Republicans were already in a very strong position heading into the midterm elections a year from November. Not only is there a slew of Democratic House members running in districts that voted for Donald Trump in 2020, but history is also working for Republicans.
Historically, a party that wins the presidency will lose three Senate seats and 22 House seats in the president’s first midterm election — fewer if the president’s approval rating is over 50 percent, more if it’s under 50 percent. Biden’s Afghanistan debacle, including today’s terrorist attacks on the airport, is costing him support in the broader electorate. He’s currently at 47.7 percent according to FiveThirtyEight, which includes polls taken before the outlines of the Afghan disaster were fully visible. A Suffolk poll has Biden’s approval at 41 percent — landslide territory for Republicans.
But neither poll is a crystal ball telling us what the political landscape will look like in November 2022. And that’s the GOP’s most pressing problem.
How do Republicans make Joe Biden and the Democrats wear the Afghanistan debacle like a bad suit so that it looks just as bad in 2022 as it does today?
Absent an all-consuming global conflagration, voters tend to cast their ballots based on domestic rather than foreign priorities, most notably economic issues. While the longevity of the Afghanistan turmoil remains to be seen, particularly given the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, Republicans believe that the bipartisan criticism of the president’s withdrawal planning will turn the current chaos there into a legacy-defining failure for Biden.
“This is not going away,” said Alabama Rep. Mike Rogers, the top Republican on the House Armed Services Committee. “This has been a disaster … The imagery of what’s going on right now is gonna stick with the public.”
Rogers is engaging in a little wishful thinking. Voters are notoriously absent-minded and unless the media hammers home Biden’s failures day after day, night after night for the next year and a half, Afghanistan is likely to be just a bitter memory — not a source of searing anger and shame that would motivate voters to pull the lever for Republicans.
The GOP may be able to enlist some Democrats to assist them (inadvertently):
The GOP is bolstered by the acknowledgment from top Democrats that the Biden administration failed to sufficiently plan for a worst-case scenario for the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan. Such cross-aisle agreement “shows that this is an American cause we’re focused on” rather than the provenance of one party, said Rep. Andy Kim (D-N.J.), a former State Department official who appeared alongside Republicans on Wednesday at a press conference focused on rescuing Afghan allies.
Statements by Democrats skewering Biden for the disaster in Afghanistan could become a staple of 2020 advertising for Republicans. And let’s not forget the Taliban. What could really make the retreat from Afghanistan resonate in 2022 and beyond would be Taliban misbehavior toward Americans, who are left behind. The death of a few thousand Afghan interpreters who helped the American military during the war would be heartbreaking but not as politically explosive as the death of one American at the hands of the Taliban.
You can bet Joe Biden is praying every night that the Taliban just lets the Americans go in peace.
The fast-moving story now includes the terrorist attacks on the Kabul airport from ISIS-K that will only serve to remind voters that this withdrawal is a massive clusterfark.