There’s a lot of talk in Democratic circles these days about vulnerable 2022 candidates beginning to distance themselves from President Joe Biden amid his faltering poll numbers on both how he has handled Afghanistan and his overall job performance.
“Although it is clear to me that we could not continue to put American service members in danger for an unwinnable war, I also believe that the evacuation process appears to have been egregiously mishandled,” wrote Pennsylvania Rep. Susan Wild in a tweet late last week. (Biden won Wild’s district with just 52% of the vote in 2020.)
“Many of us are deeply frustrated that we could not evacuate all Americans who wanted to leave Afghanistan,” tweeted New Jersey Rep. Andy Kim on Monday. “Now we need to hear specifics on what the plan is to get them out and continue support for Afghan partners.” (Donald Trump carried Kim’s 3rd District by 0.2 percentage point in 2020.)
This is a worthy effort to get some space from a president whose approval rating is dipping below 50% for the first time since he came into office in January.
It also won’t work.
The history of midterm elections is riddled with House members — and even some senators — who did everything they could to make sure voters knew they didn’t agree with the president of their party all the time and still wound up cinched at the political waist to the commander in chief.
One classic example of this political reality came in 2020, when North Dakota Democratic Rep. Earl Pomeroy ran a TV ad late in the campaign in which he said this: “I’m not Nancy Pelosi. I’m not Barack Obama.” He still lost by almost 10 points.
The simple fact is (and this is never more true than in our current moment of tribalism) that most people have little to no idea who their House members are. They use that vote as a sort of parliamentary one; they vote for (or against) one party as opposed to one person.
And history — especially recent history — suggests that is a very bad thing for House Democrats. In Trump’s midterm election of 2018, Republicans lost 40 seats and the House majority. In 2010, Obama’s first midterm election, Democrats lost 63 seats and, you guessed it, control of the House.
The wave metaphor is useful here. What the likes of Wild and Kim (and others in swing districts) are trying to do is row their own little boats away from the potential of an anti-Biden wave that will swamp them. But they can’t row fast enough to get away. Either the wave will dissipate on its own or it will crash down on them.
They have very little agency in all of it. Which is both a) frustrating and b) true.
The Point: The best thing any swing district Democrat can do is push like crazy for Biden to stop the slippage on Afghanistan and pivot to stronger political ground like the infrastructure bill or the bigger coronavirus stimulus package.