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Historically Speaking: December 2022—Part 2

By Will Bellaimey:

It's the end of 2022, and Will Bellaimey is back to talk about the state of democracy in the USA, the political implications of the midterm elections, and what we can look forward to in politics for the year to come.

Watch the latest installment of Historically Speaking: Part 2 with Will Bellaimey

or read the transcript below!

Historically Speaking with Will Bellaimey: December 2022, Part 2



The 2022 elections are over, and that means that we're headed into 2023, which will be the third year of the Biden administration and probably the beginnings of the 2024 election; which I'm sorry to say, at this point is gonna be a two-year-long affair. And you could see, even a week after the midterm elections, President Trump announcing that he's gonna run for reelection and the beginning of this kind of endless cycle.

There's certainly a lot of speculation about whether other Republicans will enter the race. And besides Ron DeSantis, there don't seem to be clear powerful alternatives, although there are people [like] Chris Sununu from New Hampshire who are talking about throwing their hats into the ring.

And it's certainly possible that you could see a dynamic that's happened in previous primaries where the front runner is kind of softened up by a few challenges and then that opens the way for somebody of greater stature who maybe doesn't want to throw the first punch to get in.

I'm thinking right now of Lyndon Johnson in 1964 facing a pretty small challenge from Eugene McCarthy, but that ultimately opening the door to Bobby Kennedy and ultimately pushing Johnson out of the race. And so you could see a dynamic like that on the Republican side where some unlikely to win candidate opens up the path for someone like Ron DeSantis to enter the race. And I don't know about pushing Trump out, I certainly wouldn't count him out at all, but making it into a more competitive race than it otherwise would've been.

There's also, of course, a lot of speculation about whether President Biden will run for reelection. He recently turned 80 years old; he would be the oldest person to run for president. Also a kind of generational question of who the next leaders of the Democratic Party would be if he chose not to run. There seems to be a kind of consensus idea within the beltway that Kamala Harris is not a strong enough candidate to take on the mantle of the Democratic Party in 2024. Certainly normally if the president is just aged out, you would expect the vice president to step in, but for a variety of reasons, some of which are probably about her identity, both being female and a person of color, and also being from California, and some of it is about her role within the Biden administration, which has not always been as visible as some previous vice presidents who have moved on to the presidency.

I also think there's possibilities of somebody like Gavin Newsom throwing their hat into the ring. Though again, I don't think being from California is necessarily right now [a] huge asset to somebody running for president within our current political structure.

But if Biden does decide to run for reelection, I think history would suggest that it's unlikely that he'll face a strong challenge, particularly after doing so well in the midterms. Though you never know, there are years like Jimmy Carter being challenged by Teddy Kennedy in 1980 or even William Howard Taft being challenged back in 1912 by Teddy Roosevelt, where you can see dynamics within even the incumbent president's party starting to shift.

And I certainly think the retirement of Nancy Pelosi shows that there's a moment of generational change happening within the Democratic Party. Donald Trump himself is about 78 years old, and so you could view somebody like Ron DeSantis as an attempt to shift the age of the standard bearer of the party and perhaps some sense of an ideological shift.

Nancy Pelosi

Although I think for the most part, most people running for the Republican nomination are going to be trying to show themselves as the heir to Donald Trump, not as a repudiation of Donald Trump. When people talk about Liz Cheney running for the Republican nomination, I think they're talking about someone who would on a principle say that they were opposed to many of the things that Trump did, particularly on January 6th. But that's not very popular within the Republican Party. And so once again, the Republican Party faces the same problem that the Democrats have from time to time faced as well, where the person who can win the primary isn't necessarily the person best positioned to win the general.

So 2022 is over, and here we go to 2023. And I guess I would say to people looking ahead to remember that election seasons are long and that actually there's a lot of other things happening in the world in the time between now and November 2024. Biden, no matter what, will still be president for another two years. And even before the new Congress takes office, there's a chance for different things to change.

The issues that shape 2023, in many ways, will be continuations of those that shaped the news this year. Inflation seems to have abated a little bit, but it's still really high in many countries around the world, including the United States. And that will lead to malaise at the gas pump and at all sorts of places where people are every day seeing the effects of this kind of economic boom from the post-COVID spending coming crashing down in some ways.

There's also still a war going on in Ukraine. And though the Ukrainians have lasted a lot longer than many people expected, and then as we're speaking, have taken back Kherson and a number of other important areas that just a few months ago the Russians seemed to think they were gonna control forever, we have a long winter coming, and during that winter, the Europeans' strength and willingness to continue to support the Ukrainian effort are gonna be tested.

It's not even just one winter but probably two whose gas spending will be shaped by what happens on the ground in this battle between Putin and the West. It's also an open question whether the spending, which has been pretty massive by the Biden administration to send weapons and technology and intelligence to the Ukrainians will be able to be kept up with a Republican House. This issue is not one that clearly follows partisan lines. There's been bipartisan support at various times for Ukraine, but I don't think you can count on it in the way that you could when the president's party included control of the House.

I think also you're gonna see a continued fight over abortion rights across the United States because there's still a lot of states whose state legislatures are figuring out what approach they'll have in the post-Roe world. Are they going to have heartbeat-level laws with no exceptions in place as some of the red states have passed? Will they, like California or Illinois, become sanctuary states with opportunities to get an abortion for women fleeing from places where they don't have those rights? Or will they be somewhere in between? And I think a lot of states are still in that in-between place, and it's not always following exactly the boundaries that you'd expect based on political affiliations.

You'll also continue to see COVID be a part of the story, whether it means that we're gonna have another major wave or sort of a petering out of this being the central narrative remains to be seen. I think there's a lot of hope that the new vaccines and boosters that have come into play will make this year a little bit better, particularly around the holidays.

But it's science, it's not politics that's gonna determine that.

And we also will continue to see different legal attempts to limit President Trump's ability to run for reelection. There's investigations ongoing, not just the January 6th Committee but also in the state of Georgia and in the state of New York. And I still feel that it's pretty unlikely that President Trump's gonna end up in jail for any of those things or even probably face a serious fine. But it's possible that this could erode some support in a way that would open up the opportunity for the political process we were discussing earlier to take place in the primaries.

I think going into this year, there was a lot of fears about how these elections would be carried out. Certainly the energy behind the kind of "stop the steal" movement that led a lot of candidates for office to be people who felt that the 2020 election had been stolen, made many people think that whatever happened there was gonna be violence or really serious challenges to the legitimacy of the election. And at least at this point, it doesn't seem like that's become the major storyline.

And so I think there's some hope here that going forward, American democracy, as messy as it can be, is continuing to function more through the ballot box and through the functioning of internal political battles than it is through the kind of chaos and violence that we saw on January 6th. And I'm certainly hopeful that this year, though it'll have the beginnings of what I'm sure will be a fierce 2024 election, will also be a year where we can dial it back a little bit.

So look, there's still a lot of problems in the world and in our country, but at the end of the day, I think when I look over the historical precedence for this moment, we're not talking about a history that has been calm and continuous. We're talking about a country that has continually evolved to have moments of conflict and fear and also movements and groups of people who continue time after time to push for what they believe in. And there's no reason that we need to sit glued to Twitter or to CNN or Fox News and believe that whatever's happening right now is the first time or the last time that this will ever happen in this country.

For the most part, we see the same patterns playing out, and we have the same job that we always have: not just voting but finding out what we can do to be a part of making things better, often at a local, smaller level than what you're watching on TV.

We'll see you next time.


Will Bellaimey teaches U.S. Government and Politics at Flintridge Prep School outside Los Angeles where he is also the director of the Los Angeles Museum of Geography, which is staffed entirely by seventh graders. His podcast, All the Presidents, Man, is available here.

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