Are Republicans falling in the same traps they did in 1998?
Growing evidence shows GOP strategies are alienating voters, writes Senior Fellow Steven Gillon
Democrats have newfound hope for November. The Supreme Court decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which ended the constitutional right to abortion, along with the passage of major pieces of President Biden’s economic agenda and falling gas prices, have temporarily buoyed their spirits about the upcoming midterm elections. Pat Ryan’s victory in an Aug. 23 special election in a swing district in New York—after a campaign in which he focused on protecting abortion rights—suggests that those hopes are not misplaced.
Yet Democrats still face enormous challenges. Not only does the party that controls the White House almost always lose seats in the midterms, but President Biden’s low approval ratings, along with high inflation, give the GOP a clear edge. The 1998 midterms, however, indicate that Democrats have a secret weapon that could have a dramatic impact: Republican extremism.
That year, Republicans chose to stoke the anger of their right-wing base and impeach President Bill Clinton for his affair with Monica Lewinsky, ignoring polls that showed an overwhelming majority of Americans wanted Clinton to remain in office. They are making similar mistakes this year. In 1998, Republicans were trying to remove a democratically elected president for lying about a private matter. This time, they are defending Donald Trump, a twice-impeached ex-president who denies the results of a legitimate election, who encouraged a violent mob to descend upon the Capitol to disrupt the peaceful transfer of power, and who now appears to have kept classified documents in violation of the law. They’ve also adopted extreme positions on cultural issues, especially abortion, that defy the opinion of clear majorities of Americans. In other words, then and now, Republicans are choosing political partisanship over democratic fairness—though it remains to be seen if the outcomes will be the same.