What Happened the Last Time America's Economic Situation Was This Bad? Remember?

The nation’s mood is more pessimistic than 1980, Inflation's at a 40-year high, and American's morale is going lower

By Erick Erickson

The last time the American economic situation was this bad, then-President Jimmy (James Earl) Carter Jr. got attacked by a Killer Rabbit and nearly cried in front of a live television audience while lamenting about the great malaise. Voters swept Ronald Reagan into the presidency to restore American confidence, and take us from "mourning" in America to "morning" in America.

Reagan, however, did not get there alone. A group of mostly accidental senators went into office with him.

James Abdnor of South Dakota, Jeremiah Denton of Alabama, John Porter East of North Carolina, Paula Hawkins of Florida, Mack Mattingly of Georgia, and Slade Gorton of Washington surprised America by becoming senators. All ran in extremely close races. All were underdogs. All were gone after one term. They became known as the accidental senators.

The elections were a harbinger of things to come – particularly with the South turning to the right and heading toward the GOP. Denton, for example, lost to Democratic Rep. Richard Shelby in 1986. Shelby is now the retiring Republican senator from Alabama.
In addition to those accidental one-term senators from Alabama, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina and South Dakota, other states flipped to the GOP too.
  • Alaska elected Frank Murkowski.
  • Idaho elected Steve Symms.
  • Indiana elected future Vice President Dan Quayle.
  • Iowa elected Chuck Grassley, the last of the Class of 1980 who is still in office.
  • New Hampshire elected Warren Rudman.
  • Wisconsin elected Bob Kasten.
In 1988, Gorton ran again after his 1986 loss and won two more elections, losing to Maria Cantwell in 2000.

Surprising all the pundits, Republicans took the Senate for the first time since 1955 – and held it for four years. In 1994, the GOP would take the House after 40 years in the minority, and retake the Senate.

The Senate shift to the GOP in 1980 was so unexpected that no one had even contemplated a transition plan. Sen. Howard Baker, who had, ironically, run in the Republican presidential primary to stop Reagan, became Senate Majority Leader.

It was the largest swing in a Senate election since 1958, and the Senate GOP’s best showing since 1946 when voters turned against Truman.

The Republicans held all 10 of their existing seats up for re-election, and flipped 12 of the 24 Democratic seats for a total gain of 22 seats.
Fast forward to 2022:
  Democrats, unable to run on their record, are running on “ultra-MAGA.” They intend to portray Republican candidates across the country as extremists, out of touch and radical. About the only Republican this year who probably cannot win is Eric Greitens in Missouri. Nonetheless, this year is so bad for Democrats that he might pull it off, too.

We have not seen a political environment this bad for an incumbent since 1980. Even 2010 was not as bad for President Barack Obama as 2022 is for Biden – and 2010 saw massive losses for Democrats. One must go back from 2010 to the 1890s to find comparable damage done to an incumbent party from the federal level all the way to the local level – and 2022 is shaping up to be worse for the incumbent party than 2010.

We are in a year of political realignment like 1980, when Southern states began shifting right. Now, instead of white voters, it’s Black & Hispanic Voters.

Republicans could find themselves elected just by running against the wokes.

Erick Erickson is a conservative blogger and Atlanta-based radio host.