The 2022 mid-term strategy is separating the Democrats

It has been overshadowed by the Russian invasion of Ukraine and obscured by Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson’s Supreme Court confirmation hearing, but Democrat leaders are debating how to avoid shelling this fall.

The issue was widely debated when House Democrats held a retreat in Philadelphia and when the Democratic National Committee met in Washington, both earlier this month. There is little consensus on what to do and much fatalism about a Republican victory.

The Democrats are fighting over five different strategies for the midterm elections. The first is simple: Democrats should compete on their plate. As Vice President Kamala Harris told the DNC, “Our job is to show people that, in many ways, they got what they ordered.” Yet even President Biden understands this is a tough sell and says so House Democrats that when Democrats rattle off their triumphs, “the people just trying to stay afloat don’t get it.”

More importantly, voters have already made judgments about Mr. Biden and the Democratic Congress: they don’t like what they did. The president’s approval ratings have fallen, both overall and on many issues important to voters, including inflation, crime, immigration and the country’s direction.

Mr. Biden is not helping his party by blaming problems like rising gas and food prices on Vladimir Putin. Voters know that energy and food costs have been rising for more than a year and that the President has dismissed inflation as temporary.

Some believe the problem isn’t the Democrats’ record, but how it was communicated, and are calling for a better message. But it’s doubtful that new slogans — like Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s “Democrats Deliver” — or improved talking points will change attitudes among Americans, who have been watching Democrats in action for 14 months. Nobody believes that Mr. Biden and Ms. Harris will suddenly become masters of communication.

Leftists like Washington MP Pramila Jayapal, chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, are pushing for a third approach. It’s a double whammy. First, Democrats should continue to offer progressive legislation, including a slimmed-down “Build Back Better” bill. She says voters “want to see us fight for what they believe in” and would “give us bigger majorities and see what we can do”. Ms. Jayapal may take that as a promise, but many independent voters and every Republican will take it as a threat.

She and other progressives believe the second punch would come from Mr. Biden, who is becoming more aggressive with executive orders. On the left’s 70-plus-item wish list are presidential directives to forgive student debt, reduce prescription drug costs, fix flaws in ObamaCare, pay more people overtime, set national standards for the use of police force, and drilling ban on state land and water, and promote racial justice by spending 40% of clean energy funds in “disadvantaged communities.”

But enacting policies by executive order that Congress failed to enact would run into difficulties in court, further erode public confidence in the Biden administration, and discourage voters who might conclude Democrats are doing nothing right be able.

Sean Patrick Maloney, chairman of the National Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, has a more prosaic approach. He wonders, if Americans “agree with us on the issues, why don’t they like us more?” New York lawmakers want Democratic candidates to be more empathetic – “show up, be human and relate to” the have voters. There is wisdom in that—being a better candidate improves your chances of winning—but it’s hardly enough, and besides, many voters disagree on these issues.

Some centrist Democrats have a different strategy. They praise bipartisanship, reject attempts to defund the police, raise concerns about the inflationary impact of higher spending, distance themselves from their party’s awakened left and support an end to mask mandates. Many of these vulnerable Democrats, a minority in their faction, stayed away from the Philadelphia retreat.

The ‘every centrist for himself’ approach is perhaps the best they can do. The Democrats will still lose, but could cut losses and prevent their party from becoming even more dominated by the awakened left.

Mr. Biden got his party into that pickle by pursuing a bipartisan progressive agenda with slim majorities in Congress. He figured he could convince the public to like what they previously loathed. Add in the worst inflation in four decades and the Afghanistan debacle, and there’s no stopping what’s coming in November.

Mr. Biden and congressional Democrats have made mistakes in policy, message, ideology and tone over the past 14 months. They will pay a terrifying price later this year.

Mr. Rove helped organize the American Crossroads political action committee and is the author of The Triumph of William McKinley (Simon & Schuster, 2015).

Potomac Watch: Stacey Abrams lost the 2018 Georgia governor’s race to Republican Brian Kemp, and to date she has never accepted the result. In 2022, the progressive Democrat will take over again, although his primary focus is still “election suppression.” Images: AP/Getty Images Composite: Mark Kelly

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