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The Democrats Are Freaking Out About the 2022 Midterms. Good!

The party is rightly worried about polls showing Republican gains. The solution is to stop talking about doing things and start actually doing them.

Democratic Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney at a hearing in 2019
Yara Nardi/Pool/Getty Images
Democratic Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney at a hearing in 2019

For the better part of President Joe Biden’s first year in office, there’s been talk of an FDR-size presidency and a “hot vax” summer. Now we might be on the cusp of a bipartisan infrastructure deal. The adults are in the room, and the sensible Democrats are in ascendance. But those tides could quickly shift: “During a closed-door lunch last week with some of his most vulnerable incumbents, House Democrats’ campaign chief delivered a blunt warning: If the midterms were held now, they would lose the majority,” wrote Sarah Ferris and Heather Caygle in Politico this week. 

At that grave meeting, New York Representative Sean Patrick Maloney (pictured above), with “new polling that showed Democrats falling behind Republicans by a half-dozen points on a generic ballot in battleground districts” in hand, called on Democrats to “course-correct” before 2022 by better promoting of the Biden agenda (which, we’re told, “polls strongly”). Democrats plan to respond to these headwinds with a “messaging blitz” that will highlight the White House’s “ambitious plans to juice the economy” and “better explain what Democrats have been doing to help the Covid-ravaged” country. 

“Here’s the good news,” says Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee executive director Tim Persico in the article: “Everything we are doing and everything we’ve talked about doing is incredibly popular.” The funny thing, of course, about the things that Democrats are doing or talking about doing is that they’re not yet done. 

House Democrats can be forgiven somewhat for being on the wrong side of the verb tense. After all, they’ve used their majority to tee up some significant parts of their party’s agenda. From the House, Democrats advanced the framework for the bipartisan infrastructure bill, the independent January 6 commission, and the For the People Act voting rights bill. The latter two foundered only because too many Democratic senators would rather retain the filibuster than pass this agenda.

Politico reports that the same Democrats who are suddenly fretting about the midterms take solace in the fact that some elements of their agenda, like expanding child tax credits, are “hugely popular.” That may or may not be true. As it stands, the child tax credit would be temporary. There aren’t 10 Republican votes in the Senate to extend it further or make it permanent—more to the point, there aren’t enough Democratic votes. As Politico reported last week, the “consensus just isn’t there” among Democrats to spend the projected “$1 trillion over 10 years” to keep the child tax credit on a long-term basis.   

Beyond the child tax credit, this week, the White House and Democratic lawmakers spent days passing the buck on whether to extend an eviction moratorium that’s currently keeping millions of vulnerable renters in their homes. (This after they failed to properly disburse rental assistance funds before the current protections expired.) The administration initially declined to extend the moratorium, saying it lacked the authority to do so, but Biden ultimately agreed to extend a means-tested version of it after facing public pressure from Missouri Representative Cori Bush, who staged a multinight rally on the Capitol steps in defense of renters. The Democratic Party’s ambivalence to extend the moratorium may have had something to do with the fact that the National Association of Realtors has contributed more than $2 million to Democratic lawmakers.

Between these newly reported shortfalls in the polls, a popular agenda blocked by both the opposition party and too many Democrats, an infrastructure package that’s been slashed to win the “bipartisanship” label, and a constituent base who could lose their homes and livelihoods, it’s only gotten harder to fit their midterm election puzzle box together. What kind of messaging blitz could possibly convince voters to cast their ballots in support of an agenda that Democrats themselves don’t seem to want to pass?

This article first appeared in Power Mad, a weekly TNR newsletter authored by deputy editor Jason Linkins. Sign up here.