When pundits assess the political prospects of President Joe Biden, they speak of three issue areas: 1) the withdrawal of American armed forces from Afghanistan; 2) the state of the economy; and 3) the battle against the spread of Covid. The conventional wisdom approach is to give all three of these issues roughly the same weight in assessing the President’s likely political fortunes, both in the Congressional elections of 2022 and the presidential election of 2024.
As usual, I dispute the conventional wisdom.
First, with regard to Afghanistan: This issue may well turn out to be a positive for Biden.
Yes, the Biden administration badly botched the withdrawal from Afghanistan. It needlessly alienated our NATO allies, failed to provide refuge for Afghanis who had assisted us for many years, and left behind a large volume of military equipment. Finally, Secretary of State Tony Blinken has displayed a political tin ear and grossly inadequate communication skills in articulating to the American public the policy of the Biden Administration on this issue.
Withal, in terms of historical significance, Biden deserves enormous credit for having the courage to end the nation building policy in Afghanistan that has engulfed his Republican and Democratic presidential predecessors and resulted in senseless deaths for American troops.
The history of American involvement in Afghanistan is a quintessential example of “mission creep.” What began as a justifiable mission after 9-11 to wrest control of Afghanistan from the Taliban protectors of Al-Qaeda shortly evolved into a hopeless attempt at building through military force a Western-style democracy. It was destined for failure.
When it comes to foreign policy, American voters always have two primary concerns: 1) the preservation of national security; and 2) the avoidance of senseless killings of our troops. The American electorate has never viewed the establishment of democracy in Afghanistan as a vital national security interest, and their appreciation of Biden for the fact that American troops are no longer getting killed in Afghanistan will increase. To the extent that Afghanistan remains as an issue from now until 2024, it will be a plus for Joe Biden.
Second, on the economy: The primary economic concern on the horizon is inflation. The major potential accelerator of inflation is the financing of the Biden jobs and infrastructure package, the most significant budgetary increase over the last half century. Assuming that it passes the Congress in whole or in part, it will be financed either by tax increases, printing of money, or most likely, both. And the portion funded by the increase in the money supply will be inflationary.
Given the uncertainty of the extent to which the Congress will pass the Biden infrastructure passage and how it will be financed, it is premature to predict the future impact of the economy on Biden’s political prospects.
By contrast, Biden can unilaterally enact virtually all facets of his Covid initiative without Congressional action. And in my view, the political impact of the Biden Covid initiative is highly predictable.
Most of the Biden Covid program is focused on increasing the number of people vaccinated. As his Center for Disease Control and Prevention has stated, we are currently experiencing a pandemic of the unvaccinated.
Unfortunately, this vaccine issue has degenerated into a ludicrous war of tribal identity and cultural politics, where the significant medical and scientific issues are often ignored by the participants. Republicans have eschewed both the mask and the vaccine as symbols of moral liberal decadence, in spite of the proven scientific case for utilizing both.
Nevertheless, for purposes of the US House of Representatives elections in 2022, the anti-mask, anti-vaccine Republican strategy will play a vital role, especially since Biden has made both the mask and vaccine central to his anti-Covid initiative. The Republican strategy for capture of the House is focused on picking up seats in the Red States, both through redistricting by the legislatures, which they control in most cases, and by a compelling message to motivate their base. Opposition to the Biden Covid initiative is the exact motivational message the GOP has been searching for in these Red State districts.
The combination of redistricting and the anti-Biden Covid initiative message will enable the Republicans to pick up at least the six seats they need to capture control of the House of Representatives. Get ready for Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy. And pray that our nation can survive his parafascism.
A word about New Jersey in this context: New Jersey is a blue state, not a purple state. Second District Republican Congressman Jeff Van Drew is a member of the New Jersey Congressional delegation who does represents a sizable anti-mask, anti-vaccine constituency. If his district remains relatively the same, he can soft-pedal the issue and avoid alienating his GOP anti-mask, anti-vax base. If his new district contains a major increase in mainstream New Jersey pro-vax, pro-mask voters, he will have a most serious dilemma. Any approach by Van Drew to the mainstream will risk a major alienation of his base.
As for Republican State Senator Tom Kean, Jr., he faces two major challenges in his race to unseat Seventh District Incumbent Congressman Tom Malinowski. He most place major distance between himself and Kevin McCarthy. Kean can do so by endorsing the Biden Covid package. Second, with the departure of Kip Bateman from the New Jersey State Senate, the Garden State does not have a single GOP state legislator or Congressman who has a comprehensive climate change policy. Kean must devise such a policy to prevail in November.
By contrast, the Democratic strategy for increasing their seats in the Senate from the 50 they now control is focused on the Purple States. Right now, the Democrats control the Senate only by virtue of Vice President Kamala Harris breaking the tie between the 50 Democrats and the 50 Republicans.
And as we have seen, the Biden White House MUST have the support of every single Democratic Senator in order to get an appointment confirmed or a bill passed. There is no room for defections.
Fortunately for the Biden White House, the President’s Covid initiative is highly popular in the Purple States. This should give the Democrats at least an even money chance to pick up the following Senate seats presently controlled by Republicans: Pennsylvania (Pat Toomey, who is not standing for reelection) Wisconsin (Ron Johnson, who is a dolt), Ohio (Rob Portman, who is not running for reelection). The popularity of the Covid initiative also will significantly strengthen the reelection prospects of two Democratic Senators previously thought to be vulnerable: New Hampshire (Maggie Hassan) and Georgia (Raphael Warnock).
And for good measure, it is not exactly clear how the Biden Covid initiative will affect the political climate in Florida., where Democratic Congresswoman Val Demings will be challenging incumbent Republican US Senator Marco Rubio. That race promises to be the Ali-Frazier match of all the Senate races in 2022. I’ll have a better idea of the political climate in Florida after New Jersey’s national stature pollster from Monmouth University, Patrick Murray, polls the Sunshine State!
Alan J. Steinberg served as Regional Administrator of Region 2 EPA during the administration of former President George W. Bush and as Executive Director of the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission.