How Republicans are set to boost Democratic turnout in 2022

Texas abortion bill and possible Trump presidential announcement could hurt GOP chances for big gains

An activist demonstrates at a voting rights rally in Washington on Aug. 28. Donald Trump could boost Democratic turnout next year with an early announcement of a 2024 presidential bid, Gonzales writes.  (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
An activist demonstrates at a voting rights rally in Washington on Aug. 28. Donald Trump could boost Democratic turnout next year with an early announcement of a 2024 presidential bid, Gonzales writes. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Posted September 9, 2021 at 6:00am

ANALYSIS — Just as Democrats were starting to watch their chances of maintaining majorities in Congress get washed out to sea with President Joe Biden’s declining job approval ratings, Republicans have handed them at least one, and maybe two, life preservers for the 2022 elections. 

With the historical trend of midterms and the authority to draw more seats in redistricting, Republicans start the cycle with the initial advantage. Tack on Biden’s recent ratings drop in voters’ minds, and the GOP should be well positioned for big gains next year.

But leave it to Republicans to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

Texas Republicans effectively banned abortions after six weeks and put one of the country's most polarizing issues front and center. And the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to keep the new law in place only added fuel to the fire.

It’s too early to know whether abortion will be a top issue next fall, and it’s not even guaranteed that Democrats would benefit from such an election. Voter sentiment on access to abortion is more nuanced than the two parties would have Americans believe.

For years, a majority of Americans have wanted Roe v. Wade to remain in place and are comfortable with legal access to abortion during the first trimester, according to public polling. That would put the Texas bill outside the mainstream.

But a majority of Americans are also uncomfortable with legal access to abortion during the second and third trimesters, which the vast majority of Democrats support. And it would put a restrictive Mississippi law (which bans abortion at 15 weeks and goes before the Supreme Court this coming term) within the mainstream of public opinion.

While the parties fight over the framing of the issue, abortion is more likely to impact the 2022 elections due to turnout and not persuasion.

Fundamentally (and pessimistically), it’s easier to rally people against something rather than for something. And for the last 10 months or more, Republicans have had a buffet of people and things to drive anger and turnout: liberals, Marxists, communists, secularists, socialists, mask mandates, vaccine mandates, antifa, the squad, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Democratic control of Congress, Joe Biden, Hunter Biden, Hunter Biden’s laptop, Hunter Biden’s artwork and critical race theory, to name just a few.

Up until recently, Democrats haven’t had similar options. Once their mission of defeating Donald Trump was accomplished, and with the former president off social media, he’s not seen as the same clear and present danger he was for the last few years. And Democrats were at risk of apathetic turnout next year.

A disproportionate dip in midterm turnout compared with Republicans would be a recipe for disaster for Democrats. That’s how electoral waves develop. 

The Texas law makes the hypothetical issue of abortion and the Supreme Court tangible, relevant and urgent to base Democrats. Enthusiastic Democratic turnout in 2022 may not be enough to save their majorities, but it would likely help avoid a wipeout.

While the abortion law garnered the most attention, a larger Democratic booster could be on its way: Trump’s presidential announcement.  

“I would say somewhere between 99 and 100 percent,” former Trump campaign spokesman Jason Miller told Cheddar recently. “I think he is definitely running in 2024.”

That lines up with conversations Trump has apparently had with Rep. Jim Jordan

“President Trump, he’s gonna run again,” the Ohio Republican said in comments captured surreptitiously by Lauren Windsor of The Undercurrent. “I know so. Yeah, I talked to him yesterday. He’s about ready to announce after all of this craziness in Afghanistan.”

While I’ve convinced myself that Trump will run again, I’m skeptical that an announcement is imminent. At his core, Trump is a showman who loves suspense. To end the speculation so quickly would be out of character for him. Yet Democrats should be begging him to announce soon.

Not because he’s guaranteed to lose in 2024 (he’s not), but because it would be lighter fluid on Democratic donors and voters in the midterms at a time when they’ve struggled to be excited. Trump’s announcement would take a hypothetical (Trump back in the White House) and make it more tangible, relevant and urgent.

It would also change the typical midterm dynamic, from a referendum on the president and the party in power to something more of a choice. That’s a much better framing for Democrats than a simple referendum, particularly with all the challenges currently facing the country. 

Remember, Trump was the biggest contributor to the modern U.S. record for turnout set in 2020. Whether it was voting for him or against him, Trump is a turnout machine.

Just to be clear, high Democratic turnout via an early Trump presidential announcement doesn’t ensure Democratic majorities, considering Republicans need a net gain of just five House seats and a single Senate seat to regain control. But it probably prevents a GOP wave and keeps Democrats in the game in 2024, when it’s anyone’s guess how voters will be thinking and acting.