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Politics is not a game. But Republicans are winning big at the moment

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.Alex Wong/Getty

For a long time, American politics was often treated as something of a game. Red and blue states were the new Xs and Os on the game board. Rapid political polarization made parties into teams to root for, and the goal was to win, not to implement sound policy.

But some time around the election of Donald Trump, politics was no longer a game. Both sides felt the stakes were too high And certainly, the political conversation was about things much deeper and less trivial.

That said, in the fall of 2021, if the old framing still held sway, it could be said that Republicans are winning at pretty much everything right now.


One can deeply disagree with what Republicans stand for, but at the same time acknowledge that politically the party is in about as good of a position as it has been since 2010 when Republicans last took over Congress. In fact, Republicans are in a better position than they were that year.

Let’s look at the ways.

Republicans in the US House are united

Before the 2020 election, one of the major dynamics in American politics was the split among House Republicans. For a quick refresher, there was the Republican House leadership, many of whom came to power during the Tea Party wave, and they were being challenged from the right by the Freedom Caucus, who were often the biggest supporters of Donald Trump.

No one is talking much about the Freedom Caucus these days. And that isn’t just because Republicans aren’t in power, but because House Republicans are defined by one thing: the impeachment vote of Trump earlier in the year. There are the 10 Republicans who voted in favor and then the 201 who didn’t. And on nearly every piece of legislation, House Republicans have voted in a near-perfect block every time, without any drama.


Further, Republicans are set up to take over the House in the midterm elections next year. Historically, the president’s party loses dozens of seats in the midterm, and this time Republicans only need to pick up five seats. But even before the elections are held, many experts think that Republicans could pick up that many seats from the Congressional redistricting process alone.

In the Senate, the Democratic agenda is stalled

One can blame Republicans for continuing to filibuster nearly all pieces of legislation, or one can look at the fact that not even enough Democrats are on board to pass bills deemed important by President Biden, but the fact is that nothing of significance has become law since the spring.

The dynamic is simple, and it revolves around the calendar. For Democrats, there are only so many days in the Biden term and if they want to pass an ambitious agenda they had better get on it. For Republicans, then, it is the opposite. And for the past two months the only things that have been done in Congress is are routine items like keeping the government open and preventing it from defaulting on its debt. The fact that both of those things will need to be taken up again in December only means these issues will take up yet more time that could have been spent on Democratic priorities.

Then again, Democrats aren’t even in agreement on much these days, especially given that they are negotiating against themselves on a reconciliation bill.


Republicans are united about 2024, Biden is lagging

Typically this is a moment when the party out of power has a lot of people thinking about running for president, and there is some big national debate these candidates use to define themselves against others. Four years ago, Democrats did this with Medicare for All and eventually with the Green New Deal.

In previous cycles, it was about votes for the Iraq war. But this time around, Republicans might be in a historical anomaly: they have already coalesced behind one candidate three years ahead of the election.

Who knows if Trump will end up running, but it’s looking more and more likely, and if he runs, he will have weak primary challengers.

With that sorted out, Republicans can get ahead on raising money and building infrastructure with three years to go until 2024.

Biden, meanwhile, is saddled with an average of 45 percent approval rating, his lowest ever, and there are no signs of that improving.

James Pindell can be reached at james.pindell@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jamespindell and on Instagram @jameswpindell.