In the 1992 presidential election, Bill Clinton’s strategist, James Carville, famously coined the phrase, “It’s the economy, stupid.” Over the past 30 years, this mantra has held sway.
For the 2022 midterm elections, Republicans were relying on this conventional wisdom to prevail. With high gasoline prices, elevated inflation, and low Biden approval rating, it appeared to be a winning strategy to retake the majority in the Senate and House of Representatives. Speaker Kevin McCarthy opined that he could have as much as a 40-member majority.
That was May 2022. Four months later some Democrats opine that they will win a 53 to 47 majority in the Senate. While Nancy Pelosi is not yet deciding whether to remain as Speaker, Kevin McCarthy is anticipating a much smaller Republican majority. The smaller outcome undermines his ambition to be the Speaker of the House.
As of early September 2022, it’s looking like “It’s AGED+, stupid.” That’s not seniors taking over. They already have septuagenarians Joe Biden and Chuck Schumer and octogenarians Mitch McConnell and Nancy Pelosi. It’s an acronym for Abortion, Guns, Environment, Democracy, and +.
Abortion – By overturning Roe v. Wade, the U.S. Supreme Court propelled as an election issue a women’s right to control her body and state government fetal overreach by prohibiting abortion for rape, incest, fetal morbidity, and saving the life of the mother. The public is concerned about health care providers unwilling to provide medical procedures even to save a mother’s life. Some doctors fear criminal prosecution, loss of license, and retaliation at their office, home, and online. Women and their allies, especially the younger generation have and are mobilizing. Democratic candidates nationwide are prioritizing a woman’s right to choose.
Guns – The May 24th massacre at the Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas galvanized the nation. Yet again a teen was able to legally obtain an AR-15, a military-style assault weapon to kill 19 children and two teachers. This atrocity was followed by a young assailant who killed seven and wounded dozens at a Fourth of July celebration in suburban Highland Park, Illinois. On August 28 and 29, there were mass shootings in Saint Louis, Missouri, Clinton, Wisconsin, and Bend, Oregon. President Biden weighed in by promising to use his clout to legislatively prohibit the sale of assault weapons.
Environment – From sweltering heat waves on farms and in cities, cataclysmic fires in the west, and torrential flooding in the heartland, no section of the country has been spared from environmental change. It’s an issue that energizes particularly younger voters and impacts all citizens. The public associates climate change denial with Republicans. The recently signed Inflation Reduction Act that had no Republican support provides $369 billion, the largest federal environmental investment. The legislation demonstrates Democrats delivering on climate solutions and environmental justice.
Democracy – While viewing a Congressional committee hearing normally would be as exciting as watching paint dry, the United States House Select Committee on the January 6th Attack has been a television spellbinder. Its videos and witnesses are a convincing exposition that democracy is on the line. Republicans have amplified this existential issue by electing in many state primaries MAGA election deniers for the Senate, House, governorships, and those running to oversee elections.
Trump has re-emerged as front-page news. As the putative Republican presidential nominee, his endorsement has generally held sway in Republican primaries. Besides criminal and civil investigations and lawsuits in Georgia, New York, the District of Columbia, Florida, and elsewhere, his handling of presidential and secret documents will be news prior to the midterms and play out in 2023 and 2024. As Donald Trump demonstrated in the 2020 presidential election, he energizes Democratic, Independent, MAGA Republican, and establishment Republican voters. If 2020 is an exemplar, that should benefit Democrats in 2022.
While there are yet-to-unfold events prior to the midterm, the overriding question is whether this is an “It’s the economy, stupid” or “It’s AGED+, stupid” election. The election will demonstrate whether what matters most is the economy or core values.
Malcolm Lazin is a former Assistant U.S. Attorney. He is the recipient of the U.S. Attorney General’s Distinguished Service Award, the Department of Justice’s highest honor. He served as the Chair, Pennsylvania Crime Commission and was the Republican candidate for District Attorney of Philadelphia.