Political Animal

Democrats Can Keep the House in 2022. Really.

Last week, the Washington Post’s Karen Tumulty asked House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer how he is feeling about the 2022 midterm election. After all, the president’s party almost always loses at least a few House seats and usually many more. Yet Hoyer insisted he is “optimistic.” He argued there are “a couple of exceptions” to the midterm rule, in particular, when “the country was facing deep economic downturns.” He also noted that Donald Trump won’t be on the ballot and the Republican Party is “deeply divided,” which could dampen Republican base turnout.

Meanwhile, analysts have pointed out that Republicans are poised for a takeover of the House. As CQ Roll Call’s Nathan Gonzales put it, “Republicans should disband if they don’t win back the House in 2022” because “Democrats have their narrowest majority in more than a generation, and Republicans have redistricting and history on their side in the midterm elections.”

But Hoyer’s optimism should not be treated as delusional or dishonest. History does show Democrats have a path forward.

At first blush, history paints a dire picture for Democrats. Since the end of Reconstruction, we have experienced 36 midterm elections, and the president’s party has lost House seats 33 times. Of those 33, only once did the president’s party lose less than five seats—and five is the magic number for Republicans in 2022.

And as I wrote earlier this spring, estimates of how many seats Republicans can create for themselves by gerrymandering range from zero to eight, with four a reasonable estimate. So, while gerrymandered districts probably won’t be enough to give Republicans the House on its own, a typical midterm shift of political winds would be.

Where hope lies for Democrats is in the exceptions to the midterm rule. However, Hoyer’s specific analysis is well off the mark; deep economic downturns are not good for the president’s party!

The lingering effects of the Great Recession pounded Barack Obama’s Democrats in the “Tea Party” 2010, giving Republicans 63 additional seats and control of the House. The 1982 recession on Ronald Reagan’s watch contributed to 26 lost Republican House seats.

The 1957-1958 recession was technically over by February. But it led to a decline in real disposable income; and that is an economic factor which, as The Atlantic’s Derek Thompson showed back in 2010, has a fairly strong correlation to midterm performance. Dwight Eisenhower’s Republicans lost 48 seats that year. And the recession of 1937-1938 was disastrous for FDR; at the tail end of that downturn, the Democrats lost 81 House seats. (Both Eisenhower and FDR were in their sixth year of office; presidents with relatively mild midterms in their second year of office are prone to more brutal midterms in their sixth year.)

1934, 1998 and 2002 are the only years when the president’s party gained seats. And the year which the president’s party lost less than five seats was 1962. What was the common thread in those years? Crisis.

1934’s midterm was the first after Roosevelt launched the New Deal. The Great Depression was far from over, but voters felt the economy was turning around and credited the president’s party.

1998 featured a manufactured impeachment crisis, as congressional Republicans authorized an impeachment inquiry into Bill Clinton one month before the election. The economy was booming, and voters thought Republicans had lost the plot. Democrats picked up five House seats.

In 2002, America was still shaken from the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and voter appetite for militant responses boosted the popularity of President George W. Bush and the GOP. (Note for younger readers: during this point in American history, the Republican Party was considered the stronger party on national security issues.) Republicans picked up eight seats in the House and took back control of the Senate for good measure.

The 1962 midterm occurred one month after the resolution of the Cuban Missile Crisis (and real disposable income growth was respectable to boot.) President John F. Kennedy’s approval ratings, while always high, had begun to sag before the crisis, but received an 13-point boost afterwards. That helped limit Democratic House losses to just four.

What does that mean for 2022? Well, it so happens President Joe Biden has been managing a once-in-a-century pandemic. And so far, so good. Vaccinations are up. Infections are down. Schools are opening up. Jobless claims are down. The adage: shots in arms, checks in the mail, shovels in the ground. If successful crisis management is the only way Biden can keep the House under Democratic control, he’s on his way.

Of course, politics is rarely so simple. Biden could do such a good job ending the crisis, the public may have put the pandemic in its rearview mirror by November 2022 and have found something else to complain about. Or the pandemic may still linger. Vaccine skeptics may keep us from herd immunity. Variants may circulate. Inflation might be a real worry. And Biden may begin to shoulder more blame.

Governing in the middle of crisis is politically volatile. Take 1990. After Iraq invaded Kuwait during the summer, President George H.W. Bush sent troops to Saudi Arabia, boosting his job approval to 74 percent. Then gas prices rose, concerns about a protracted war grew, and his job approval dipped. (Bush’s decision to break his “No New Taxes” pledge in the summer of 1990 also left a mark.) By the midterm election, Bush’ job approval landed at 57 percent. Still, that’s much better than most presidents before their first midterm. In turn, Republican losses in the House were historically modest, only eight seats.

But if Joe Biden replicated Bush’s 1990 midterm performance, he’d still lose the House. In all four cases when the president’s party gained House seats or lost less than five, presidential job approval was above 60 percent (we don’t have poll numbers for 1934, but it’s a good bet FDR was in that range). And in today’s polarized America, whether any president can reach 60 percent job approval is an open question. No one has done it since Barack Obama, and that was only in his honeymoon period through early June 2009. Democrats can take heart in the 63 percent approval Biden just scored in the most recent Associated Press/NORC poll though his Real Clear Politics approval average is a more modest 54 percent.

Since 1978, five of our seven presidents had job approval below 50 percent by the time of their first midterm. Why is that? New presidents enter office brimming with high expectations, then get hit with the realities of governing. Overhyped ideas, imperfect compromises and unfulfilled promises tend to deflate the presidential party’s base and energize the opposition.

To avoid the usual midterm bloodbath, Democrats need to reverse the usual script, and remain unified while Republicans divide. As it stands, that’s what happening. After Democrats passed $1.9 trillion in pandemic relief, Republicans purged Rep. Liz Cheney for insufficient loyalty to Donald Trump. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell may insist that “one-hundred percent of our focus is on stopping this new administration,” but Senator Shelley Moore Capito is trying to strike a bipartisan deal on infrastructure, and Senator Tim Scott sounds hopeful for a bipartisan deal on police reform. If Democrats can keep their focus on helping Americans, while Republicans squabble among themselves, 2022 won’t have the same political dynamics as most midterm years.

Gaming out what may happen on Election Day is not just an exercise for academics and bettors. Knowing how presidential parties have bucked the historic trend should inform Democratic strategy. Yes, Democrats should deliver policies that help people get through this crisis. But since crises don’t always cooperate, they also need to manage expectations so they don’t get held to an unrealistic standard.

One encouraging sign is that Biden has tended to lowball vaccine targets, making them each time. And he does remind people that we’re still in a crisis, helping to guard against complacency.

Yes, Democrats should feel free to use reconciliation to avoid having to toss away their agenda to get a few GOP votes. However, bipartisan bills have the advantage of not only being more enduring, but they widen fissures in the GOP. Anything that gets Josh Hawley barking at Susan Collins is its own reward.

Steny Hoyer may be wildly optimistic, but he didn’t get to be majority leader by being bad at math or delusional. Democrats are on the right path to make their own history and keep the House.

Why Biden Needs to Go Big on Abortion

Many progressives found themselves pleasantly surprised with Joe Biden after his first 100 days in office. He’s willing to go big, embrace the legacy of FDR and LBJ, and pass trillions in investments on party-line votes if Republicans don’t offer real solutions. In his first joint address to Congress last month, Biden laid out his agenda and made an unapologetic, empathetic case for big solutions to big crises: not just the pandemic and economic collapse, but also climate change, gun violence, systemic racism, immigration, and more. From the well of the House, Biden proudly advocated for just about every progressive reform that his administration supports. Yet he was silent on one major issue: the decimated state of access to safe, legal, and affordable abortion and the Republican Party’s continually escalating efforts to make it worse. 

If you have an unwanted or unviable pregnancy, access to abortion is infrastructure. It can make or break your economic security and your health. About one in four women will have an abortion during their lifetime. Yet, thanks to decades of coordinated attacks from abortion opponents, most U.S. counties don’t have an abortion provider. Six in ten women of reproductive age live in states where policies on abortion access are more hostile than supportive. Many patients are forced to travel hundreds of miles, pay hundreds if not thousands of dollars out of pocket, and endure humiliations like forced ultrasounds, medically inaccurate anti-abortion “counseling,” and gauntlets of protesters who can more easily target abortion clinics for harassment when there are so few remaining. If the conservative Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade, abortion would probably be banned altogether in 22 states.

Biden discussed none of this in his joint address, even though states like Arizona and Texas are making headlines for extreme anti-abortion bills. Republican state lawmakers have already filed over 500 bills to restrict abortion this year, compared to over 300 by the same time in 2019. This includes outright abortion bans that defy Roe v. Wade—a deliberate strategy to hand the Supreme Court a case that would overturn the landmark ruling.

Attacks on abortion access are getting more intense, not less, in the wake of Donald Trump’s defeat. The abortion rights established under Roe v. Wade have already been chipped away to the point that they only apply if you have financial means or live in the right zip code. And if Biden doesn’t go bigger on abortion, things will only get worse.

It’s true that Biden has taken some positive steps for reproductive health. He’s started to roll back some of Trump’s harsh restrictions on both domestic and global reproductive health programs and appointed reproductive rights champions like Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra. Perhaps most significant is the Biden administration’s actions on the abortion pill, or mifepristone, the first of two medications given to terminate an early pregnancy through 10 weeks. Last month, the FDA temporarily lifted some restrictions on the abortion pill, allowing it to be shipped by mail during the pandemic. It was a needed move, but a late and limited one: the change only came in April when Biden could have ordered it on day one, it’s only temporary, and it won’t help people living in the 19 states that effectively ban such deliveries. Meanwhile, lawmakers in 13 states are already trying to make the abortion pill even harder to access. 

A bigger step came last week, late on a Friday, when the FDA quietly announced in a court filing that it will review all of its restrictions on mifepristone. (The eve of the weekend is a famed Washington time for putting out information you hope will get little or no attention. That’s whispering when the administration should be proudly proclaiming.) The abortion pill is safer than Tylenol but more heavily regulated than fentanyl. You can’t get it at a pharmacy, and it can only be dispensed in person at certain healthcare centers by specially licensed doctors who specifically register as abortion providers. This review is just an initial step. But if Biden’s FDA “follows the science,” as the president often urges in other contexts, and lifts its medically unnecessary restrictions on mifepristone, it could single-handedly and massively expand abortion access. In states that don’t have various laws prohibiting this, at least, the abortion pill could be prescribed by regular doctors and dispensed at regular pharmacies, just like other drugs that are even less safe like Lipitor or Flonase. 

This was the vision advocates had for mifepristone when it was first approved in the last months of the Clinton administration before the FDA saddled it with excessive regulations in the vain hope of warding off political backlash. While some state laws would still block that vision from being fully realized nationwide, the FDA lifting its restrictions would make it far less common for patients to be forced to drive for hours just to pick up a pill that they will take at home.

But even Biden’s biggest moves are just initial steps—promising ones, of course, but also the minimum of what’s expected from a pro-choice administration. They’re not enough to meet the moment. Many reproductive justice advocates gave middling reviews of Biden’s first 100 days in office, partly because they feel he can do much more on policy and partly because he hasn’t yet shown the same vocal, unapologetic support for abortion rights that he has for other issues. He hasn’t even uttered the word “abortion” in public since taking office, much less forcefully spoken out about the record number of state restrictions introduced this year. 

This kind of omission is problematic both from a symbolic and a practical perspective. It reinforces the social stigma that considers “abortion” a dirty word and deed, instead of basic health care and a human right—and validates the idea that abortion is too risky or unimportant to fight for politically. It also leaves a rhetorical vacuum that conservatives are more than happy to fill with climate-denial-style disinformation, which then gets used to justify banning or restricting abortion. 

Biden has plenty of bold policies he could loudly champion if he wants to give abortion access the FDR treatment. Some he has yet to endorse, and some are ideas that he campaigned on but hasn’t yet indicated that he will make a priority. 

The big issue that the Biden administration can’t solve on its own and needs Congress for is what to do about all of those state restrictions. Biden officially supports the idea of codifying Roe v. Wade into law nationwide, which could help—but he still isn’t pushing a specific proposal to do so, even though several exist. Realistically, abortion providers and patients need even stronger protections than Roe offers to block onerous state laws en masse. One proposal, the Women’s Health Protection Act, would do just that by barring states from interfering with abortion in a way that they don’t with other health care services. This would likely nullify those state laws that make it harder to get the abortion pill, along with all the other laws that target abortion care for no medically or scientifically justifiable reason. If Biden insists Congress pass the Women’s Health Protection Act, he will make it clear that he understands what’s at stake. Even if such a bill could be vulnerable to a Supreme Court challenge, it’s a fight worth waging.

Biden says he wants to end the Hyde Amendment‘s decades-long ban on public funding for abortion, but he hasn’t been building the public case for it—even though doing so would strike a blow against both economic and racial inequality, two of his favorite issues. Because the 44-year-old amendment blocks Medicaid from covering abortion except in rare cases, it makes abortion unaffordable and inaccessible for low-income people, who are disproportionately people of color. That was a feature and not a bug for the measure’s original sponsor, Rep. Henry Hyde of Illinois, who openly admitted that his measure targeted poor women. Ever since, “no taxpayer dollars for abortion” has been a racially coded right-wing rallying cry that Democrats have only recently started pushing back on as unjust and discriminatory. 

Because the Hyde Amendment is not a permanent law but an annual rider in the must-pass appropriations bill, eliminating it is politically plausible. It doesn’t need to be repealed; it just needs not to be renewed. Biden can propose a budget that doesn’t include Hyde and back it up with a veto threat. He could go even further by supporting the EACH Act, which would permanently reverse Hyde by requiring public insurance plans to cover abortion.

Pushing all of these measures “would go a long way to demonstrating that this administration supports bolder action on abortion access,” said Jacqueline Ayers, vice president of government relations and public policy at Planned Parenthood Action Fund.

Biden has a lot on his plate, and sweeping abortion reforms will be tough to get through Congress. But in his joint address, Biden urged Congress to send a long list of bills to his desk, regardless of whether they stand any chance of overcoming a Republican filibuster: bills for immigration reform, LGBTQ rights, voting rights, unionization, a $15 minimum wage, and equal pay for women. Getting rid of the Hyde Amendment, for instance, is a lot more achievable than any of those as long as the filibuster remains intact. It’s hardly a guarantee, especially with Joe Manchin in the Senate, but pro-choice policies aren’t always a dealbreaker for Manchin. And Biden would have the support of six in ten Americans who support Medicaid funding for abortion. 

Biden also needs to make sure the Senate approves as many pro-choice judges as possible while it still can since Trump has packed the judiciary with anti-choice ones. And Biden can do more that doesn’t require Congress, like stopping states from excluding health care providers from Medicaid just because they provide abortion. His administration should also take a strong stance against prosecuting people who self-manage an abortion with pills or who have a miscarriage, a nightmarish-sounding scenario that happens in America more often than you’d think. 

Erin Matson, co-founder and executive director of the abortion advocacy group Reproaction, argued that in addition to all of this, Biden should look for creative solutions to the problem of abortion care being unnecessarily segregated from other routine medical care. He could offer incentives for existing medical offices to expand their abortion offerings or for new clinics to open. He could even make this part of his broader vision for infrastructure or economic recovery and include it in packages that could pass using reconciliation. It’s the kind of outside-the-box thinking the president will need.

And one of the easiest ways Biden could go big on abortion is to talk about it openly and often, said Renee Bracey Sherman, founder and executive director of We Testify, an organization that fights stigma around abortion by sharing the stories of real people who have them. She said that if Biden really considers himself pro-choice, he needs to tell the American people a clear story about abortion and why expanding access to it matters. He can and should use his trademark empathy and relatability to remind voters of the human reality of abortion, something he’s done often when it comes to sexual assault survivors and the transgender community. He can tell everyone who needs an abortion and is struggling to get one, “I’ve got your back.” 

“He seems to be able to say that for everything else,” Bracey Sherman said. “Why can he not say it for abortion?”

There’s no real reason for Biden to be so shy about this. While it’s often seen as a third-rail issue that deeply divides Americans, about 7 in 10 Americans support legal abortion, and only a small, vocal minority want to see it banned. A majority of Catholics also support legal abortion, as Biden does, and Catholic women have abortions at the same rates as other women. Deeper polling shows that even if many Americans feel personally ambivalent about abortion, the overwhelming majority want the experience of those who have one to be affordable, without added burdens, and informed by medically accurate information—which is decidedly not the experience in states with hostile abortion laws. 

Years of grassroots reproductive justice advocacy have pushed many elected Democrats to stop playing defense on abortion. This shift forced Biden, who had already evolved considerably on abortion, to change his mind on the Hyde Amendment to become a viable 2020 nominee. Now, Biden can still choose to be a leader. As Barack Obama’s vice president, Biden showed courage on another social justice issue by coming out in support of same-sex marriage on national television ahead of Obama, Hillary Clinton, and many other national Democratic figures. It earned him applause. He has the chance to show that courage again with an issue that’s even more popular with Americans. If Biden wants to be an FDR-style leader, he shouldn’t pass it up. 

For Mother’s Day, Please Get Vaccinated

For Mother’s Day today, the regular reminders apply: call your Mom. Visit if you can. Give flowers or gifts. Reach out to those whose mothers may have passed, too, because this is a hard day for them.

But since this is a space for politics and public policy, consider this also a reminder that one of the most important things we can do for Moms all across the country is to get vaccinated (if you are medically able.)

Despite schools reopening across the country, many families are still concerned about returning. Despite evidence showing that transmission in school is limited as long as protocols, are observed. Their fears are not idle. There have been multiple recent outbreaks of the virus in schools, forcing many to shut down. And those are just the cases we know about. And while COVID presents much less risk of hospitalization and death to the old than to the very young, serious cases do occur among the young. Importantly, we still aren’t clear on the long-term effects of the virus on any group, including the very young. It is not unreasonable for parents to be concerned about their children contracting the virus.

But after over a year of both work and childcare at home for millions of Americans, we have realized both the limits of virtual learning and the limits of our patience for continuing to live this way.

Unfortunately, due to structural sexism in society the majority of burden of childcare in the pandemic has fallen on women and mothers–both in terms of career prospects and at-home stress\:

The pandemic has touched every group of Americans, and millions are suffering, hungry and grieving. But many mothers in particular get no space or time to recover.

The impact is not just about mothers’ fate as workers, though the economic fallout of these pandemic years might have lifelong consequences. The pandemic is also a mental health crisis for mothers that fervently needs to be addressed, or at the very least acknowledged.

Until we reach herd immunity against COVID in the general , responsible parents will continue to face excessive stress in attempting to care for and protect their children. And most of that impact will fall on women and mothers.

Unfortunately, vaccination rates have slowed significantly, as Americans eager to get the vaccine have mostly already had the opportunity to do so. But that group only accounts for a fraction of what is needed to reach herd immunity.

There is, of course, an element of conservative America that has been and remains hostile to every protective measure against the virus, from masks to vaccines. Their social pathologies have been well explored, and little need be said about that here. It is up to the reader to decide how much of their behavior is the fault of conservative media, of Donald Trump, or of conservative white evangelical culture writ large. The anti-vaccination movement among a certain element of low-trust left-libertarians is also a factor. How to reach these folks remains an open question, but most of them likely aren’t reading this piece.

But a large portion of Americans aren’t hostile the vaccine; they just haven’t quite bothered to get it yet for one reason or another. Perhaps they haven’t found the time; perhaps they’re in an age category where they don’t feel it’s a threat; perhaps they just don’t like needles (I don’t, either, but it’s really not that bad); perhaps they’re scared of stories about side effects from the vaccine (really, COVID itself is much worse); perhaps they’ve heard conspiracy theories that the vaccine changes your DNA or has a microchip in it (no, it doesn’t and–seriously?–no, it really doesn’t); perhaps they already had COVID and feel their own natural resistance to it will be enough (not true: the vaccine is much more effective in preventing re-infection.) None of those are good excuses.

If you’re reading this and fall into that category, please consider making plans to get vaccinated this Mother’s Day. Millions of mothers are desperate to protect their children and put this awful era behind us. Please help them and all the rest of us try to get back to normal.

What Joe Biden Learned from Ronald Reagan About Governing

President Joe Biden this week scored a two-thirds job approval from the American public. Any way you look at it, that’s quite a number in this divisive age. Even his disapproval number – 38% – is impressive given that it mainly reflects the diehard voting bloc that denies he was ever elected.

I credit Biden’s high standing this May to his governing and political sense. And that owes a lot to a past chief executive very different in governing philosophy.

Last week, Joe and Jill Biden visited Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter in Plains, Georgia. Biden’s pilgramage to Plains was respectful, even sentimental. Forty-five years earlier, Biden, then a first-termer, backed Carter’s candidacy. Neither the Clintons nor the Obamas has made the pilgrimage to the southwest Georgia farming community where the Carter family had its peanut business and Jimmy Carter parlayed his status as a planter into a seat in the Georgia legislature before becoming governor. The Bidens’ homage reminded me of the days when Democrats bannered their national conventions with giant portraits of their partisan forebearers.

But it’s not Carter whose example the 46th president is following.  If he owes any predecessor for that 59% job approval in the new Harvard CAPS – Harris Poll, it’s the chief executive who defeated and succeeded Carter:  Ronald Reagan.

Here are the elements in Biden’s governing politics that clearly match the White House record of 1981:

Number one—Honor your partisan base.

There is an old rule in politics that the former Delaware senator has obeyed: “Dance with the one that brung ya.”  Biden wouldn’t have won the 2020 Democratic nomination were it not for that smashing victory in the make-or-break South Carolina primary. Nor has he forgotten it and the role African American voters played in it. From the outset, his appointments and policies have reflected the needs of working people, especially women of color. He made Kamala Harris his vice presidential nominee. He’s vowed to fill his first Supreme Court vacancy with an African American judge, and the president doesn’t make a move on anything—Covid-19, his jobs plan, infrastructure—without a meaningful and substantial homage to equity. That’s not a 78-year-old just acting woke. It’s at Joe Biden’s core: remembering who brung you.

This is the mirror image of what Ronald Reagan did 40 years ago.  At the top of his agenda was giving his conservative base a deep and profound statement of loyalty: that 25% across-the-board tax cut. It was the greatest broadside against the big government the Gipper could deliver.  If he could starve Washington of its tax base, he could bring the whole colossus to its knees. Cutting programs is hard, as Reagan found out and as his first Office of Management and Budget Director David Stockman complained—and lost his job over the complaints. Unfunded tax cuts, on the other hand, were genius for the GOP leader.

Like Reagan, Biden has made clear that he is out to make his presidential mark with his party’s most reliable voters: progressives and Americans of color.  He is spending massively and widely. As important as the checks going out to the middle, working class and poor is the message: Big Government is coming back strong.

This wasn’t something to expect from the veteran Biden.  He was elected to the Senate in big Republican years; 1972, 1978, 1984, and 2002. He came from a state that never quite banned slavery. He came to the Senate at 30, in a chamber still dominated by Southern former segregationists and, as my colleague Matt Cooper pointed out, still had three World War I veterans. Biden grew up in that world as a moderate, now he is giving party progressives a program that reflects the policy and philosophy of the two contenders he defeated for the nomination: Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.  The appreciation for this shows up vividly in Biden’s job approval figures.

Rule Number two—Focus

Biden is now known for two major initiatives: pandemic relief and infrastructure. He has insisted on keeping the trains running on this central agenda. While saying positive things about other issues, he seems determined to not let such matters clog the tracks. This was a central feature of the Reagan agenda.  While known over the years for a wide variety of right-wing policy ambitions, the 40th president centered the spotlight on the big fiscal changes he promised in the election: tax cuts and hikes in military spending.

I attribute this discipline to his Chief of Staff James A. Baker who “let Reagan be Reagan” only where it counted most politically.  It seems that Ron Klain is doing much the same for President Biden. He’s keeping the focus on Biden’s big two legislative ambitions: Covid-19 relief and infrastructure. You do not see Biden tilting at windmills but only at the legislative agenda he needs for his presidency to move forward.

Rule Number three—Audacity

Like Reagan, Biden is swinging for the fences. While there may be sticker shock and inflation down the road, his legislative agenda has given his new presidency Punch! There’s no trimming his sails because the Democrats lost seats in the House or because his victory was less commanding than the pre-balloting polls indicated. No one denies that this president’s election – and Donald Trump’s defeat – matters.

Rule Number four—Speed

Andy Warhol famously predicted that Americans would one day all enjoy their “15 minutes” of fame. Presidents have learned the hard way they get just about that many months. That’s if they are lucky. Barack Obama managed to enact the Affordable Care Act in July of his second year, and then just barely. Due to the late 1981 recession, Ronald Reagan had seen his legislative dominance vanished by his first autumn in the White House.

It is still early in the game. But should Joe Biden make a positive mark in history it will be by doing it like Ronald Reagan did: Stick to your base; keep your focus, go big; go early.  His commitment to Reagan’s governing politics is clear and it’s working.

As a former speechwriter, I’m also impressed by his rhetorical focus. It’s not that he’s a great orator. The point is he’s kept his speeches within his rhetorical abilities. And while he’s governed left, his tone has been totally middle of the road, inclusive. He hasn’t gotten drawn into culture war battles over Dr. Seuss. When he got asked about America being a racist country, he deftly said he didn’t think most people were racists but there was clearly a legacy of racism holding people back right now. He’s used the term systemic racism but in a way that calls on people’s better angels. It’s been hard to pull off but in a slow and grandfatherly way, he’s made it look easy, During the Chauvin trial, it would have been easy to make a misstep. He didn’t. Moderate tone. Left governance. Reagan governed right with a moderate tone. It worked then. It works now.