Despite Biden’s warnings, Americans still don’t take populism seriously

In the dying days of the midterm campaigns, Joe Biden is finally using his presidential bully pulpit to warn about the dangers of populist extremism, declaring, We can’t take democracy for granted any longer.” But if the polls are to be believed, Americans care less about such abstractions as political freedom and more about the price of gas.

Democrats badly misread the mood of the country. Across the US, Americans are getting ready to vote against Democratic candidates running in the midterms. It is a vote against inflation, pandemic fatigue, and public spending which people have been primed to resent as wasteful.

Millions of angry Americans support far-right Republican candidates who promise to be tough on crime, fund the police and make deep tax cuts. But pollsters have been hedging their bets because their predictions in 2016 and 2020 badly underestimated the appeal of Republicans and the rise of the hard right.

A drubbing

This time around the polls predict a shellacking for the Democrats. Small shifts in public opinion are throwing up red flags in House races in Arizona, Georgia, Wisconsin, Ohio and Pennsylvania. There may be upsets in New York and California, traditional progressive strongholds that Democrats have counted on for decades.

Senate races are also very tight, but when all votes are counted the Republicans will likely emerge with three or four more seats to hold a significant majority. In the Senate the Democrats will face a mile-high wall of opposition to their legislative agenda.

In key constituencies among Afro-American, Hispanic and Independent voters, hemorrhaging Democratic support may be the deciding factor in highly competitive races.

Add to this, high fuel prices at the pump and inflation eating into family budgets, voters hold the president responsible for the growing crisis. Biden’s popularity and approval ratings are little better than 40%.

Political strategists fear that Trump’s loss in 2020 wasn’t a sign of populism running out of steam. Far from it. It was just one more example of disgruntled voters turning on elites in power. A high turnout among Trump’s fired-up base this week could once again make the difference in tightly fought races.

Two years, a world of difference

What’s different between now, and two years ago, when Trump was defeated? Then, like now, Republican populists blamed Washington for everything. So why should it work this time? The short answer is that Americans feel the pain in their wallets. Furthermore, nervous Republicans need a scapegoat that will deflect attention from abortion rights, labor shortages and looming climate catastrophe.

The populist message strains credulity. Only the truest red believers think Joe Biden doesn’t care about high fuel prices or the cost of a Thanksgiving turkey. Nevertheless, in a system with low trust in politicians and crumbling civic institutions, the simpler the message the better.

A lot more is at stake in this crucial election than the high price of gasoline. The United States has reached an inflection point that is setting it on a dark path.

Just inches from the precipice

In the midterms, the party that holds the presidency usually loses an average of 27 seats in the House of Representatives. So nobody will be surprised by a disappointing evening, least of all the Biden Administration who have been sailing against the wind ever since taking the oath of office.

Related Articles

Opinion |

Will a red wave crest the Sierras?

Opinion |

We’re entrepreneurs, not criminals. Why did the government steal our money?

Opinion |

Americans need to turn down the temperature on political rhetoric

Opinion |

The midterms could be very ugly for the Democrats

Opinion |

Mission creep at the Department of Homeland Security threatens liberty and free speech

Republican election deniers have seen their ranks swell and the hardcore extremists intend to paralyze House business for the remaining two years of Biden’s presidency. Running in Georgia, Republican Herschel Walker’s antisemitism is no longer outside the mainstream, nor is the violence against Nancy Pelosi’s husband. Violent attacks, anti-semitic diatribes, and a racist strain of Christian nationalism are now politics as usual.

Over half of Republican candidates are election deniers. Their first order of business will be to reverse all of Biden’s executive orders. The authoritarian Republican right is emboldened with every repetition of the lie that the 2020 election was stolen. They have normalized a paranoid style of politics and the Democrats are, now more than ever, in for the fight off their lives.

Daniel Drache is Professor Emeritus of Politics at York University. Marc D. Froese is Professor of Political Science at Burman University. They have just published “Has Populism Won? The War on Liberal Democracy.”

Share the Post:

Related Posts