November 9, 2022

So much for that red wave


Well, that was awful. The much-touted red wave felt more like a red splash in a kiddie pool.

No excuses, Republicans. Everyone thought you had just about the ideal issue environment for a midterm election, and the exit polls verified it. Seven in ten voters said they were “dissatisfied” or “angry” with the state of the country. Around three-quarters of voters nationally characterized the state of the economy as “poor” or “not good,” and the same amount said that inflation has caused them severe or moderate hardship. About two-thirds said that gas prices have been causing them hardship. You had parents livid about the learning loss in schools because of the long closures for Covid-19 and inappropriate materials in the curriculum. You had an unpopular president, who was such a liability that Democrats couldn’t let him go anywhere near a swing state.

And the nation, deeply dissatisfied with the way the Democrats were running things, looked at what the GOP offered as the alternative and concluded, “Nope, I’ll stick with what the Democrats are giving me” in a lot of key places.

Fifty-three percent of workers saw their wage growth dwarfed by the rate of inflation this year. If you can’t elect a lot of Republicans in an environment like this, when can you?

I don’t ever want to hear another Republican claim he stands for the silent majority. As I warned in September, if your silent majority doesn’t show up to vote in large numbers, it doesn’t have that much say in how this country is governed. We could even argue that a silent majority that doesn’t vote might as well not exist at all.

There was one spectacular bright spot for Republicans: the state of Florida, where Ron DeSantis absolutely demolished Charlie Crist, in the kind of landslide that alters the political identity of the state. As of this writing, DeSantis beat Crist, hitting almost 60 percent to Crist’s 39.9 percent.

I don’t know if Ron DeSantis became the front-runner for the 2024 Republican nomination last night. I think it is revealing that the exit polls indicated that 33 percent of Florida voters said they want to see Donald Trump president run in 2024, and 45 percent said they wanted to see DeSantis run for president in 2024.

Also note that a lot of hype about Florida’s Democratic Senate candidate, Val Demings, turned out to be empty blather. Senator Marco Rubio mopped the floor with her, winning almost 58 percent to her 41 percent.

But beyond the Sunshine State, Election Day 2022 was largely a debacle for Republicans, considering the scale of the opportunity before them. Republicans are on track to win the House. Great, but when you start the cycle with 212 Republican House seats and a vacancy in a GOP-leaning district, you should win the House!

Somewhere out there, there’s an alternate universe where Republican primary electorates nominated clean-cut, articulate state legislators and state attorneys general who knew a lot about the issues and had some governing accomplishments to point to — you know, normal candidates — instead of daytime-talk-show hosts, football stars, and tech investors, based upon whoever proclaimed their absolute loyalty to Trump the loudest. I would love to see how that batch of candidates did. Considering how candidates such as Georgia governor Brian Kemp, Ohio governor Mike DeWine, Iowa governor Kim Reynolds, and New Hampshire governor Chris Sununu all romped to victory, there’s a good chance that a bunch of normal GOP candidates would have performed considerably better. Normal works. Normal wins. Normal gets stuff done.

Maybe it’s long overdue that Republican primary voters recognized the value of normalcy.

One of the most glaring examples of this is in New Hampshire. While Sununu was cruising to reelection, Don Bolduc was losing his race to incumbent Democratic senator Maggie Hassan by about ten points. It sure looked like Chuck Morse would have been more competitive than Bolduc, but New Hampshire Republican primary voters, convinced they knew better, chose Bolduc.

I went out on a limb picking Bolduc to win the New Hampshire Senate race, in part because I believed Hassan’s job-approval and favorability numbers indicated vulnerability, and in part because some GOP pollsters were, in retrospect, insanely overconfident about Don Bolduc. Thanks a lot, Trafalgar and Saint Anselm!

In Pennsylvania, credit Mehmet Oz for being “the little engine that could” and fighting back after trailing badly early in the campaign, but in the end, maybe he was the Ford Pinto after all because he had to start from that massive deficit. John Fetterman was off the trail for three months, and when he returned, he could barely campaign! That lone debate went about as badly for Fetterman as it possibly could have! And yet Fetterman won comfortably — as of this hour, with 93 percent of votes reported, he leads Oz by a full three points, or around 155,000 votes. It is more than fair to wonder if the man Oz barely beat in the primary, David McCormick, would have been able to beat Fetterman.

In Arizona, Blake Masters looks like a bad joke of a candidate. As of this hour, he’s trailing by seven percentage points, or more than 100,000 votes. Mark Kelly is not exactly a whirling dervish of raw political charisma; he won his first special Senate election with 51.2 percent in 2020. Masters won the GOP Senate nomination over state attorney general Mark Brnovich, who won his reelection battle as state AG in the Democratic wave year of 2018, 52 percent to 48 percent. Would Brnovich have amounted to political roadkill the way Masters has?

As of this writing, the GOP nominee for Arizona governor, Kari Lake, who led most of the polls throughout the fall, is trailing Democrat Katie Hobbs by about 12,000 votes, or .6 percent, with 66 percent of the vote reported. Not that long ago, she looked like the Next Big Thing in Republican politics. This morning Lake looks wildly overhyped, with awful political instincts; what Arizona Republican in their right mind tells “any McCain Republicans” to “get the hell out” a few days before the election? This is the inverse of Charlie Crist’s declaring, “Those who support the governor should stay with him. I don’t want your vote. If you have that hate in your heart, keep it there.” Lake never had a big enough lead that she could run around telling people she didn’t want their support.

She’s already making noises indicating that the snafu over printer ink in Maricopa County means the election was stolen from her, even though no one can find a voter who wanted to cast a ballot but could not. I suppose she envisions a promising career as the Stacey Abrams of GOP politics.

A strong wind was blowing in the Republicans’ direction, but far too many of their ships refused to reel in their heavy anchors.

Credit Herschel Walker: He ran hard, and at this hour, it looks like he’ll get another crack at it in a runoff in Georgia. In Ohio, J. D. Vance won by about the margin he was expected to, 53.3 percent to 46.7 percent. There are still a bunch of votes to count in Nevada, but Adam Laxalt is currently ahead by 22,000 votes, 49.9 percent to 47.2 percent.

But let’s face it: In some races this cycle, Republican primary voters — in some cases, helped along by Democratic spending — nominated clowns who ensured that Democrats wouldn’t have to lift a finger in the general election.

Among last night’s other GOP losers: Pennsylvania gubernatorial candidate Doug Mastriano, Maryland gubernatorial candidate Dan Cox, Illinois gubernatorial candidate Darren Bailey. We’ve seen Republicans such as Tom Corbett and Larry Hogan and Mark Kirk and Bruce Rauner win those states not too long ago.

My takeaway from all this is that Americans are tired of the circus, the freakshow, the in-your-face, all-controversy-is-good, Trump-influenced wannabes. The country’s got real problems, and they won’t be solved by table-pounding pop-culture celebrities who want to emote populist rage on Hannity. Maybe that schtick can win you a primary, and if you’re in a sufficiently Republican-leaning district or state, you’ll be okay. But the country is full of purple and light-blue states that the GOP needs to win if it wants to steer the ship of state.

Donald Trump wants to announce he’s running for president later this month? Why? What’s he got to offer?

Inflation is at 8.2 percent, the average price of gas nationwide is $3.80 a gallon, crime is rising, the waves of migrants at the border continue, and the learning loss among kids at school is real. Democrats deserved comeuppance for the way they’ve run the country for the past two years, and by and large, they didn’t get it in the 2022 midterms. Don’t let anyone tell you this was a “good enough” performance by Republican candidates. Opportunities like this year don’t come along very often in politics, and the GOP largely fumbled it away last night.

The Senior Political Correspondent Accountability Project

Looking back on my predictions, I expected Republicans Ron Johnson, J. D. Vance, Mike Lee, Marco Rubio, and Chuck Grassley to win their Senate bids, which all of them except Johnson, whose race is still too close to call at this hour, did. I expected Democrats Fetterman, Michael Bennet, and Patty Murray to win their Senate bids, which they did. I predicted “Herschel Walker will finish ahead of incumbent Democrat Raphael Warnock, but I think he will finish just short of 50 percent, triggering a December 6 runoff.” At this hour, Warnock is ahead by about 35,000 votes, but the race is still on course for a runoff.

But I’m kicking myself for picking Bolduc.

In the governor’s races, I expected victories for DeSantis, Greg Abbott in Texas, Brian Kemp in Georgia, and Kristi Noem in South Dakota, and they all won.

I expected Democrats Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan, Michelle Lujan Grisham of New Mexico, Laura Kelly of Kansas and Tim Walz of Minnesota, and Josh Shapiro of Pennsylvania to win, and they did. Some people thought I was being too pessimistic; I wasn’t being pessimistic enough. I picked Lake over Katie Hobbs “by a wide margin” — ugh — and Tim Michels over Tony Evers; Democrats won those two.

My heart said Lee Zeldin would win the New York governor’s race, my head said Hochul and the Democrats had panicked enough to keep her in Albany, and like Thor against Thanos, I should have gone for the head. Coming within five percentage points, as the numbers indicate at this hour, is a respectable finish for a New York Republican running statewide, and may well have helped the GOP win a bunch of House races. But Zeldin is still down 300,000 votes against an uncharismatic governor who’s overseeing a crime wave.

I expected Republicans to win the House with 235 seats to Democrats’ 200, a gain of 23 seats. It’s too early to get a sense of the final count, but that looks a little high based upon what we know so far. Those who contended I was being too cautious — and were envisioning GOP gains of 30, 40, 50 seats — were likely basing their expectations on past GOP wave years, never looking clearly at just how many races were in play, and how Republicans started with an awfully high floor.

I did correctly predict that Jennifer Kiggans would beat Elaine Luria in Virginia’s second district, and that Democrat “Abigail Spanberger will hang on against Yesli Vega.” I didn’t really predict that Hung Cao would win, but said that, “If Cao wins, we’re moving from ‘red wave’ to ‘red tsunami.’” Cao ran a strong race, but Jennifer Wexton won, 53 percent to 47 percent, in a district Biden won handily in 2020.

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