Whether it is the purple haze or purple rain (if you are more a fan of Hendrix or Prince) election results for 2022 were a mix of red and blue ripples. Generally, it was a good night for incumbents. Where incumbents were not on the ballot, Republicans generally won red states and Democrats blue. A few states were very closely contested. The House will likely have a narrow GOP majority and the Senate will be decided in a runoff in Georgia; again. If incumbent Raphael Warnock prevails the Senate will remain 50/50 with the Vice President’s casting vote deciding the majority. If Herschel Walker should win, he was behind almost a percentage point in the general election, the Senate will have a narrow 51 seat majority for the GOP. Republicans lost Pat Toomey’s Senate seat in Pennsylvania and look to be gaining Catherine Cortez Masto’s seat in Nevada, for a net zero. The GOP was defending five seats without incumbents all of which went well except for Pennsylvania. Ron Johnson, a longtime Conservative warrior, narrowly won reelection in Wisconsin as well.
Governors races were far less interesting than hoped. Most governors were reelected, although several more narrowly than they might have hoped. In Michigan, Kansas, and Wisconsin Democrat governors held on while facing strong challenges. In New York, which should have been a blowout, incumbent Kathy Hochul only narrowly defeated Republican challenger Lee Zeldin. Hochul took over after Andrew Cuomo’s fall from grace and has now won a full term of her own. Zeldin, however, remains an MVP for the Republicans as he has assisted with turnout that has flipped several House seats in New York.
The greatest star of the election, however, is Florida. Governor Ron DeSantis defeated his opponent by nearly twenty percentage points and flew into a second term. He brought Senator Marco Rubio and three new House seats with him. At his election night party, supporters shouted: “two more years,” hinting at their higher ambitions for him in the near future. Term-limited Republicans departing the governorships of Maryland and Massachusetts will be succeeded by Democrats, also not so much a surprise. In Arizona Kari Lake, a rock star to Trump supporters, was still trailing Katie Hobbs but catching up, as of the publishing of this article.
So far the House of Representatives looks good for the GOP. Republicans needed to gain just six seats to hold the majority. As of the publishing of this article the GOP has a net gain of twelve seats. Democrats have taken four Republican seats while Republicans have taken sixteen from the Democrats so far. If current leads hold, the GOP will lose three more seats to the Dems whilst gaining three more. The majority could be close at 219 or 220, but it will be a hard won Republican majority nonetheless. Several more races are as yet too close to call.
What Resonated and What Flopped
For Republicans success hung on talking about the issues that matter to regular voters. The GOP improved its vote percentages among Latino and African-American voters. Donald Trump is claiming that 219 candidates he endorsed won to only 16 losses. Among those losses are a valuable Senate seat in Pennsylvania, the governorship of Michigan, and possibly the Senate seat in Georgia and the governorship of Arizona. Election night was not a great night for Trump candidates in several critical races. The 2020 election fraud issue was a flop for both sides. Trump has earned nothing by pushing it, neither has the left earned anything by calling it a “Big Lie” and trying to persecute the former President and his supporters for their opinion.
Republicans also took the wrong course on several less important issues that weakened their opportunities. Rhetoric from those on the right against supporting Ukraine makes the right seem unpatriotic and weak. That they are eager to surrender vital US interests in Europe to the one of the world’s most evil dictators does not look good. It is one thing, for example, for Tucker Carlson to question why the US should support Ukraine. While national security experts almost universally agree that assisting the small European country in its defense is vital to US interests, people are free to dissent. Unfortunately, many have gone beyond this to parroting Russian propaganda, making excuses for Putin, and sharing strange conspiracy theories. The fact of Russian aggression in the war, the mass graves near Izium and indiscriminate bombing of apartment buildings and civilian infrastructure by Russia should be enough to establish firmly the moral reality of the conflict. Why then, were Bible thumping conservatives offering cover to Putin? This did not improve the image of the GOP.
On the student loan issue as well, the Republican response to massive amounts of debt foisted on college educated people by government programs that encourage college attendance was callous at best. Many young people accepted this invitation to achieve higher education in the hopes of greater earnings but were later unable to secure high paying jobs that would allow for the repayment of their debts. Many of these college grads are now working class people. How did these people respond to being told they just need to “suck it up?” That home ownership, financial security, and the ability to care for their children are irrelevant to Republicans? How did they feel about being compared to green-haired rich kids who live in their parent’s basement and work at Starbucks? In fact, that demographic had their debts paid off, they are not the demographic suffering from the debt. This was a poor choice on the part of the right. Perhaps greater compassion and a willingness to correct the errors made by the government would have earned more votes and spurned fewer? Alienating voting groups is not the smartest path to victory.
For the Democrats, the accusation of “election denier” met with mixed results. In Virginia one of the key losses was Congresswoman Luria, a member of the January 6th “witch hunt” Committee. The claim that democracy was in jeopardy, that Republicans are terrorists, and that Donald Trump planned some sort of insurrection on January 6th did nothing for the Democrats. Joe Biden falls daily into ever deeper unpopularity as he continues his senile rants about Trump supporters being dangerous to freedom. One party rule, the censorship of free speech, and the use of the Justice Department to persecute political opponents is not a threat to democracy…?
The abortion issue continues to be one wherein the Democrats control the narrative. Their all or nothing approach to the issue is deeply out of touch with average voters. Less than one in ten voters support unrestricted abortion including late term abortion. A majority of voters support a heartbeat ban (six to eight weeks). Still, the Democrat narrative on the issue remains a strong one for them. Unfortunately for the Democrats, with Roe v Wade reversed at the Supreme Court and each state setting its own policy on the matter, the issue is now essentially dead. It will not energize voters in the future especially as the economy continues to spoil and crime continues to rise. Republicans need to break up this narrative by pushing for laws in between an outright ban on abortion and banning late term abortion. A first trimester ban (twelve weeks) for example, is consistent with the policy of most European countries and is much more popular in marginal states. States where a outright ban on abortion has strong support have already enacted such laws or will soon do so.
Looking Forward to 2024
For the GOP there are many questions about these results. Whining about the 2020 loss has not done the Republican Party any favors. Several candidates endorsed by Trump failed in critical races, and there is the broad feeling that opportunities were squandered. To win in 2024 Republicans need to have a positive vision for the future including the tackling of high crime, restoring the pre-COVID prosperity, and providing security. Dwelling on the past will not inspire voters.
The big question for Republicans is whether Donald Trump should seek the Presidency again. If he does he will almost certainly win the Republican primary. His personality is rough and many people on the right are feeling that a new face might better represent the party in 2024. Perhaps a certain governor from a critical state who won an overwhelming victory on election day… Almost six in ten voters do not want Donald Trump to run again, although the same number likewise do not want Biden to seek reelection. Trump’s candidacy is the greatest question hanging over the Republicans.
Trump stated he will make a “major announcement” on November 15th and he has been hinting about a Presidential run. Given the results in Georgia and its pending December runoff, an announcement of candidacy will almost certainly scuttle already ephemeral GOP hopes to control the Senate. After the results of this midterm election, perhaps he might consider taking a back seat and supporting a new face? That is a prospect that is hard to imagine given Trump’s assertive personality. If the Democrats decide not to go with Biden and they choose a new candidate, Trump could seem like a stale and bitter partisan of the past. On the other hand, many Republicans support him and would argue that he is the best choice for ’24. If Trump’s brand and his approach were really the magic that the GOP needs going forward, there should have been greater evidence of it in the heavily contested races across the country.
For the Democrats a few things are clear: their abortion narrative worked and they remain strong on social issues. The trans issue is a weakness but one the Democrats mostly sidestepped. The abortion issue proved only a mild strength, and will not be enough going forward. The failure to connect with average voters and address their very real concerns was the greatest factor in the Democrats defeats in this round. Likewise, they need to drop the drama about 2020 and stop persecuting their political opposition. A positive vision for the future is most often how Presidential races are won. Likewise, the greatest question for the Democrats is one of Joe Biden’s candidacy for President. While Trump can rightly claim he was responsible for assisting in several major wins this round, for the Democrats their victories were largely won by keeping Biden away from contested races. Candidates tried to distance themselves from his administration. The question now as the Democrats face the prospect of a renewed Trump candidacy is an unenviable one: run Biden again and try to utilize the power of name recognition and incumbency while facing broad unpopularity; or select a new candidate and hope that this candidate is not too extreme to win a national election. Is this really even a choice?
When it comes to the Presidency, the Democrats have no rock star governors, few well-known Senators, and almost no established moderates. The most promising moderate candidate in the party, Tulsi Gabbard, left the Democrat Party and campaigned actively for Republicans. Elizabeth Warren and Pete Buttigeig are recycled candidates who had little traction in the past. Kamala Harris is as much a flop as Vice President as she was in the 2020 Democrat primary wherein she never polled beyond the single digits. California Governor Gavin Newsom is young and charismatic, but his state is in serious economic troubles and he is much too radical to win a national election. It seems Biden is the best of poor choices.
An unpopular but viable incumbent vs the unpopular but charismatic former President who feels cheated for his previous defeat? 2024 is already shaping up to be a fascinating exercise in electoral ennui.