The Back Booth will be hosting a weekend edition, The D.C. Brief. Here each Saturday, TIME’s politics newsletter will host a conversation between political professionals on the right and the left, pulling back the curtain on the conversations taking place in Washington when the tape stops rolling. Get The D.C. Brief Here.
History can be extremely useful for placing current events in trends but it has its limits.
That important reminder came through during The D.C. Brief’s conversation this week with two pros who have literally been in rooms where the history of this country has been rerouted. Chris MoyerAs a consultant or spokesman, he worked for the Clinton and Cory Booker presidential campaigns. But he got what he calls a “masterclass” in politics while working as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s personal aide, or bodyman. After a stint working for the American Gaming Association—think Big Casino—he launched his own firm.
You will find the following: Michael ShortTwo presidential and midterm elections were spent at the Republican National Committee. He was eventually promoted to rapid-response secretary. His roles included those of a Hill Press Secretary, a Senior Assistant Press Secretary in Trump’s White House, and as a top-ranking communications official at Commodity Futures Trading Commission. He was also a member of the White House press team. In the private sector, he has worked as the media relations chief at the National Association of Manufacturers, the nation’s largest industrial trade association. Now he is a managing director in a firm that deals with public affairs.
Elliott: On Tuesday, President Biden visited Philadelphia at the AFL-CIO to road test what certain sounded early. pitch heading into November. The Wall Street criticism was surprising, coupled with Sen. Wyden’s proposal of a 21% Surtax on oil companies’ profits. This seems to show that there is a lot of shifting blame. Is it possible for the economy to continue being an issue? In my memory, similar populist moments were in 2010 and that didn’t End wellDemocrats
Moyer: In November, the President will do his best to reduce damage. While the current economic problems are ripe for political attacks, hardly any of them are of the Biden administration’s own making. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine was out of his control. Still dealing with effects from the pandemic-induced slump that was unprecedented in recent decades and possibly ever. It’s going to take some time for the supply chain, the labor market, and prices to normalize. For Democrats running for office this fall, however, this will not be helpful. The President’s message identifies boogeymen—corporations and Big Oil—and this message resonates with voters across the political spectrum, even with a meaningful number of Republican voters.
Short: I happened to be working at the RNC during the 2010 election and you’re right: that playbook didn’t work and it was a bloodbath for the other side. The landscape in that election was very different from the one we will have. A high level of unemployment, such as we saw in November 2010, affects only a select number of people. The unemployment rate on election day was above 9%. However, inflation affects all: it touches 100% of voters. A further difference is the fact that President Obama’s average job approval was just 4 points lower than it was on election day 2010. Meanwhile, President Biden’s average job approval is currently underwater by nearly 4 times that.
Moyer: In 2010, even as Democrats suffered massive losses, we also saw that the quality of the candidates mattered—especially in Senate races. Sharron Angle and Christine O’Donnell couldn’t win even in an ideal environment for Republicans. Twelve years later, we’ll see if the partisan divide has reached the point where even extreme GOP candidates in places like New Hampshire and Nevada (and elsewhere) can win just because of their party affiliation.
Short: The canary in the coal mine is Democrats’ loss this week in a special election for a South Texas congressional seat that is 85% Hispanic and voted for the last three Democratic presidential nominees by an average of 16 points. But as bad as these (and other) data points are for Democrats, Chris’ point about candidate and campaign quality also bears repeating. Because Republicans lost winnable races back in 2010, 2012, and 2013, Mitch McConnell was forced to wait to be Senate Majority Leader until 2015.
The Fed looks ready on Wednesday to boost the rate by 0.75%—the biggest since 1994. [Editor’s note: They did.]If they have to borrow money, it seems that this will really hit the kitchen. Coupled with the highest inflation rates in 40 years, this just seems like we’re in for a rough patch. Washington, what can you do right now? Anything?
Short: The problem with inflation is that once it takes hold, it is tough—and painful—to unwind. There are too many dollars being chased by too few goods. The Fed must tighten money supply. This week, they made a huge step forward by raising interest rates 75 basis points. There will be more hikes.
Moyer: The Fed raising interest rates to control inflation would mean that Americans are forced to eat vegetables. It is important to keep inflation under control by increasing rates. This will be good for the economic’s medium- and long-term health. Voters want the government to take action on inflation. But, very few voters would like to have to spend more to obtain a mortgage, car loan or any other large expenses.
The short version is that Washington can reduce the unavoidable pain caused by this increase in energy prices. The input to every sector of the economy is energy. When prices rise for this commodity, so does everything else. While the conflict in Ukraine is a significant factor, bad government policies contributed to high energy costs that skyrocketed long before Putin’s invasion. It is possible to make things worse by imposing a 21% surtax to oil company profits.
Moyer: There are not many concrete actions that Congress or the Biden administration can take to cut costs short-term. They need to keep showing their empathy for the pain of voters and driving headlines to indicate they are working hard to implement solutions.
This seems to be the frame Get DealThe ban on guns may actually be held. It is possible that it will be defeated in the Senate. Or are we just waiting to see if there’s a flaw in the language of the bills? You’ve both been in rooms where it seems something is possible only to see it fall apart without much warning.
Moyer: There is more chance that something will go wrong or the agreement could fall apart if it takes too long for this to be drafted and put to a vote. If Republicans make soft promises, they can be criticized by constituents or outside groups. We’ve seen this happen time and time again. As Obamacare negotiations continued in 2009, the opposition of the conservative grassroots was evident through demonstrations. Protests by angry constituents at local town halls during the August recess also dominated news coverage. This scuttled any chance of getting one Republican vote.
In short: This bipartisan Senate framework seems remarkably modest in comparison to what Democrats will offer when gun control is top of their agenda. As an owner of multiple firearms, I’m not bothered by what has been formally announced to date. At least eleven Senate Republicans support these broad strokes. This is more than enough for passage if all Democrat members stay onboard. The NRA has so far declined to comment, which gives the GOP members some room to negotiate. This will come down to the details, which are still being worked through. The grand deficit reduction agreement between Speaker Boehner (then) and President Obama, which was in principle reached, fell apart when the former reportedly broke it. Washington has many stories like this.
Moyer: While it’s encouraging that even Senator McConnell appears open to supporting this agreement, he was also open to removing Trump from office after the Jan. 6 insurrection. It was clear that he didn’t follow through. Because the vote has not been cast, nothing is final. The quicker Leader Schumer can bring a bill to the floor, the more likely the fragile coalition will hold, and the bill will actually reach the President’s desk.
We had thus Two Jan. 6 AudiencesThis WeekThe picture that is being painted is quite brutal. That said, it seems to be a choose-your-own-reality story here, as I’m seeing very little persuasion coming from anecdotal conversations around town. Do these things make a difference? Will the remaining 96 weeks from Jan. 6, 2021 to Election Day 2022 make a difference?
Moyer: While it’s important to fully understand what happened on Jan. 6 and who was responsible for that tragic day, it’s never struck me as something that will move a significant number of undecided voters to support Democrats this fall. The committee’s goal is to establish the facts for Trump’s 2024 run. It is also more helpful for the midterm elections. Not only did the insurrection happen 17 months ago, but we’re still several months away from November’s elections.
Short version: It is unlikely that the hearings have any significant impact on midterm elections. Voters’ minds are largely made up on the subject, and they’re increasingly focused on issues that are directly impacting them like $5-6-per-gallon gas. The Republican sweep last November in Virginia showed focusing on Trump just isn’t a winner when he’s not on the ballot—even in blue-leaning states. These races are going to be primarily about the economy and Washington’s failure to grapple with other problems. It will be interesting to see how the committee’s findings play out in the context of the 2024 GOP presidential primary and whether Republicans will have more of an appetite to cross Trump. Maybe Republican primary voters recognize this and will seek someone with less baggage.
Thank you, gentlemen.
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