Did the GOP learn any lessons from Walker's loss?


Unsurprisingly, Democrat Raphael Warnock was reelected to the Senate in Georgia last night, as the flaws and baggage of Republican nominee Herschel Walker proved too much for him to overcome without control of the upper chamber hanging in the balance. Walker won roughly 200,000 fewer votes than he did in November. But Walker conceded, and that makes Kari Lake stand out even more — with almost all of Arizona ignoring Lake’s insistence that her gubernatorial-election loss was illegitimate, it now seems fair to ask whether “election denialism” is really all that consequential.

Defeat in Georgia

And with that, the 2022 midterm-election cycle is now completely over: “Georgia’s Democratic senator Raphael Warnock was re-elected Tuesday night, winning his second runoff in less than two years by besting Herschel Walker, a scandal-ridden football star whom former president Donald Trump had once called ‘unstoppable.’” With 100 percent of precincts reporting, Warnock finished with 51.28 percent and Walker finished with 48.72 percent.

Yesterday, I noted that Republicans had won every other statewide office in Georgia in 2022, but I forgot to mention an important point: that every other Republican running statewide had won with more than 50 percent, which was the threshold to avoid a runoff election. Besides Walker, the Republican with the lowest percentage was lieutenant gubernatorial candidate Burt Jones, who finished with 51.39 percent.

In every other race on the ballot, this was a good year for Georgia Republicans. There’s no getting around it: Last night’s loss was on Herschel Walker. We don’t know how much the allegations of paying for abortions in the past, and the allegations of Walker’s own son, caused otherwise Republican-leaning Georgians to not vote for him. But it’s hard to believe that Walker’s scandalous past wasn’t a big factor, if not the decisive factor, in the race. Yes, Warnock outspent the former NFL running back by a considerable margin in the most expensive Senate race in U.S. history. But in the governor’s race, Stacey Abrams outspent Brian Kemp, $46 million to $28 million. Kemp won by about 7.5 percentage points.

Back in October, when the Walker news broke, I said, “The abortion accusation — coupled with the candidate’s son, Christian Walker, accusing his father of running around with other women, threatening to kill members of his family, and being violent — will be exceptionally hard to overcome.” A lot of people gave me grief for acknowledging that obvious consequence. The fact that you don’t want some accusation to be consequential does not mean that it isn’t going to be consequential.

I also said back then:

The Walker news will leave a lot of Republicans depressed, and it should leave them depressed. In this kind of political environment, with Biden’s approval rating being lousy in just about all of the key states, a bunch of nice, boring, generic Republicans would likely be enjoying solid leads over Raphael Warnock, Mark Kelly, Maggie Hassan, and maybe even John Fetterman. All Republicans needed to do to win big this midterm cycle was to be normal. Apparently, that was too much to ask.

I noticed that in the general election in November, a bit more than 1.9 million Georgians voted for Walker. In yesterday’s runoff, a bit more than 1.7 million Georgians voted for Walker. It seems reasonable to surmise that roughly 194,000 Georgians were willing to vote for Walker and overlook his flaws if control of the U.S. Senate was at stake, but were less motivated to vote for him once Democratic control of the Senate was assured.

But give Walker some credit; he had the good sense to concede the race last night instead of claiming that Warnock’s roughly 90,000-vote margin reflected voter fraud or suppression or rigged election machines or some other nonsensical conspiracy theory. Despite a lot of fears that the 2022 midterms would end in chaos, most of the “election denier” candidates ended up conceding their races. This year, the MAGA movement ended with a whimper, not a bang.

A lot of “election denialism” is the phenomenon of Pauline Kaelism on steroids — candidates and supporters who only interact with an exceptionally small, like-minded sliver of the electorate and who believe that their side is wildly popular. When the election results demonstrate that they’re only appealing to a niche group, the cognitive dissonance between their beliefs and reality spur them to believe that the election results must be wrong, and some sort of sinister force rigged the vote totals.

Maryland offered a vivid example of this phenomenon this cycle. It is a deep-blue state by almost any measure. Yes, outgoing governor Larry Hogan is a Republican, but he’s mostly played the role of a social moderate and fiscal conservative whose job is to block the excesses of a Democratic state legislature. Hogan won by four percentage points in 2014 and twelve percentage points in 2018, but he is about as outspoken a critic of Trump as you will find among Republican elected officials. As of October, Maryland had 2.2 million registered Democrats and just over 1 million registered Republicans. And polls consistently indicated that the Democratic gubernatorial nominee, Wes Moore, had a roughly two-to-one lead over Dan Cox, the GOP nominee. The gubernatorial race never appeared to be competitive.

And yet Cox apparently genuinely believed he was going to win on the morning of Election Day. “Our internal data demonstrated a massive shift of swing voters our way and a huge turnout of Republicans — neither of which is reported to have occurred,” Cox wrote in a released statement.

Now, think about that. Cox put a picture of himself with Trump on his campaign signs, with “TRUMP ENDORSED” on the top in big letters. Trump won 34 percent of the vote in Maryland in 2016 and 32 percent of the vote in Maryland in 2020. Cox did everything possible to tie himself to a man who won the votes of only about a third of Marylanders. On top of all that, he apparently never had enough money to run television ads.

And somehow, Cox convinced himself he was going to win.

But the day after the election, Cox did what a losing candidate is supposed to do: “I wish Governor-elect Wes Moore and Lt. Gov.-elect Aruna Miller and their families every blessing and success to ensure that he will keep his word and govern positively for all Marylanders.”

Moore won, 64 percent to 32 percent.

In Pennsylvania, it took GOP gubernatorial candidate Doug Mastriano nearly a week to accept the results, but in a livestream, he declared that, “As difficult as it is to accept the results, there is no other course but to concede, which I do, and I look to the challenges ahead. Josh Shapiro will be our next governor and I ask everyone to give him the opportunity, and to pray that he makes the decisions that are beneficial for the state and not necessarily for his party that he leads well — because it affects all our lives.”

Shapiro won, 56 percent to 41 percent.

One of the lone holdouts in this election cycle was Arizona gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake, and with the exception of one insane and pointless attempt to refuse to certify election results in Cochise County, her refusal to concede has had few real consequences. Current Republican governor Doug Ducey congratulated Democrat Katie Hobbs, their staffs are working on the transition, and life goes on. The old Arabic proverb, “The dog barks, but the caravan moves on” seems to fit; Lake insists the election is illegitimate, but most Arizonans are ignoring her claims and moving on with the rest of their lives.

Jon Gabriel, a.k.a. “ExJon,” writes over at CNN:

Yet conspiracy theories, which made a big impact in 2020 in Arizona and elsewhere, are barely making a ripple today. Losing candidates can allege fraud if they want, but Arizona Republicans now demand proof. Two years of Trumpian “stop the steal” nonsense wore everyone down — even many of the true believers . . . few Arizonans are buying her story. Her Trump-style campaign failed, and her Trump-style post-election complaints are failing as well.

The “democracy is hanging by a thread in these midterms” argument was driven by the events after the 2020 presidential election, but from the perspective of December 2022, the violent crisis of January 6, 2021, was enabled by a rare perfect storm of bad actors. It doesn’t matter if Doug Mastriano doesn’t concede on Election Night. It doesn’t matter much if Lake never concedes she lost the election. Neither one has had the nerve or shamelessness to try to gin up an angry crowd and overrun a state-capitol building, and if they or another sore loser tried, it’s unclear if they would attract a significant number of hardcore followers willing to assault police officers in the name of such a conspiracy theory. Trump’s demagogic power as an incumbent president was unique, and the current process of certifying the presidential-election results offered too much of a window of opportunity for attempts to reverse those election results.

One more reason to reform the Electoral Count Act of 1887.

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