In a plot twist that practically no one expected, the liberals wound up celebrating the midterm elections, even though the Democrats are virtually certain to lose control of the House and the battle for the Senate remains unclear.
But there was no red wave, even though that was widely expected by the punditry and polling business that now must do some soul-searching about how they got it so wrong. Left-wing websites are touting the “red ripple” that emerged.
In the House, Kevin McCarthy will have a slight majority, not the 30-seat margin that many had predicted. Still, that’s enough to enable Republican committee chairmen to conduct hearings and investigations to put the Biden administration on the defensive and block his agenda.
In the Senate battle, John Fetterman bouncing back from that disastrous debate to beat Mehmet Oz in Pennsylvania–a more conventional Republican not from New Jersey might have won–fueled Democratic hopes of maintaining control. That depends on the close contests in Arizona and Nevada, and possibly on a Georgia runoff in December between Herschel Walker and Raphael Warnock.
Many prognosticators, including some on the right, are blaming Donald Trump, who looms large as always over the GOP. It was his hard-right, hand-picked candidates, including Oz and Dan Bolduc in New Hampshire, who lost key races that might have been won by more conventional Republicans.
Having all but guaranteed that he’ll announce his candidacy in a “major announcement” next Tuesday, does Trump now back off? If the Senate again comes down to a Georgia runoff, many Republicans certainly fear that a Trump candidacy could blow that contest in a replay of what happened in 2020.
The surprisingly strong showing by Democrats is also forcing a reassessment of President Biden’s strategy, widely derided as off-key and ineffective. The lack of a shellacking also boosts the chances that Biden will run again in 2024, especially if the opponent is Trump.
The president, knowing he was an albatross, largely kept a low profile, giving speeches on infrastructure spending. And his prime-time speech on saving democracy, while unconnected to kitchen-table issues, may have spurred those who are worried about Trumpism, Jan. 6 and the election deniers on the ballot.
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So how did the media-political complex–and I don’t exempt myself from this–get the election so wrong?
For one thing, there was a breathless reliance on each wave of polls, which were off for the third straight election–except in the opposite direction.
And there was broad agreement that the abortion rights issue had faded since the summer, again based heavily on polls. But it clearly boosted turnout among many women who saw the Dobbs decision as a uniquely personal threat to controlling their own bodies. In Michigan, a ballot measure to add abortion rights to the state constitution was leading with 56 percent of the vote.
The Republicans had a prime opportunity for a huge night. People were deeply upset about high inflation, worried about the economy, fearful about crime. The Democrats waited until the last 10 days to take these concerns seriously rather than just rattling off past legislative accomplishments. The country was angry, looking for someone to blame–and even in a “normal” year, the president’s party loses lots of seats in the first midterm, as happened in 2010 and 2018.
But the voters also showed an ability to put things in context, that it was possible to care about the economy and democracy. I think there was also a general exhaustion with chaos, a sense that they wanted Republicans to act as a check on the Biden administration’s relentlessly liberal policies but not hand a blank check to the MAGA wing.
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Here is author and podcaster Ben Shapiro tweeting about the results:
“Republicans wildly underperformed, and heads should roll…their candidate quality was poor and their leadership was either absent or counterproductive…
Trump picked bad candidates, spent almost no money on his hand-picked candidates, and then proceeded to crap on the Republicans who lost and didn’t sufficiently bend the knee. This will have 2024 impact.”
Biden, who had been weighing just issuing a statement on the results yesterday, instead held a lengthy news conference in which he gently chided the pundits for their red-wave predictions and said democracy had prevailed.
One clear Republican winner was Ron DeSantis, who won a landslide victory over Charlie Crist in Florida, which is now clearly a red state. His Tuesday night declaration of war on woke liberalism clearly resonated as he became the first Republican in two decades to win Miami-Dade County.
So does he take the presidential plunge? Trump warned that if “DeSanctimonious” was so ungracious as to challenge him, he would reveal unflattering things about the governor, which sounds very much like a threat.
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My sense is that Trump controls the party and can easily get the nomination, which he wants in part as protection against the Justice Department investigations. DeSantis is untested as a national candidate.
But I could be wrong. Maybe if DeSantis challenges his onetime friend, he’ll strike a chord among Republicans who may even like Trump but are tired of the endless “rigged election” campaign and ready to move on to a next-generation nominee.
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Making predictions, as we have all learned yet again, is downright dumb in such a divisive and supercharged atmosphere.