OK, so my pre-written “post-election” analysis was…um, imperfect. But not SO wrong. The election was not a disaster for the Republicans: winning Congress by any margin seriously changes the playing field; the trendlines for 2024 look very good; note the BIG swing in overall vote toward Republicans; and if integrity can be restored to elections everywhere as it has been in some states, that will be better reflected in actual seats won.
This column originally published in The Times of IsraelRead more: US Election Follow-up: When Eating Crow Doesn’t Taste SO Bad
Please excuse the understatement, but it seems that “Republican tsunami” blowout in the 2022 midterm elections never quite materialized. Instead, the Republican waves we saw gently lapped at the political shore; it was more leaking pipe than firehose. Evidently, I was…um, a tad overenthusiastic in my analysis of the trouble facing the Democrats, and more than a tad (well, just how much constitutes a “tad”?) off in my election forecast.
Therefore, in terms of the “top line”— the straightforward count of seats won — I will take my allotted serving of crow. But, digging into the results, the serving of crow isn’t super-sized; plus, notwithstanding the crowing of the crow-servers, it comes with a potentially tantalizing dessert. (And, I hope, a better variety of metaphors.)
To begin with the obvious, the Republicans appear to have won a majority in Congress. Perhaps not by the in-your-face margin many (ahem) predicted, but a majority nonetheless. That is a big deal, whatever the margin. Biden administration regulatory and/or economic wrecking-balls will no longer be rubber-stamped by this incoming Congress. So-called “gridlock” may allow the economy the chance to right itself — without the Democrats unfettered “fixes.” Plus, all those committees and investigations and subpoenas the Democrats were wielding? Their agendas and personnel are about to change; the investigative spotlight now pivots 180 degrees, towards administration malfeasance and Biden family corruption.
True, the Republicans blew a golden opportunity to win the Senate. That should not have been an overwhelming challenge in a Senate already divided 50-50; failure to win it is releasing a tsunami — of Republican angst. But beneath the surface numbers, the Republican performance wasn’t terrible.
Consider: Republicans were defending 20 Senate seats; the Democrats, 13. No Republican incumbent lost — except in Alaska, where one lost to another (Trump-backed) Republican. Rookie Republican candidates came tantalizingly close to deposing 3-4 incumbent Democrats. Yes, a loss is a loss, and the razor-thin margins only make the losses heartbreakingly frustrating; but these margins indicate how close they came to a convincing Republican takeover. Now, the 2024 election will see the Democrats defending 23 Senate seats (including the two Democrat-caucusing independents); the Republicans, just 10. And, though that is two long years away, it may well provide a post-crow palate-cleansing.
Republicans “won” the overall congressional vote by more than a 6% margin. For some perspective, that’s a 50% larger margin than that by which Barack Obama comfortably defeated Mitt Romney in 2012. And, consider the rapid shift from Democrat to Republican: it was the Democrats who had a 3% advantage in the popular Congressional vote in 2020, and an 8.6% advantage in 2018. That is a remarkable 14% Republican swing in just a four-year period. Only three Republican incumbents lost reelection bids, compared to seven Democrats. If the trend continues (granted, a BIG if), remember to set the tsunami-warning alarm for 2024.
So, why no tsunami this time? The short answers: Redistricting, and “ground game” (broadly defined). The Democrats seem to be better (or, at least, bolder) at district-drawing than the Republicans, at allocating resources to the right races, and at expanding and exploiting voting rule loopholes and “ballot-harvesting.” Thus, there were several races where the Democrats garnered just enough votes to squeak by, while Republicans generally won their races by more secure margins. Far more down-to-the-wire races have gone Democrat than Republican, particularly those decided by late-arriving (and more manipulable) mail-in ballots.
Does that sound suspicious? Well, far be it from me to suggest anyone in any election acted with anything other than the greatest integrity. But…I couldn’t help notice that the polls, which regularly underestimate the Republican vote, this one time severely overestimated it. Even in exit-polling. (Think about that.) Oh, except — even more amazingly! — those same pollsters did not overestimate the Republican vote in states such as Florida and Texas, which have strict voter identification laws and complete their vote counts by the next morning. And, which don’t accept late ballots, or use unmanned dropboxes, or Covid-emergency extra-long early-voting extensions, or never-updated registration lists to mail millions of ballots to voters both dead and alive. (Ever notice that it is always Democrats who sue to prevent the updating of voter rolls — in the name of “voter suppression,” of course)?
In fact, I’ll take this opportunity to say “Thank you, King County, Washington!” for not disenfranchising my own grandparents. Never mind that they both passed away over a half-century ago — they were sent ballots. Now, where do I pick up their 57 years’ worth of social security backpay?
All just coincidences, I’m sure.
As for the effect of skilled district-drawing, see New York: the courts there threw out the Democrat-drawn redistricting plan; without that gerrymandering, the Republicans flipped four Democrat-held Congressional seats red.
A huge — and hugely cynical — Democratic strategy also proved decisive: strongly supporting weaker or more extreme Republican candidates in primaries that Democrats (correctly) calculated would lose in general elections, knocking out would-be tough Republican challengers of broader appeal before most voters were paying much attention. According to the Washington Post, Democrats directly “interfered” in at least 13 such primaries, on which they spent more than $53 million. Many of these Republican primary beneficiaries were Trump-endorsed vocal skeptics of the integrity of the “stolen” 2020 election. By my calculation, the only one of these Republicans still likely to emerge a winner (and, possibly, rising star) is Kari Lake, probable Governor-elect of Arizona (where votes are still being counted — but that’s another story).
And, speaking of cynical, Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell pulled all funding away from two of the stronger of these Republican candidates, evidently because they would not have supported him for another term as leader.
Paradoxically, President Biden’s deep underwater approval rating was not a major drag on the Democratic vote: exit polls showed the President was mostly an afterthought, not even a factor for nearly half (47%) of the voters. Apparently, the strategists who, pre-election, kept Biden largely out of public sight also kept him out of public mind. Few voters take him seriously or pay much attention to him. So, whereas the 2018 midterms were overwhelmingly a referendum on President Trump, President Biden himself barely left any fingerprints on his midterm results. That, counterintuitively, was a good thing for the Democrats.
No modern election comes without some Trump-effect. Voices from both parties pin the blame for the non-blowout on the former President and the candidacies he promoted. But upon inspection, his key Senate candidates (where his endorsement was decisive in winning primaries) did not do so badly overall. In the Senate elections, his eight main candidates appear to have three wins (Alaska, North Carolina, Ohio), three losses (Arizona, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania), and two ties (Nevada, going to recount; Georgia, going to runoff). One of those apparent wins (Alaska), the two ties, and two apparent losses (Arizona, New Hampshire) came against incumbents, who typically enjoy an 85% Senate re-election rate. That hardly makes for a cataclysmic Trumpian win, but also not a catastrophic, career-ending loss.
Relatedly, there is a lot of buzz over impressive victories and potential presidential impact (including on Trump!) by Florida Republicans Ron DeSantis and Marco Rubio, who even won a majority of both Hispanic votes and votes from deeply Democratic Dade County. Those wins are highly meaningful because nowhere were the political lines drawn more sharply — particularly by Democrats — than in Florida. Both parties pointed to Governor DeSantis as representative of Republican governance and policy, for good and for bad. And he crushed the Democrat, 60% to 40%. That bodes well for the party’s near-future.
And, it certainly got the attention of Mr. Trump. Wary of young upstart DeSantis being “too successful,” Trump seems intent on knocking him down a couple of pegs. For those of you biblically inclined, this has a strong whiff of King Saul’s jealousy of young David’s successes. Saul is infuriated when, after a successful military venture, the women welcoming the returning heroes sing: “Saul has struck down his thousands, and David his ten-thousands.” (1 Samuel 18:5-7.)
While Trump’s political instincts are usually pretty good, Republican voters are hardly in the mood for gratuitous infighting. Even if he succeeds in denting the DeSantis image, Trump likely hurts his own comeback prospects by turning his political artillery on an erstwhile ally, especially before anyone has even announced his candidacy.
So, anyway, yes: I badly overshot the mark in terms of the immediate election results. But after accounting for trendlines and underlying results…well, I was still wrong, but a lot less wrong.
Bring on the crow.