Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., speaks with reporters as he departs after a Republican caucus meeting in which they dropped Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, as their nominee for speaker, at the Capitol in Washington, Friday, Oct. 20, 2023. Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, the House Judiciary chairman and staunch ally of Donald Trump lost a third ballot of the whole House today. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
President Biden faces considerable economic and foreign policy headwinds coming into 2024, but Republicans look poised to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. More adults are needed on both sides.
President Joe Biden faces a formidable storm heading into the 2024 election. The economy has been plagued by generationally high inflation since he took office. Energy, transportation, food, and commodities are all at least 20 percent more expensive than just a few years ago.
Wages have not held pace. In June, American American household debt eclipsed a record $17 trillion, up nearly $3 trillion since pre-pandemic.
As the Federal Reserve fights to tamp down rising prices, interest rates on debt is skyrocketing.
In the housing market, rates ticked above 8 percent for a 30-year mortgage this week. In the fall of 2021, rates were as low as 2.75 percent. Someone who could afford a monthly payment on a $240,000 house in 2021 would pay that same monthly mortgage for a $135,000 house if financed today. Their purchasing power has diminished by over 40 percent.
Then there’s a worsening border crisis. Through September, U.S. Customs and Border Protection reported over 3.2 million interactions with migrants crossing the border in 2023. That’s half a million more than all of 2022 and does not include undetected illegal crossings.
Once styled as a “sanctuary city,” New York City Mayor Eric Adams has said an overwhelming influx of migrants “will destroy New York City.” The City is now distributing flyers at the border urging migrants to settle in other areas of the country.
Domestic woes are compounded by foreign instability. America’s responsibility in the dragging war between Russia and Ukraine, and in the budding war between Israel, Palestinians (and potentially their backers in Iran), have divided the country. With these conflicts, and rising tensions between China and Taiwan, the world feels far less safe.
This is to say nothing of the impact of ‘woke’ extremism, or ongoing questions about Biden’s mental fitness for office, on the electorate. An NBC poll in June of this year found that 68 percent of Americans voiced concern about Biden’s mental ability to be president, with 55 percent labeling the concern as “major.”
GOP Unable to Capitalize
Despite these challenges, Biden and his allies have largely taken a “things are fine” approach. It seems disconnected and tone deaf–relying on people to trust the President over their own “lying eyes.”
Against this backdrop, Republicans would normally be salivating over their chances to retake the White House and make gains in Congress in the coming cycle.
But many of these same problems for Biden’s Democrats were present in the 2022 midterm elections. On their back, political pundits predicted a “Red Wave.” It did not come ashore.
Republicans lost Senate seats they expected to gain, thanks in part to troubled candidates. They barely eaked out a majority in the U.S. House, where huge gains had been expected.
And what have Republicans done with their slight majority? Not much. In fairness, it is hard to usher in sweeping changes when your opponent controls half of Congress and the White House.
What is not particularly hard, or at least shouldn’t be, is presenting a cohesive message that both empathizes with the pain and uncertainty Americans are suffering and simultaneously presents a vision for how to address our challenges moving forward.
Republicans instead have chosen to look backwards instead of forward, continuing to focus on things that rile the base, but do little to move a majority of the country.
Much more time and hot air, for instance, have been devoted to Hunter Biden and the 2020 election than have been devoted to carving out a plan to address the inflation that is making it hard for moms to put food on the table.
The Elephant in the Room
Perhaps there is no greater evidence of Republican dysfunction than what has unfolded around the Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives in recent weeks. With only 221 seats held in the chamber, a Republican candidate for Speaker can only stand to lose four votes within his or her Party.
In this razor thin-majority environment, Kevin McCarthy was elected Speaker earlier this year after 15 ballots. In the middle of negotiations to stave off a government shutdown earlier this month, Florida Representative Matt Gaetz led a charge to ouster McCarthy from the role.
Eight Republicans teamed with the Democrats in the House to remove McCarthy. It was the first time in U.S. history that a sitting Speaker got the boot.
The chaos that ensued raises questions about whether any Republican can cobble together the necessary votes. Majority Leader Steve Scalise of Louisiana was the House GOP’s first choice to replace McCarthy.
But before Scalise could even get to the floor for a vote, more than five members of the conference publicly said they would not vote for him. He withdrew his own candidacy.
Next came Jim Jordan, who had lost in conference to Scalise, but had the backing of the wing of the Party that had put McCarthy on the curb. Jordan forced three floor votes and mounted an aggressive campaign to pressure his colleagues into supporting him. With each vote, opposition grew.
On Friday, the House GOP conference voted to remove the Ohio congressman as their nominee. The path forward is unclear.
Regardless of how you feel about the players–McCarthy, Scalise, Jordan, Gaetz–the debacle unfolding in D.C. does not instill confidence Republicans can govern. Quite the opposite.
Democrats, for their part, are content to watch Republicans self destruct, occasionally pouring fuel on the fire.
A Harbinger of Things to Come
Unfortunately for Republicans, the clown show in the U.S. House is emblematic of a larger divide within the Party. It could also be a harbinger of things to come in the 2024 election cycle.
Ronald Reagan used to famously talk about the coalition that made up the Republican Party as a “three-legged stool.” One leg was comprised of libertarians–people who wanted smaller government, less spending and taxation, and more personal freedom. So called “neoconservatives,” or people interested in robust foreign interventionism, comprised a second leg. The third leg was made up of evangelicals primarily motivated by social issues like abortion.
At times, the three legs came into conflict or struggled for power. But they found ways to coexist. Today’s Party seems less driven by ideology or policy positions and more driven by personalities.
The biggest, of course, is Donald Trump. In many ways, the modern Party is now divided between Trump loyalists and a strange coalition of moderates and traditional Reagan-style conservatives who really cannot stand the man. The Trump loyalists presently have the upper hand.
The risk for Republicans is that what is unfolding in the U.S. House, where tight margins allow each of two factions within the Party to kill the hopes of the other, unfolds on a national scale for the presidency.
There is some not insignificant number of Republican voters who will not cast a ballot for former President Trump if he is the nominee. Likewise, there is some not insignificant percentage of MAGA voters who will not vote for anyone but Trump. This game of chicken could wreck any hope of a Republican return to the White House in 2024.
America Deserves Better
Real Americans have real challenges in their daily lives. Many of those challenges are a byproduct of decades of broken politics and broken promises. Instead of solution-oriented vision, our politics are dominated by pettiness and finger pointing.
America desperately needs political movements that center around ideas that help people and not politicians, themselves. At some point, the cult of personality must end and our leaders must get back to governing. We need fewer people in public office auditioning for reality television or grifting for grandma’s campaign contribution. We need more adults.