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US midterm elections spell a bad day for Joe Biden

President Joe Biden defended his handling of documents found at his former think-tank office.

President Joe Biden defended his handling of documents found at his former think-tank office. Photo: Getty

The physics of American politics dictate that Tuesday will be a bad day for Joe Biden.

That’s because it’s the midterm election – when all members of the US House of Representatives, and a third of the US Senate – must stand for re-election.

Historically, it’s a referendum on the sitting president—and not an enthusiastic one.

From Bill Clinton to Barack Obama, recent Democratic presidents in particular have been knee-capped in the midterms, often losing one or both congressional chambers to the Republicans, therefore ensuring legislative stalemate for the next two years (if not the occasional impeachment).

It’s the first chance the American public has to weigh on policies of a newish president, even though it’s the House members (who must stand every two years, leaving them in a state of perpetual campaigning) that take the hit.

The reasons for their bi-annual misery are manifold. A crummy economy, an overly ambitious White House agenda, a loss of presidential charm. This time around, of course, there’s another possible cause – the enduring allure of Donald Trump and his Make America Great Again (MAGA) mantra.

Mr Trump would be the first to endorse that theory, of course. And he wouldn’t be entirely wrong. Across the country, Republican candidates have been hammering President Biden over inflation and crime – two topics that fit nicely into Mr Trump’s apocalyptic worldview.

Trump

Donald Trump has gone hard on inflation and crime, and Joe Biden’s ratings have fallen.  Photo: Getty

Polls show that the attacks are working.

Democrats’ defeat in the House looks like a certainty, and a loss of their razor-thin majority in the Senate is—if not likely—a very real danger. (If two years of Hunter Biden investigations floats your boat, you’ll be in luck.)

But urban crime and a sputtering economy have been structural support beams of Republican ideology for decades. Hide the cell phones and Alexas and this feels more like 1982 rather than 2022 when it comes to issues on the stump.

And that could be bad news for Trump redux.

Make no mistake: The culture war stuff – abortion, critical race theory, transgender rights, election denying, cancel culture, wokeness, etc. – still get plenty of media attention, horrifying and delighting hard-core partisans. But poll after poll show those issues – even abortion – are not what’s animating voters. Instead, it’s “kitchen table” issues that ordinary people can understand.

Mr Trump is a performer, not an operator. His leadership under COVID demonstrated that he’s good at the theatre, but lousy at any kind of management.

Officials like Governor Ron DeSantis in Florida can bray just as loudly as Mr Trump, but he’s seen as a technocrat as well. If other ascendant Republicans around the country can demonstrate a similar skill during the next two years, while still holding forth on Fox News, then Mr Trump’s usefulness to the GOP might start to wane.

To be sure, there are plenty in the GOP who will only be satisfied with the real thing. But Trumpism may prove more enduring than the man himself.

It was only this past June when the Democrats looked like they might prevail in the midterms, thanks to the Supreme Court abortion ruling.

That momentum has evaporated. There’s two years until the next presidential – a very long time in politics. Whatever happens on Tuesday, it won’t be the last referendum on Mr Trump or Trumpism.

Larry Hackett is the former editor-in-chief of People magazine, and a contributor to the US morning television news program Good Morning America

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