Democrats need not despair: 6 reasons to be hopeful about the 2022 midterms

It's midterm season and Democrats are in despair. Cheer up: Here are six reasons to be optimistic in the new year

By Amanda Marcotte

Senior Writer

Published January 3, 2022 1:13PM (EST)

Nancy Pelosi, Gretchen Whitmer and Stacey Abrams (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)
Nancy Pelosi, Gretchen Whitmer and Stacey Abrams (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)

It's hard not to feel depressed going into 2022. Headlines are dominated by the omicron variant of COVID-19, Donald Trump continues to walk free despite his attempted coup one year ago, and Republican efforts to steal the 2024 election for him are well underway after receiving no resistance from a Senate that is being held hostage by the two worst Democrats in the nation. Democratic voters are demoralized, as evidenced by the low turnout in November's Virginia election. Republicans, meanwhile, are in a "let's go Brandon" frenzy. 

And yet, there are tendrils of hope peeking out through the freeze of despair.

Omicron is spreading rapidly— but the hospitalization rates remain low, suggesting it's morphing into a relatively minor cold for the vaccinated. Trump, for his part, may actually be facing real legal consequences in 2022. And, as hard as it may be to accept, there are genuine reasons to believe that the midterm elections may not be the democracy-ending bloodbath that so many of us have been fearing.

RELATED: It's time for Democrats to remind Republicans: The GOP is very much in the minority 

The Republican push to consolidate power and usher in a new Trump-led authoritarian state might not be as effective as the GOP hopes — and everyone else fears. So that means it's important to keep up the fight and resist the urge to simply give up. We can't let the bad guys win. Here are six reasons to stay in the fight in 2022.  

1. GOP's gerrymandering-pocalypse is a dud 

The press pays more attention to voter suppression techniques that make for good imagery, like denying food and water to people to people waiting in line, but actual election experts have been far more worried about the impact of aggressive gerrymandering this election cycle. Packing-and-cracking techniques have recently allowed Republicans to gain seats nationwide, despite their declining popularity. After the 2020 census, the fear was Republicans would be able to redistrict themselves into power that was untouchable by Democratic majorities. And yet, as Paul Waldman of the Washington Post reported last week, "informed redistricting experts now say it appears that this process will look more like a wash, or even that Democrats might gain a few seats."

There are many reasons for this shift in GOP fortunes, including that Democrats are fighting back harder than expected. But a lot of it comes down to the fact that demographic changes have been so dramatic that Republicans, in many places, decided to "consolidate their current position rather than take a riskier path that might expand their seats." In the end, Democrats should have a shot at far more seats than previously believed. 

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2. Democratic governors — who may be what save us in 2024 —look strong in 2022

One of Trump's strategies for stealing the 2020 election focused on voiding out electoral college votes from swing states that Joe Biden won. While Trump failed to get the momentum for his plan back then, the GOP-controlled state legislatures in places like Wisconsin and Pennsyvlania seem game to try again in 2024. They almost certainly, however, can't succeed without the governor's cooperation.

That is why it's crucial for Democrats to win gubernatorial elections in 2022. And there is reason to be optimistic on that front. These statewide elections are out of the reach of the gerrymandering that has captured so many state legislatures for Republicans

Many of the states that Trump wants to steal are electing governors this year. Democrats have a strong chance of winning — if they put up a fight. They have a chance to retain seats in Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin. Stacey Abrams is taking another shot at Georgia. And there's a chance to flip the governor's seats in Florida and Arizona.

3. The Senate map looks good for Democrats

If you're sick of Sens. Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, I've got good news: If Democrats gain Senate seats in 2022, these two's ability to stop all legislation of importance may disappear. Better yet, that may very well happen.

RELATED: Meet the scariest Republican candidates of 2022: It wasn't easy to pick 'em

In Pennsylvania, Republican Sen. Pat Toomey is retiring, leaving his seat up for grabs by one of the many popular Democrats who are running. Both North Carolina and Wisconsin are two other swing states where there's a chance Republicans can be replaced by Democrats. Even Missouri may be in range, if Republicans are foolish enough to nominate Eric Greitens, a repulsive specimen who was last seen being forced to give up his governor's seat after being credibly accused, with photographic evidence, of kidnapping and sexual assault. 

4. Republicans are putting up a vomit-inducing set of candidates this cycle

As Igor Derysh reports, Greitens is actually looking like the Republican norm for candidate choice in today's Trump-controlled GOP. In those crucial gubernatorial elections I mentioned, this could matter a lot. Abrams, for instance, is likely to run against the charisma-free David Perdue, who is an out-and-proud insurrectionist. In Arizona, there's a strong chance the party goes with Kari Lake, a Trump pick who is associated with Mike Lindell and other nutty folks linked to the "vote audit" that Republican diehards love, but everyone else finds embarrassing. Most voters oppose the insurrection, so insurrectionist candidates are going to have a harder time at the polls. 

Republicans' much-lauded 2021 win in the Virginia governor's race came courtesy of Glenn Youngkin, a bland specimen who could convincingly fake being sane to middle-of-the-road voters. But in California, their choice of Larry Elder, a loudmouthed and misogynist radio talker, gave Democrat Gavin Newsom a much easier path to victory in their gubernatorial race. Republicans look poised to nominate more Elders and fewer Newsoms. Democrats have a real chance to take advantage. 

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5. The pandemic may finally dissipate

Fox News and Republican leaders convinced their voters to reject vaccines and draw the pandemic out as long as possible to hurt Biden and the Democrats. By offering themselves up to the virus, Republicans kept case and death rates up at a steady clip, sowing malaise that led directly to Biden's declining approval numbers

RELATED: Biden didn't "fall short" of July 4 vaccination goal — he was sabotaged by Republican trolls

Then omicron started to wash over the country like a tidal wave, infecting hundreds of thousands of people a day. People are now getting infected at higher rates than they are getting their first vaccine. That sucks, but the silver lining is that all those unvaccinated Republicans are now getting their inoculations the hard way. Building immunity through infection ain't ideal, but it still works. There's a very real chance that the pandemic is mostly in the rearview mirror next fall, and Democrats reap the rewards of getting us through this crisis. 

6. The Supreme Court may awake a sleeping giant

People are going to be very angry if the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade, as it is widely expected to do. Abortion rights are popular, and so the common wisdom has been that the Supreme Court will find some way to keep restricting access without actually creating the "Roe is overturned" headlines that could lead to an electoral backlash against Republicans. But the arguments before the court earlier this month in a Mississippi abortion case showed that 5 out of the 9 nine justices seem way too invested in ending reproductive rights to worry overmuch about the political impacts. Sure Chief Justice John Roberts still wants to preserve the court's unearned reputation for prudence and moderation, but he's simply outvoted by the slobbering misogynists on the bench. 

If there is, as expected, a national run to pass abortion bans — often enforced with bounty hunter systems — across states in the summer and fall, that will likely wake up a lot of people who have checked out of politics since Biden's win. Nor is there any reason to strike a cynical pose of anger at Democrats for pressing a political advantage on this. If Democrats can secure a stronger majority in Congress in 2022, they can actually pass a bill that will overrule any Roe overturn the Supreme Court coughs up. Saving reproductive rights cannot be disentangled from saving either the Democratic Party or democracy itself. 

To be clear, much of this optimistic outlook is speculative or contingent. It could very well be that 2022 is an extension of 2021, where Democratic demoralization keeps snowballing, leading to Republican sweeps in the midterms. If that happens, we may be looking back on these days and seeing an inexorable path to fascism. 

But right now, hope is simply not lost.

There are a lot of levers that can be pulled to keep Republicans from crushing Democrats in 2022, and then voiding out any election protections that are needed to keep Trump from stealing the 2024 election. Saving the country means fighting for it. It's hard for people to fight, unless they can retain some hope of prevailing. The good news is that there are lots of reasons to feel that hope. Pro-democracy forces have the numbers, and they can still be translated into power, at least for now. The next year will be a wild ride, but, in the end, we may be looking at a repeat of 2020, where hope bested nihilism. The moment for saving ourselves has not passed. We still have a chance — if we seize it. 

By Amanda Marcotte

Amanda Marcotte is a senior politics writer at Salon and the author of "Troll Nation: How The Right Became Trump-Worshipping Monsters Set On Rat-F*cking Liberals, America, and Truth Itself." Follow her on Twitter @AmandaMarcotte and sign up for her biweekly politics newsletter, Standing Room Only.

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Commentary Congress Democrats Elections 2022 Midterm Elections