Seven days in July: America's moment of political climate change

A month ago, GOP victory looked like a sure thing. Then came Dobbs, the final Jan. 6 hearing and Joe Manchin's deal

By Robert S. McElvaine

Contributing Writer

Published August 3, 2022 6:00AM (EDT)

Chuck Schumer, Joe Manchin and Mitch McConnell (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)
Chuck Schumer, Joe Manchin and Mitch McConnell (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)

This summer we are experiencing the effects of global climate change at an accelerating pace, but the political climate can change more rapidly still.

Three weeks ago, I wrote here about "Seven Days in June," a right-wing coup carried out without violence, but with considerable malice aforethought by the Supreme Court in the final week of its term. At that point, and for some days thereafter, most political observers still foresaw a Republican midterm landslide in the House this November, and many believed the GOP might also win a majority in the Senate. That changed dramatically in the last week of July.

Hints of a political climate change began almost immediately after the court's coup. The brazen reversal of women's right to control their own bodies produced a significant turn toward the Democrats. The average of six generic congressional polls taken before and after the court's Dobbs decision — which struck down the 49-year-old precedent of Roe v. Wade — found a gain of three points for the Democrats. Then, gleeful right-wing zealots in several states declared, in effect, Yes, we do favor forcing 10-year-old rape victims and women whose lives are endangered by a pregnancy to carry fetuses to term—and we're proud of it! The turn away from Republicans began to pick up more steam. A Suffolk University/USA Today poll conducted between July 22 and 25 found that abortion had risen to the second most important issue to registered voters. 

The Seven Days in July began with the July 21 primetime hearing of the House Jan. 6 select committee, by far the most devastating yet for the former guy and his followers. Seeing what Donald Trump did and didn't do while an insurrection in his name was ongoing, which he refused to condemn, had a major impact. Two leading Murdoch-owned papers, the Wall Street Journal and New York Post, denounced Trump's behavior. A CNN poll released on July 24 found that 79 percent of Americans now believe that Trump acted "illegally or unethically" in his "efforts to remain president for another term after the 2020 presidential election." Trump's former advisers are tripping over each other as they jump ship and offer to testify — and it now seems likely, or at least plausible, that the Justice Department is building a case against the former occupant of the White House.

In a rambling talk at the Turning Point USA conference in Tampa on the evening of July 23, Trump said he "kinda liked" it that the head of the Taliban had called him "Your Excellency." At the same rightwing conference, Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., launched into a repulsive misogynistic rant against women he doesn't find attractive. Then Gaetz, who is reportedly under investigation for child sex trafficking, joined with 19 other Republicans to vote against reauthorizing an anti-sex trafficking law.

Meanwhile, House Republicans were also voting by huge margins against federal legislation that would protect women's right to control their bodies and the doctors who provide care for them (99% of Republicans voted no), the right to use contraception (96%), and same sex marriage (77%), and even against a bill  that would guarantee a woman's right to cross state lines to obtain health care (97%). In each case, Republicans were planting their flag in opposition to rights that are overwhelmingly popular among Americans.

On Wednesday, things really took a turn for the worse for Republicans. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell had said he would not allow a vote on the CHIPS Bill, to fund a massive program for computer chips to be manufactured in the U.S., until he was assured that Democrats would not use reconciliation to push through legislation on such issues as climate change, prescription drug prices, corporate taxation and so on. Thinking that Sen. Joe Manchin, the recalcitrant West Virginia Democrat, had ended that possibility, McConnell allowed Republicans (including himself) to vote for the CHIPS bill. Shortly after it passed, Manchin and Majority Leader Chuck Schumer announced that they had reached a deal on a remarkably progressive reconciliation bill that will do far more to fight climate change than anything previously enacted by Congress ("I struggle to find enough superlatives to describe this deal," said Sam Ricketts, co-founder of Evergreen Action), impose a 15% minimum tax on large corporations, reduce prescription drug prices, extend Affordable Care Act subsidies and much more.

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To top it off, the Democrats, who have been notoriously horrible at messaging and naming, are calling the package the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022, meaning that almost all Republicans will go on record not only having voted against the popular components of the bill, but (at least nominally) against reducing inflation. It was stunning. As an Atlantic headline put it, "Democrats in … Array?"

McConnell had been McConnelled.

The Republican response was stupidity on steroids. They immediately took to acting like grade-school brats, reversing themselves to vote against veterans by killing the Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics (PACT) bill they had previously supported. Not one to be out-undone by his Senate counterpart, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy whipped his members to reverse themselves and vote against the CHIPS bill.

Having already come out as opposed to women's rights, indifferent to rape, unwilling to protect access to contraception, and negative on a host of other popular positions, Republicans decided to stand foursquare against veterans, against the nation's heroes, against the economy, against America — and, in effect, for China.

At this point, the midterms seem to be moving away from a referendum on Joe Biden and toward being a referendum on the no-longer-Republican Party — an election about the soul of America, which would be enormously to the Democrats' advantage.

As Heather Cox Richardson concluded in her Thursday letter, she was tempted to agree with a tweet earlier that day from Ian Millhiser of Vox: "This was a good week for the United States of America and I may be coming down with a case of The Hope."

By Robert S. McElvaine

Historian Robert S. McElvaine teaches at Millsaps College. He is the author of "Eve’s Seed: Biology, the Sexes, and the Course of History." His latest book, "The Times They Were a-Changin’ – 1964: The Year the Sixties Arrived and the Battle Lines of Today Were Drawn," has just been published.

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