Being Right: A Simple Formula for GOP Victory

With Labor Day behind us, the home stretch of the 2022 campaign has begun. For almost a year now, Republicans have believed that President Biden’s low approval ratings and sky-high inflation rates would sweep the GOP to victory in November. And, according to CNBC and FiveThirtyEight, they still might be right—inflation remained above 8 percent in July, and polling averages show that President Biden’s approval rating is stuck in the low 40s. But Democrats found their mojo over the summer, and predictions of a “red wave” have subsided. The GOP is still in the driver’s seat—with sound strategy and smart politics, the midterms are theirs for the taking. Without those things? The GOP might find itself snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.

The tide changed in the aftermath of the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision, which immediately made abortion one of the major issues weighing on the minds of voters—particularly at the state level, where most (or all) of the legislating on the issue will actually take place. Republicans were suddenly on defense, and they stumbled out of the gates. Talk of total abortion bans scared voters across the spectrum, pushing persuadable voters toward the Democrats. In August, a ballot referendum in Kansas showed the political limits of abortion maximalism. Even in the ruby-red state, a proposal to remove abortion protections from the state constitution failed dramatically. Republicans must recognize that the abortion issue is deeply personal and challenging to many Americans. They must speak about it compassionately, aligning behind policies that are more in step with the American people. And they should train their fire leftward, taking on the Democrats’ own abortion maximalism: abortion on demand up to the moment of birth. If they do that, they will have successfully neutralized the Democrats’ ammunition on the issue.

The passage of President Biden’s signature climate and health legislation—the so-called Inflation Reduction Act—also gave Democrats a shot in the arm. The bill was an abomination: poorly-crafted climate tax credits, payoffs to labor unions, protectionist trade barriers, and a price-fixing scheme for vital medicines that will prevent life-saving treatments from ever reaching the market. But the Democrats seem to measure success by how much of the people’s money they can spend—and by that measure, it’s a win. On issues of such importance to the Democratic base, that’s likely to mean something come November.

The biggest thing striking fear into Republicans, according to NBC News, is the issue of “candidate quality,” as Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell put it last month. Republicans nominated political novices in many key races—often after a Trump endorsement powered them to a primary win. They’ve had their growing pains. Dr. Oz, the Republican Senate nominee in Pennsylvania, decamped to Palm Beach and Ireland for almost a month following his primary win. Herschel Walker, the Republican Senate nominee in Georgia, has been dogged (fairly or unfairly) by questions about his mental health struggles. And Blake Masters, the GOP Senate nominee in Arizona, has been criticized for his quixotic and controversial writings as a Stanford student in the 2000s. But there are signs that these new candidates are finding their footing. According to ABC News, they’ve begun to modulate their message and tack towards the middle, knowing that a newly invigorated Democratic base will require them to win over moderate voters. And they’ve also begun to unmask Democrat nominees like Mandela Barnes in Wisconsin and John Fetterman in Pennsylvania as the Sanders-style ultra-liberals they really are. The tactics seem to be working: in several races, the GOP is bouncing back from the depths of its summer polling doldrums. With their sea legs under them, Republican candidates can go on offense in the final leg of the campaign.

The path to victory in November for Republicans is simple: a laser focus on the economy and a message of hope for the American future. Republican candidates have one job: seem normal. The American people are looking for a place to safely park their vote and register their opposition to the disastrous Biden agenda. In 2022, “Generic Republican” is a winning formula. A return to power in Washington is squarely within the GOP’s sights. All they have to do is listen to the adults in the room—and convince the American people that they can act like them.