November 10, 2022

Republicans Stunned by Mediocre Midterm Performance

Meir Kass

The votes in many races were still being tabulated on Wednesday morning, but the grim reality of Tuesday’s midterm elections had already been made clear: Republicans had not succeeded in bringing about the red wave they had expected.

Republicans are still projected to win control of the House of Representatives—an important victory—but they are looking likely to lose at least one seat, and possibly more, in the Senate, with Democrat John Fetterman defeating Republican Mehmet Oz in Pennsylvania and Democrat Raphael Warnock leading Republican Herschel Walker in Georgia at the time of this writing. Both Oz and Walker were heavily promoted by former president Donald Trump and would almost certainly not have won their GOP nominations without his help.

In the House, Democrats held onto seats from Virginia to Kansas to Rhode Island and kept their grip on numerous governorships across the country, including in New York, where Republican Lee Zeldin was unable to defeat incumbent governor Kathy Hochul, though he put up a valiant fight against her in the deep-blue Empire State.

Other states where Democrats were successful in governors’ races include Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania—all swing states that proved critical to Biden’s defeat of Trump in the 2020 presidential election.

Across the country, Democrats showed surprising strength, defeating Republicans in multiple competitive races and defying the expectations that President Joe Biden’s weak approval rating, soaring inflation, record crime, a historic border crisis, and numerous other issues would result in a massive Republican victory.

Republicans, however, were able to hold onto the governorships in Texas, Georgia, and Florida—where Governor Ron DeSantis demolished his Democratic challenger, Charlie Crist, winning an overwhelming victory in the historically purple (swing) state and turning it ruby red.

With votes still being counted across the country, Republicans maintained an opportunity to win control of Congress. But the results were uplifting for Democrats who had braced for sweeping losses and raised questions about the size of Republicans’ governing majority if they win the House.

Rep. Kevin McCarthy, the Republican poised to be House speaker if the GOP takes control of the chamber, put on an optimistic face, telling supporters on Tuesday night, “When you wake up tomorrow, we will be in the majority.” That wasn’t the case on Wednesday morning.

Democratic House speaker Nancy Pelosi expressed her own optimism that her party would hold the chamber: “While many races remain too close to call, it is clear that House Democratic members and candidates are strongly outperforming expectations across the country.”

The outcome of races for the House and Senate will determine the future of President Biden’s agenda. However, many conservative commentators say that the midterms will serve less as a referendum on his administration as the nation reels from record-high inflation and concerns over the direction of the country, and more of a referendum on Trump, who made himself a central figure in the races, essentially announcing a 2024 White House run just days before the election.

Republican control of the House would likely trigger a spate of investigations into Biden and his family, while a GOP Senate takeover, which looks very unlikely as of this writing, would hobble Biden’s ability to make judicial appointments.

The party in power almost always suffers losses in the president’s first midterm elections, but Democrats bet that anger from the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade might energize their voters to buck historical trends. Democrats urged voters to cast their ballots based on that ruling, a strategy that appears to have paid off.

In Pennsylvania, Fetterman had faced questions about his fitness for office after suffering a stroke just days before the state’s primary, but he nonetheless bested Republican Dr. Mehmet Oz in a major rebuke to Trump, whose endorsement helped Oz win the GOP’s hard-fought primary.

“I’m so humbled,” Fetterman, wearing his signature hoodie, told supporters early Wednesday morning. “This campaign has always been about fighting for everyone who’s ever been knocked down that ever got back up.”

Democrats also held a crucial Senate seat in New Hampshire, where incumbent Maggie Hassan defeated Republican Don Bolduc, a retired Army general who had initially promoted Trump’s claims about the 2020 election being riddled with fraud but tried to shift away from some of the more extreme positions he took during the GOP primary.

Also in Pennsylvania, Democratic attorney general Josh Shapiro beat Republican Doug Mastriano to keep the governorship of a key presidential battleground state blue. Many feared that Mastriano, who is a promoter of Trump’s 2020 claims, would not certify a potential Democratic presidential win in 2024.

Democrats Tony Evers in Wisconsin, Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan, Michelle Lujan Grisham of New Mexico, and Janet Mills of Maine also fended off Republican challengers.

Incumbent Republican governors had some success. Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, who was vocally opposed to Trump’s 2020 claims, won reelection, defeating Stacey Abrams in a rematch of their 2018 race. Notably, Abrams called Kemp after her loss to concede, something she refused to do after her 2018 loss.

Florida governor Ron DeSantis and Texas governor Greg Abbott, two future possible Republican presidential contenders, beat back Democratic challengers to win in the nation’s two largest red states.

A broad survey of the national electorate showed that high inflation and concerns about democracy were important factors in voters’ choices. Half of voters said inflation factored significantly, with groceries, gasoline, housing, food, and other costs having shot up in the past year. Forty-four percent said the future of democracy was their primary consideration.

Overall, seven in 10 voters said the Supreme Court ruling overturning the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision was an important factor in their midterm decisions—a lot more than most pollsters had expected.

There were no widespread problems with ballots or voter intimidation reported around the country, though there were hiccups typical of most elections, including voting machines going down, inadequate staffing at some polling locations, and other technical and logistical issues.

In the first national election since the January 6 riot, some who participated in or were in the vicinity of the storming of the US Capitol were poised to win elected office. One of those Republican candidates, J.R. Majewski, who was at the US Capitol during the riot, lost to Democratic representative Marcy Kaptur in an Ohio district.

The 2022 elections are on track to cost a projected $16.7 billion at the state and federal level, making them the most expensive midterms ever, according to OpenSecrets, a nonpartisan campaign finance-tracking organization.

Trump Attacks Losing Republicans

Former president Donald Trump attacked multiple GOP candidates who lost on Tuesday night—including candidates he endorsed.

Losing New Hampshire Senate candidate Don Bolduc was admonished by the former president for walking back his claim that the 2020 election was stolen.

“Don Bolduc was a very nice guy, but he lost tonight when he disavowed, after his big primary win, his long-standing stance on election fraud in the 2020 presidential primary,” Trump wrote on his social media platform, Truth Social. “Had he stayed strong and true, he would have won easily. Lesson learned!”

Just last week, Trump wrote his endorsement of the candidate: “General Don Bolduc has run a great campaign to be the US senator from the beautiful state of New Hampshire.”

Trump also slammed Colorado Republican Senate nominee Joe O’Dea, who lost to Democratic senator Michael Bennet.

“Joe O’Dea lost big! Make America great again!” he wrote in his first post about the midterms on Tuesday night.

Unsurprisingly, Trump said in a Tuesday-night interview that if Republicans he endorsed do well, he should “get all the credit,” but if those candidates lose, he “should not be blamed at all.”

“Well, I think if they win, I should get all the credit,” Trump said in an interview with NewsNation. “And if they lose, I should not be blamed at all. But it will probably be just the opposite.”

Trump, McCarthy in the Crosshairs

Former president Donald Trump had endorsed more than 300 candidates across the country, apparently hoping the night would end in a red wave he could ride to the 2024 Republican presidential nomination. After summoning reporters and his most loyal supporters to a watch party at his Mar-a-Lago club in Florida on Tuesday, he ended the night without a triumphant speech.

As results came pouring in, the former president’s triumph looked more like a disaster. Nonetheless, Trump insisted on social media that he’d had “a great evening.”

Many conservatives are now putting the blame on Trump for the GOP’s underwhelming midterm election results, with dozens of Trump-endorsed candidates across the country failing to gain office.

Many conservative commentators took the election results as a sign that it is time for the GOP to move on from Trump. Commentators argued that Trump had endorsed outlandish candidates who turned easy victories into close races and close races into losses.

Others compared Trump’s failure to secure wins across the country with the huge wave of support for Republicans in Governor Ron DeSantis’s Florida.

“All the chatter on my conservative and GOP channels is rage at Trump like I’ve never seen,” Michael Brendan Dougherty, a senior writer at National Review, wrote. “‘The one guy he attacked before Election Day was DeSantis—the clear winner; meanwhile, all his guys are [failing].’”

“[A] GOP source tells me [that] after tonight, with Trump candidates underperforming and DeSantis winning by double digits, 2024 is a free for all,” wrote RealClearPolitics reporter Phil Wegmann. “‘Everybody, in the water. If you want to take on Trump, he’s never been weaker.’”

“If DeSantis in Florida wildly overperforms all the handpicked and Trump-supported Republicans in other swing states (particularly if they lose close races)…that is going to be a fascinating new narrative that will be commented upon by positively no one,” wrote attorney and National Review podcast host Jeffrey Blehar.

Fox News White House correspondent Jacqui Heinrich reported on Wednesday morning that “knives are out for Kevin McCarthy,” who is still expected to become speaker of the House.

“[A] GOP source tells me, ‘If it wasn’t clear before, it should be now. We have a Trump problem,’” she tweeted.

She continued, “More from this GOP source: ‘A lot of rank and file members of Congress right now are thinking to themselves that we need new energized leadership that is going to be focused on the working-class voters.’”

Changes Coming to Washington

Joe Biden’s record was on the ballot even if his name wasn’t. And no matter the final bottom line of the midterm elections, his presidency is set for big changes.

Biden watched results from the White House into the early-morning hours Wednesday, making congratulatory calls to more than 30 Democratic candidates and huddling with advisers to watch the incoming returns.

In public, the president expressed optimism, telling Democratic state party officials on election eve that “we’re going to surprise the…people.”

In private, though, White House aides have been drawing up contingencies should Republicans take control of one or both chambers of Congress, which Biden said would make his life “more difficult.”

Regardless of the outcome of the races across the country that have not yet been called as of Wednesday morning, the votes will help reshape the remainder of Biden’s term and will likely reorder his White House priorities, particularly if Republicans take control of the House.

Biden allies are gearing up for fights over keeping the government funded, continuing to provide financial and military support for Ukraine, and protecting legislation he signed into law from repeal efforts.

The Biden administration has also been preparing—for months now—for an expected flood of GOP investigations should Republicans take over one or both chambers, devising legal and media strategies to address probes into everything from the bungled withdrawal from Afghanistan to the business dealings of the president’s son Hunter Biden.

Biden’s 2024 Fight Starts Now

Biden, who is 79 years old, has repeatedly said he intends to run for reelection, and reports say he has been recently drawing up 2024 plans with his closest advisers. He will need to make a final decision soon, perhaps teeing up a rematch against former president Donald Trump, who is expected to make his own announcement next week.

In a potential warning sign for 2024, around two thirds of midterm voters surveyed said they think Biden is not a strong leader. More than half say the president isn’t honest or trustworthy and that he doesn’t have the mental capability to serve effectively as president.

Regardless of the final outcome of the midterms, Biden will have to dramatically change course if he wants any chance of being victorious in 2024, should he choose to run again.

These changes were already obvious in the run-up to the midterms, with Biden talking about the “danger” posed by Republican majorities in Congress and saying almost nothing about his legislative ambitions, including expanding free early childcare and making community college free.

Knowing that the White House can do little on its own if Republicans take the House or Senate, Biden allies have reportedly begun considering areas of potential bipartisan cooperation that could help the president win reelection in 2024, such as reforming health care for veterans and lowering prescription drug costs.