In 2023, Politics Are Probably Going to Stay Stuck. That’s a Good Thing for the Right.

With dueling investigations into Donald Trump and Hunter Biden, low-energy presidential campaigns based on not being the other guy, and maybe a government shutdown, 2023 will see political gridlock. Except in the conservative Supreme Court, that is.

Supporters of former president Donald Trump await his arrival for a rally at the Dayton International Airport on November 7, 2022 in Vandalia, Ohio. (Drew Angerer / Getty Images)

Twenty twenty-three is shaping up to be a year of political stalemate. We shouldn’t expect a lot of good to be accomplished, but there will still be plenty of opportunities for the Right to make things worse.

Thankfully, congressional Republicans seem fixated on Hunter Biden. The president’s son seems to have engaged in some trading on the family name to get cushy contracts, and may have skirted paying his taxes, which he has since repaid. This kind of petty sleaze is endemic to American politics, but Republicans are convinced the younger Biden’s influence peddling was much more nefarious than the norm. So far, they’ve been unable to produce little evidence to that effect — a situation they want to change now that they’ll have subpoena power in the House of Representatives.

Not to be outdone, Democrats — fresh off of running the midterm campaign about nothing — have signaled their desire to move investigations of Donald Trump and his family, among other targets, from the House to the Senate, where they will retain a nominal majority of a single vote.

It isn’t clear what either of these sets of investigations would accomplish, why either party thinks voters want them, or, given the split government, what the parties would do with any significant new information the investigations turn up.

Democrats in particular will have difficulty exercising their nominal Senate majority. Joe Manchin is up for a difficult reelection in right-leaning West Virginia in 2024, and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona recently separated herself from the Democratic Party (and thus will avoid any accountability to the party’s base in the form of a primary election). That means Democrats’ two most intransigent senators will have even more incentive to hold the rest of the caucus hostage than they did over the past two years.

Then there is the much more pressing and literal stalemate: incoming Republican congressional leaders are already threatening to enact another government shutdown if they don’t get cuts to Social Security in 2023. To their credit (and in contrast to Joe Biden’s position over the last four decades), Biden and congressional Democrats have thus far declared Social Security cuts a nonstarter.

It remains to be seen how hard Republicans will push the issue, and how resolute Democrats will stay in the face of the immediate pain and chaos a government shutdown will cause. It’s hard to be optimistic when Democrats essentially handed the GOP the leverage it will need to enact a shutdown. Democrats could have avoided this situation by either increasing the debt limit while they controlled Congress or abolishing it altogether, but they chose not to. Democrats handed the otherwise weak House GOP a win-win scenario: either Republicans get cuts to Social Security or they get to cause yet another pointless crisis, further eroding both the public’s perception of the government and the government’s ability to fulfill its basic tasks.

The presidential election will also begin in earnest next year, though so far it, too, is curiously low energy. While in theory Biden might have some fairly decent accomplishments to run on, he muddied the waters when he allowed his most popular and beneficial policy victories, student loan forgiveness and the child tax credit, to get bogged down by right-wing legal trolling and his own party’s apparent lack of commitment, respectively. Both Biden and Trump seem set to base their campaigns primarily on not being the other one.

The bad news is that there is one part of the government that isn’t going to be gridlocked: the Supreme Court. The court’s conservative majority has quickly become a second, unelected national legislature, simply making up legal rationales to fit its desired policy outcomes. Knowing there’s nothing anyone can do to stop them, the reactionary activists on the court have an equally ambitious agenda for 2023. If 2022 was any indication, stalemate will continue to favor the Right.