It is not uncommon for a United States President to face prodigious foreign policy or domestic challenges in his first year of office, which almost always results in a midterm election loss. A cursory examination of midterm elections in the last 30 years shows a similar trend against the party holding the presidency. Many result in calling these elections losses “the midterm election curse.” The midterm elections have always been a barometer to measure the job approval of the President in office. Often, if the President’s party wins the majority of the seats in congress, it is a positive sign that the people are pleased with his performance in the first two years in power. And if they are not, they’ll usually punish him by voting out his party.
In 1993, President Bill Clinton, fresh in his first year, lost favor with the American people after 19 American servicemen were killed in the battle of Mogadishu, which happened soon after he shifted from his predecessor’s policy. Clinton’s attempt to neutralize the Somalian warlord, Mohamed Farrah’s influence did not pan out well. News outlets worldwide broadcasted disturbing images of exultant mobs dragging the bodies of dead military special operators and helicopter crewmen through the streets of Mogadishu, forcing Clinton to retreat and pull out U.S. forces from Somalia. The images provoked outrage throughout the country. And the president job approval rating took a nosedive.
At the midterm election the following year, the party holding the presidency, the Democrat Party, lost control of the House of Representatives to the Republicans in a landslide election. Expectedly, the republicans exploited Clinton’s slipping popularity in a nation desperately willing to punish him for his Somalia blunder. They drafted what they called “Contract with America” and sold it to the American public. The election resulted in a jaw-dropping 54 seat loss to the democrats, giving the republican a historic comeback after decades of being out of power.
Then came George W. Bush in 2001; fresh in his presidency, he was confronted with a monumental challenge that will alter the course of American foreign policy for decades. In the summer of the same year, 19 Saudi nationals’ hijacked four fuel-loaded U.S. commercial planes bound for the west coast then lunged them into targets in the Northeastern part of the country, killing 2,753 people. In response, Bush launched Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan to root out Osama Bin Laden, who orchestrated the attacks. With a nation eager to retaliate against the terrorists, the President enjoying immense popularity, expanded the campaign into Iraq against widespread public opposition using bogus intelligence to justify removing Saddam Hussein from power. Notwithstanding, the people still liked him because of his hawkish approach to foreign policy and his quest to disrupt the terrorist network. At the November election of 2002, Bush managed to dodge the Midterm election curse and was spared a first-term midterm election loss in 2002. For his effort, he was rewarded with eight additional seats in the House of Representatives.
However, in the 2006 midterm election of his second term, after the country realized that the invasion of Iraq was based on faulty intelligence, resulting in the deaths of roughly 1335 servicemen, the goodwill from the public quickly dissipated. Bush lost 30 seats in the House and six seats in the Senate, shifting control of congress back to the Dems.
Now come 2010. Fresh in his first term, Barack Obama was served with the same midterm election curse after he spent his political capital earned in a historic election that heralds the ascension of a black president for the first time in American history. Although economic crises due to a recession inherited from President Bush were the country’s imminent concern, he nonetheless faced series of foreign policy challenges that contributed to his party’s pummeling in the midterm election. But the Affordable Healthcare Act (ACA) was the most toxic of all his agenda. Jonathan Cohn described it perfectly in his book “The Ten Year War” where he stated that “The Affordable Care Act is a highly flawed, distressingly compromised, woefully incomplete attempt to establish a basic right that already exists in every other developed nation. It is also the most ambitious and significant piece of domestic legislation to pass in half a century”. The ACA was a political hot potato and toxic. Despite this, Obama was audaciously eager to touch it. His gutsiness led to the painful division of the country, the rising of the Tea Party movement against him, and the ultimate clobbering of his party at the midterm election. A shellacking of 63 house seats swung in favor of the Republicans, making it the worst democrat defeat in 80 years.
Now unto Donald Trump. The political spell continued. The 2018 midterm election shows a nation weary of a foul mouth bombastic corrupt president, the like we have not seen in centuries. Trump faced a series of domestic policy blunders; his first year in office was rife in sustained political polarization, feuds, and endless controversies. From taking a hard stance on immigration to his role in Russia’s interference in the 2016 election, the withdrawal of the U.S. from various world bodies like the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), The Paris Agreement, the U.N. human rights council, and the Iran Nuclear Deal. Trade war with China and the Helsinki humiliation and degradation of the U.S. where Trump cast doubts on the U.S. intelligence agencies contradicting his own government findings that Russia meddled in the 2016 presidential election. The consequence of 2 years of voters’ fatigue on a highly controversial and embarrassing precedency led to the highest voter turnout in the midterm election since 1914. Trump lost the House of Representatives to the Democrats with a 41 seats net gain. The election signal not only a rebuke and a check to the Trumpian policy but a repeat of the midterm election jinx on the party holding the presidency.
With another midterm election coming in a little over a year, will the midterm curse continue to grind away the party holding the presidency because of the President’s transgression just like in the past? Or will the current President, Joe Biden, bulk the curse in his first term. If history is any guide, it will seem that his failure to implement an orderly and seamless withdrawer of U.S. troops and evacuation of U.S. citizens from Afghanistan could spell doom for his party.
Come November 2022, the death of 13 U.S. Servicemen at Kabul airport at the hands of a terrorist bomber sparked outrage from both political aisles. Although the President took full responsibility for the deaths of these brave soldiers and the chaos that ensued, will that be enough to prevent a painful punishment at the ballot? Unfortunately, it is too soon to tell.
But what we can accurately foretell is that his approval ratings will take a permanent beating and may never recover to his highs in the few months after his inauguration. In the few months leading to the midterm election of 2022, we expect his numbers to hover in the mid to high 40s. This is if the administration is scandal-free in the next 12 months.
While the public is delightfully merciless in forgiving a president who made such a tactical policy blunder, at least in the opinion polls, it is unclear whether the historical trend of midterm election jinx will repeat itself in the coming November 2022 election. Biden may still have 12 months to repair the damage caused by his Afghanistan policy debacle, but only if the Senate Democrats rally around him, pass various popular bills sent to them by the House of Representatives. Such as the $3.5 trillion infrastructure bill, election, and voting rights bills, including the “For the Peoples Act” and the “John Lewis Voting Rights Amendment Act”; they should also pass the “Gorge Floyd Justice in Policing Act.” These bills will not only give the Dems a luscious campaign message, but also cement the democrat base, which could be an impenetrable firewall against an impending midterm election wave that will assuredly come to pass if they rebuff him. We shall see.
LaBode Obanor Contact: Jlabode74@gmail.com Twitter handle:@obanor