As the dust settles on the 2022 midterms, here’s a look at the trends that could shape our national politics into the future

About last week...

click to enlarge Abortion was on the ballot in 2022. - Shutterstock
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Abortion was on the ballot in 2022.

For the first time in nearly a decade, I feel some real hope about the direction of our national politics. Don’t get me wrong, issues abound — many, many issues. But the opportunity ahead to actually solve them seems brighter.

Today, I want to break down those issues — and the trends that give me some hope about them.

Democracy is the best defense against the threat to democracy.

Democracy was decidedly on the ballot these midterms. Dozens of election deniers were running for seats involving elections administration. Several won, just not in communities where they can influence important national elections (e.g., an election denier overseeing elections in beet red South Dakota has far less consequence for our elections than one in Michigan or Wisconsin). Regardless of the back and forth over whether the threat to democracy was the right closing message for Democrats, it’s clear that we could have come out of this election with far grimmer prospects for our democracy.

But voters have seen enough. They saw the danger that MAGA election denialism posed and soundly rejected it.

For those of us who took the threat to democracy seriously, it reminds us that the most powerful defense of democracy is… democracy itself. And that should give us all some hope.

The American people believe in abortion rights.

Abortion was on the ballot in 2022. Directly in Michigan, Vermont, California, Montana, and Kentucky — and indirectly through candidate elections nationwide. The American people believe in the right to choose, full stop. Every single state referendum saw voters defending abortion rights.

Here in Michigan, Proposal 3 — which codified the right to an abortion into the state constitution — passed by 13 points. And with it, Michigan reelected three Democratic women to its executive seats and flipped both houses of the Michigan legislature for Democrats for the first time since I’ve been alive!

It’s not just blue-trending Michigan. It was also Kentucky — Kentucky! — where voters narrowly defeated a ballot measure that would have amended the constitution to preclude the right to an abortion (despite reelecting Senator Rand Paul).

It’s hard not to interpret Tuesday’s overall results as the political backlash from the staggering overreach by the conservative-packed Supreme Court.

Donald Trump was the Biggest Loser.

Nobody did more to architect such a colossal underperformance for the GOP than Donald Trump. He couldn’t help but insert himself into the Pennsylvania race with a rally the weekend before the election. His two endorsed candidates — Doug Mastriano and Mehmet Oz — both went on to definitive losses. And it wasn’t just the candidates he endorsed and campaigned for that he hurt. He just had to tease a “very special” announcement for the Tuesday after the election that he says will make a lot of people “very happy.” He put himself squarely in the crosshairs of an electorate that clearly wants nothing more to do with him.

And yet Trump did everything he could to distance himself from the trainwreck he created. “I think if they win, I should get all the credit, and if they lose, I should not be blamed at all,” he told a NewsNation correspondent before the results came out on Tuesday.

But blaming him is exactly what his party appears to be doing — at least for now. Several Murdoch-owned outlets have their knives out. The day after the election, the front page headline of The New York Post read “DeFuture” with a picture of emerging Trump rival Ron DeSantis and his family. The next day featured a lightly edited picture of Trump with the words “Trumpty Dumpty.”

Some are arguing that the GOP is finally turning on Trump. Maybe — but it’s hard to overstate his staying power. The man remains the de facto leader of his party despite helming an attempted coup and insurrection at the Capitol. Ultimately, though, my skepticism is more about process: If Trump declares, which all signs point to him doing, I don’t see a pathway that doesn’t have him emerging as the Republican nominee. If he doesn’t respect the outcomes of a presidential general election, what’s to make him respect the outcomes of a Republican primary election? Do we think that local republican parties, where the MAGA movement is strongest, are going to resist bending rules to help him win? Besides, key lieutenants in MAGA world are already endorsing a yet undeclared presidential campaign.

Hold on to your hats, folks. It’s going to be a wild ride.

A narrow majority empowers the MAGA faction in the House.

Meanwhile, though Democrats have secured the Senate, it’s likely that Republicans will take the House by the slimmest of margins. The irony is that while the election can be seen as nothing else but a rebuke to the MAGA movement, the fact that Republicans will hold the house by a slim margin actually empowers that fringe. A small majority means that party leadership has to keep every last vote — and they’ll have to compromise with MAGA henchmen like Jim Jordan, Marjorie Taylor Greene, and Matt Gaetz to do that. Already, they’re bucking the presumptive speaker of the House, Kevin McCarthy, by trying to delay the vote for speaker.

There is, of course, an alternative play. Another potential Republican leader could attempt to swing enough Democratic votes to end-around the MAGA wing of the Republican party. I doubt, however, that the calcified state of our politics would allow for that. But stranger things have happened.

Rather than a vote for Democrats, I think Tuesday was a vote for abortion rights and democracy — and against the party that wants to take them away.

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Biden defies the odds.

For his part, President Biden defied all expectations on Tuesday. Given the current state of the economy, historically high inflation, high gas prices, and a low approval rating, the expectation was that Democrats would lose dozens of seats in the House and possibly control of the Senate, too. That, of course, was the fate of Donald Trump and Barack Obama before him.

It didn’t happen. The president has credited his bipartisan legislative victories for that — although I suspect it has less to do with anything the president or Congress did than what the Supreme Court and the MAGA wing of the Republican party did.

The imminent question now is whether or not President Biden runs for a second term. Despite the fact that he would be 86 by the end of that term and consternation from across the party, all signs point to him running. If Trump declares, Biden — the only candidate yet to beat him — may feel obliged to.

Democrats have to take the right lessons.

Tuesday was a good day for Democrats — there’s no doubt about that. But I worry that the party may be overreading its mandate. Rather than a vote for Democrats, I think Tuesday was a vote for abortion rights and democracy — and against the party that wants to take them away.

I worry that Democrats may miss the opportunity to press the advantage. A fairer and more secure economy, healthcare, housing, better childcare, senior care, and education opportunities — this is what Americans need most right now. If Democrats are serious about winning in 2024, regardless who the nominee may be, they need to be using the next two years to focus and sharpen their message on these issues.

While the first two years of the Biden administration — in which Democrats held a trifecta — saw some important legislation for climate change, prescription drug pricing, and infrastructure, Democrats failed to deliver on other key deliverables Biden promised, like extending the childhood tax credit and universal childcare. I know, I know — it was a 50-50 Senate! Joe Manchin! Kyrsten Sinema! I get it. But driving the contrast requires you to deliver the goods when you have the opportunity. Having lost Democratic control of the House, the time for action has faded.

That said, Republicans are likely to make that contrast easier. With an empowered MAGA minority, the Republicans are about to turn Congress into a clown car. They’ll investigate this and that — possibly push for impeachments. If Democrats can avoid taking the bait and keep the focus on the issues that most Americans care about, Republicans might just, yet again, secure the victory for them. At some point though, the bill will come due.

Originally published Nov. 14 in The Incision. Get more at abdulelsayed.substack.com.

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About The Author

Abdul El-Sayed

Dr. Abdul El-Sayed is a physician, epidemiologist, public health expert, and progressive activist who served as Detroit’s health director and ran for governor in 2018. He is the author of Healing Politics: A Doctor's Journey Into the Heart of Our Political Epidemic and Medicare for All: A Citizen's Guide, as well...
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