing capabilities by building off the investments in the CHIPS Act. Democrats would continue to level the economic playing field by raising the federal minimum wage and making wealthy corporations pay their fair share.

Democrats in the 118th Congress will need to focus on protecting two key freedoms: the freedom to vote and the freedom to choose. If Democrats retain control and can overcome the filibuster in the Senate, they will enshrine voting and abortion rights into law. While the Freedom to Vote Act failed to overcome a filibuster this Congress, it had full support of all Democrats. So a Democratic majority would similarly prioritize a comprehensive election reform package next Congress to codify voting rights, reform the broken campaign finance system, prohibit partisan gerrymandering, and improve ethics in the government. 

While Congress is likely to act on electoral count reform after the midterms, more needs to be done to ensure we have free, fair, and equitable elections across the country. This is especially critical ahead of the 2024 presidential election, where results could once more be in dispute. Putting in the proper guardrails for a fair election system that prioritizes a peaceful transfer of power is paramount to guaranteeing that our democracy continues.

As President Biden said, “In our bones, we know democracy is at risk. But we also know this. It’s within our power, each and every one of us, to preserve our democracy.” The power rests with voters. We can decide to align ourselves with candidates and a party that seeks to expand democracy or one that denies election results and stokes violence. Make sure you and those around you have a plan to vote and know that democracy is at stake this election.