If the 2022 midterm elections had an official soundtrack, it would be the ominous music from the 1975 movie “Jaws.”
Although the election is 13 months away, mounting intensity feels like great white sharks are circling our national boat with a convergence of two powerful, never-before-seen political forces. Both forces are hangovers from the 2020 election with the potential to make the 2022 midterms the most tumultuous in modern American history.
The first force is the growing lack of voter confidence in our election system. Second, is the looming presence of Donald J. Trump, a one-term, twice-impeached human lightning rod who is still the de facto leader of the Republican Party. No former president in history has ever injected himself into the midterms to this degree, and certainly not in the primary process.
Curious about Matt Schlapp’s take on these two forces, I reached out to the high-profile chairman of the American Conservative Union. An ardent Trump supporter, Schlapp is one of the nation's most influential non-office-holding Republicans and, as host of CPAC, he leads a mighty MAGA army.
It’s clear that he, like the titular head of that army, has not really accepted the 2020 voting results.
“Having a big question mark over a presidential election is bad for democracy,” Schlapp said. “We should know who won. And one of the ways we will know is if we all follow the same rules. We have to get back to voting the way we did in 2016. Will the Democrats try to pull the same shenanigans next year? I do know this: The American people are outraged over the Democratic agenda, and if we vote fairly, they are going to get shellacked.”
There is a history of new presidents getting “shellacked” in their first midterm election, with their party losing control of the House, Senate, or both. In 2010, President Obama used “shellacking” to describe his first, monumental midterm defeat when Republicans won control of the House with a net gain of 63 seats — a number not achieved since 1948. Surely, then-Vice President Joe Biden remembers that repudiation.
Perhaps the most stunning midterm defeat was Bill Clinton’s in 1994. Forty-two years had elapsed since Republicans had won complete control of Capitol Hill. The architect of that remarkable victory netting the GOP 54 House and eight Senate seats was Newt Gingrich, who ascended to speaker of the House.
I emailed Gingrich, asking if 2022 had the makings of a GOP victory on par with 1994.
“If Republicans can discipline themselves to consistently describe Democrats as ‘big government socialists’ and the $3.5 trillion spending and $3 trillion tax increase as big government socialist bills — it is, after all, Sen. Bernie Sanders’ bill — I think we can win a massive victory in both the House and Senate next year,” Gingrich answered.
I also asked Schlapp to weigh in on the prospects of a 1994-scale victory. He happily took the bait.
“Guaranteed!” said. “Unless we don’t have the courage to stand up against the cheating. If not, then it will be more mixed. If the left understands that we are going to go to the barricades to make sure that the cheating is exposed, then I think their agenda will be rejected.”
Then, after outlining Biden’s liberal-left agenda, Schlapp declared, “When people understand the policies of socialism, they reject it in this country.”
Regarding Trump, the former president's engagement in the midterms is a force to be reckoned with for both parties. I asked Schlapp if Trump’s involvement was a winning strategy for the GOP.
“I think President Trump is doing the right thing to spend his time and money making sure that we win as many Senate and congressional seats as possible, and I applaud him for doing that,” he replied. “In the past, he has been accused of not spending as much time on these midterm races. Now he is committed to doing so, and he will help us win lots of seats with those efforts.”
Then I asked Schlapp, “If the Republicans do well in 2022, will Trump take credit? And if they don’t, will Trump say it’s because his name was not on the ballot? With either outcome, is he going to see it his way?” Schlapp parried that point.
“If the Republicans, with so much promise, end up doing poorly in the midterms, I think it would probably have a negative impact on President Trump’s thinking about running [in 2024],” he said. “The Democrats have never embraced this type of radical policy agenda. And if that turns out to be popular with the American people, I think it’s going to be very discouraging for Republicans. I don’t think the chances of that are very high, but I am willing to entertain the premise.”
However, if the 2022 midterms go well for the GOP and Trump decides to run, I asked Schlapp if he thought Trump would have primary opposition or be crowned the nominee without a fight. He told me:
“I think Trump will have primary opponents, a lane of never-Trump, and don’t know how many there will be. President Trump should want these opponents because he is much better in the ring when competing against somebody. I don’t know if I can see him just getting coronated. I don’t know how he would react to that — he is so used to fighting! But Trump will be a better candidate if he has to take someone on immediately. I believe primaries can be a good thing.”
Then Schlapp proclaimed, “If Trump runs again, he is essentially the incumbent.”
In the meantime, cue the ominous shark-circling-in-the-water music. With voter’s lack of trust in our election system, Trump at center stage, Democrats in disarray, redistricting court battles looming, Biden failing fast, and all the collective pandemic, economic, and cultural angst in our nation, I’m reminded of the most famous line from “Jaws” as the 2022 midterm approaches: “We’re gonna need a bigger boat.”