There was no red wave. There was no red tide. There was no red trickle.
There was a fizzle.
The 2022 midterm election fundamentals would have suggested a ringing Republican victory: an unpopular president of the opposing party, deep public unhappiness with the state of the economy, unified Democratic control in Congress and radical social policy out of step with most Americans. Polls showed Republicans cutting deeply into Democratic constituencies including Hispanic and black voting blocs.
Yet as of Wednesday morning, Republicans, who were widely expected to win historic margins in the House of Representatives and to take back the United States Senate, are coming up short nearly everywhere. They will likely take back the House, but by a slim margin after an extraordinarily tepid showing that may land them with a majority of just north of 220 seats; they are unlikely to take back the Senate, given that the deciding vote will likely come via a runoff in a Georgia Senate race featuring the highly vulnerable and troubled candidacy of Herschel Walker.
So, what happened?
What happened is that in many districts and states all over the country, Republicans picked bad candidates. Believing that the fundamentals were all that was necessary to sweep them to victory, Republican leadership failed to intervene in these primaries to the extent necessary to ensure durable general election candidates. They stood aside largely out of fear of former President Donald Trump; Trump himself personally intervened in a variety of cases in the primaries, endorsing candidates almost solely on the basis of whether they were sufficiently sycophantic regarding the election of 2020.
Those candidates then lost.
And then Trump ripped them. Take, for example, Don Bolduc in New Hampshire. New Hampshire is a toss-up state; late polls suggested that Bolduc, despite his myriad oddities and strong support for Trump’s 2020 election fraud claims, might win the race. Instead, he lost by double digits. And Trump promptly took to Truth Social to let the world know that Bolduc deserved it: “Don Bolduc was a very nice guy, but he lost tonight when he disavowed, after his big primary win, his longstanding stance on Election Fraud in the 2020 Presidential Primary. Had he stayed strong and true, he would have own easily. Lessons Learned!!!” He also took the time to issue a statement celebrating a Democrat winning the Colorado Senate seat, ripping Republican Joe O’Dea, who had refused to countenance Trump’s election 2020 obsession: “Joe O’Dea lost BIG! MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN!”
The Republican Party had one job in the 2022 election cycle: to provide some semblance of responsible leadership. Where they didn’t, they lost.
And where they did, they won.
In Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis, who reopened the state during COVID-19, ensured children could go to school unmasked, kept the economy open, handled Hurricane Ian and fought off the predations of wokesters and corporate Left-wingers, won an overwhelming victory: he grew his 30,000-vote, 0.4% 2018 victory margin to 1.5 million votes and nearly 20 points, and took the entire Florida GOP along for the ride. Republicans picked up four House seats in the state; Marco Rubio defeated Val Demings in the Senate by over 16 points, and won the Hispanic vote outright, taking even historically blue Miami-Dade County.
Meanwhile, Trump was taking potshots at “Ron DeSanctimonious.”
In Georgia, Gov. Brian Kemp handily defeated Democratic darling Stacey Abrams, despite Trump’s personal attempts to defeat Kemp in his primary — again, due to Kemp’s failure to illegally flip the state to Trump in the 2020 election. Kemp is trusted by Georgians; he won.
There is a silver lining here for Republicans. Democrats, who should have been taught a lesson by voters, were saved by Republican incompetence and pusillanimity; that means they’ll keep doubling down. President Joe Biden is, barring actual incapacity, the prohibitive 2024 Democratic nominee. And the fundamentals will continue to move against Democrats as they pursue a woker and woker agenda.
This means Republicans will get another bite at the apple — but only if they get serious. The time for frivolity is over. The laws of political gravity apply. Nominate good, sober candidates capable of governing and earning the trust of Americans. Pick your culture war battles and hit them hard. Make it hard to vote for Democrats and easy to vote for you.
This isn’t tough stuff. But if Republican leadership is unwilling to pursue the obvious, the shipwreck of 2022 will be only the beginning.