Maloney’s Midterm Messaging Mistake

Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney/Official Portrait

Op-Ed first published by the Wall Street Journal


By Karl Rove

Poor Sean Patrick Maloney. He represents an upstate New York district and chairs the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Between a strong GOP showing in New Jersey and election losses in Virginia, he had a rough November—and things will get a lot worse next year, as Republicans will almost certainly take the House.

Amid rising Democratic anxiety about the 2022 midterms, Mr. Maloney gave a revealing interview to the New York Times. His theme: Steady as she goes. The only change Democrats needed was “getting the job done on messaging.”

He declared “the White House should do 25 presidential events in the next couple months” selling the infrastructure bill. He played down concerns that Democrats are pursuing an overly ambitious agenda: “What is wrong with FDR if you get the achievements?” And he dismissed fears about embracing “woke” issues like defunding the police. 

The New York Democrat is living in a dream world.

Democrats counting on the infrastructure bill to save them should realize that about $650 billion of its spending is for existing programs like the Interstate Highway Trust Fund, which has been reauthorized every five years since 1956. Doing what everyone already counts on won’t earn Democrats brownie points. 

Virtually all the bill’s roughly $550 billion in new spending will take place in the nine fiscal years that occur after the 2022 midterm, not before it. Only 0.5% of the $48.2 billion set for broadband, 0.7% of the $62 billion for green energy subsidies, and 4% of the $2 billion for rural utilities will be allocated this fiscal year. Even if voters like all the spending—and many don’t—these outlays won’t dramatically affect people’s lives by fall 2022. Nor does expanding Washington bureaucracy help Americans concerned about rising grocery and fuel prices, paychecks not keeping up with expenses, our growing national debt, rising crime and “woke” schools. And voters know it.

On Monday Mr. Maloney doubled down by leaking a memo outlining the DCCC’s 2022 strategy. It argues that the infrastructure bill contains “long-term investments that will also have an immediate  impact on Americans’ lives,” that the still-pending Build Back Better plan is “very popular,” and that President Biden is putting Covid “in our rearview mirror.” Perhaps most laughable, it claims House Democrats are fighting “for American values” by passing bills for a federal takeover of elections, a prohibition on state laws restricting abortion, and reductions in funding for police departments that don’t comply with federal rules for standards and accountability. 

Memo to Mr. Maloney: These bills can’t pass the Senate, and the claim that Democrats’ “record of securing good-paying jobs for hard-working Americans and fighting for justice” will bring victory in 2022 is goofy. If all this stuff is so popular, why is Mr. Biden’s job approval the lowest for any elected president at this point, save Donald Trump? Fully 66% of voters in the Nov. 7 USA Today/Suffolk University poll say America is on the wrong track, and, more ominously, the latest ABC News/Washington Post generic ballot shows a record 10-point Republican advantage. The Democratic problem isn’t messaging; it’s substance.

The DCCC memo also declares that “Republicans are too dangerous for American families,” calling them “unserious, cynical” and “a threat to public health” for making the pandemic “longer and more disastrous.” Such rhetoric is tiresome and sways fewer independents each day.

Op-Ed by Mr. Rove courtesy of

Karl Rove/Photo courtesy of

Karl Rove served as Senior Advisor to President George W. Bush from 2000–2007 and Deputy Chief of Staff from 2004–2007. At the White House he oversaw the Offices of Strategic Initiatives, Political Affairs, Public Liaison, and Intergovernmental Affairs and was Deputy Chief of Staff for Policy, coordinating the White House policy-making process.

Mr. Rove has been described by respected author and columnist Michael Barone in U.S. News & World Report as “…unique…no Presidential appointee has ever had such a strong influence on politics and policy, and none is likely to do so again anytime soon.” Washington Post columnist David Broder has called Mr. Rove a master political strategist whose “game has always been long term…and he plays it with an intensity and attention to detail that few can match.” Fred Barnes, executive editor of The Weekly Standard, has called Mr. Rove “the greatest political mind of his generation and probably of any generation. He knows history, understands the moods of the public, and is a visionary on matters of public policy.”

Before Mr. Rove became known as “The Architect” of President Bush’s 2000 and 2004 campaigns, he was president of Karl Rove + Company, an Austin-based public affairs firm that worked for Republican candidates, non-partisan causes, and non-profit groups. His clients included over 75 Republican U.S. Senate, Congressional, and gubernatorial candidates in 24 states, as well as the Moderate Party of Sweden.

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