By Robert Reich
I know the conventional wisdom about midterm elections — the party in power loses big — and I’ve lived through enough midterms to know that the conventional wisdom is mostly correct. Does this make Biden and the Democrats toast when it comes to retaining control of the House and Senate? No — especially because of one huge loose cannon aimed at the Republican Party: Donald Trump.
About 30 percent of Americans love the guy, but a majority detest him. He’s toxic. As Republican Governor Chris Sonunu said of him Saturday night, “He’s f***ing crazy!” Almost every time Trump moves center stage, Republicans’ odds decline. This is especially true in the swing suburbs that will determine the outcome of the midterms.
For a few months I thought Trump would stay quiet, but he’s constitutionally unable to keep his big mouth shut. This past week, he trumped his way into the news:
He loudly un-endorsed Alabama Rep. Mo Brooks, now running for a Senate seat, who returned the un-favor by disclosing that Trump repeatedly (including recently) pressed Brooks to overturn the 2020 presidential result. Expect Brooks to be called by Congress’s select committee investigating the reasons for the January 6 insurrection.
He called on Vladimir Putin to release dirt on the Bidens. Talk bad timing. Putin’s thugs were at that moment committing atrocities in Ukraine. Trump instantly reminded everyone that he had called on Ukrainian President Zelensky to dig up dirt on the Bidens during the 2020 presidential campaign by threatening to withhold U.S. military aide intended to defend Ukraine against Russia, and in the 2016 campaign had called on Putin to release Hillary Clinton’s emails. But in 2016 and 2020 the American public merely considered Putin to be bad news. Now he’s the arch-villain of the world.
He gave an incendiary speech at Michigan Stars Sports Center in Washington Township, Michigan, where he criticized Biden’s presidency and teased another presidential campaign. “We’re gonna bring back law and order,” he told the crowd.
It was also revealed last week that Virginia Thomas (wife of Supreme Court justice Clarence Thomas) had, in the weeks following the 2020 election, pressed Trump’s chief of staff to do everything possible to reverse the outcome of the election.
And last week Congress recommended to the Justice Department that two former Trump advisers, Dan Scavino and Peter Navarro, be criminally charged with contempt of Congress for refusing to appear before the select committee investigating the January 6 insurrection. (This coming Thursday, Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, is expected to “voluntarily” appear before the committee. He will not be protected by executive privilege.)
Wait. I’m not done. Last Monday, federal Judge David Carter ruled that Trump, along with John Eastman (the lawyer who had advised him on how to overturn the 2020 election) had most likely committed felonies, including obstructing the work of Congress and conspiring to defraud the United States. (The January 6 committee – which is weighing making a criminal referral to the Justice Department — had used a filing in the case against Eastman to lay out the crimes it believed Trump might have committed.) Judge Carter noted that Trump likely knew that Eastman’s plan to throw out electoral votes was illegal because the “illegality of the plan was obvious,” and cited strong evidence of a “corrupt mindset,” such as Trump’s phone call to Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger in which he famously asked the secretary to “give [him] a break” and “find 11,780 votes” (one vote more than Biden’s margin of victory in that state).
And this was just one week.
Remember, the January 6 committee’s report will be released in a few months. Expect a firestorm that may even force Hamlet-like Attorney General Merrick Garland to charge Trump with crimes. (Some argue that America does not prosecute its former presidents. While that’s historically true, before Trump no former president had launched an attempted coup or criminal insurrection.)
As if all this weren’t enough to keep him in the news, Trump has placed big midterm election bets on dozens of ballots across the nation, through Trump-branded “endorsements.” This means Trump will be a central player in campaigns just about everywhere.
So whether the Republican Party likes it or not (and even if Democrats are reluctant to talk about Trump because political operatives advise them not to) Trump is going to feature big in the upcoming midterms. As a result, the swing suburbs are more likely to vote Democratic – increasing the odds that Democrats will keep control over the House and Senate.
This is no guarantee that Democrats will keep control over the House and Senate, of course. As I’ve said countless times, Democrats need an economic-populist message to put them over the top because most Americans accurately believe the economic game is rigged in favor of the super-wealthy and are furious about it — and if Democrats don’t talk about this no one will. (The Republicans won’t deliver this message; they’re too busy stirring up culture wars.) Nevertheless, Trump remains for Democrats the gift that keeps giving.