Shellacking. Disaster. Wasteful. All those terms come to mind when it comes to the 2022 midterms where the GOP underperformed. At least at the national level. As of this writing the GOP is going to lose a net of one or two total gubernatorial contests (net Nevada, lose Maryland and Massachusetts) and the best the GOP can now hope to do is break even in the Senate. My guess is Democrats win the run – off in GA for a 51 – 49 Senate where Manchin and Sinema continue to gum everything up except for judicial appointments.
It is in the House where Republicans should be celebrating but instead don’t even know if they will have a majority. The reason is despite the GOP being likely to win the popular vote by three to four points, their votes were extremely inefficiently distributed (more on this in a second). Another could be called the Joe Kent problem ( a candidate who lost a Trump +7 district in an R + 4 environment), basically a proxy for candidate quality swinging seats.
Even so, there were strong bright spots for the party which the media and analysts right now are ignoring. In a multitude of formerly swing states the GOP gained super – majorities in the legislature (Florida, North Carolina) on the backs of strong statewide performances. In Ohio, despite JD Vance’s underwhelming win, the GOP carried every statewide constitutional office and three Supreme Court seats. They also gained a super – majority in the legislature taking many D + 3 districts and even a D + 11 district (tell me candidates don’t matter). Wins in Ohio and North Carolina are also important for the likely narrow balance of power in the House. In North Carolina and Ohio, left leaning courts blocked strong GOP gerrymanders. Well, with super – majorities in both legislatures, and control of state courts (North Carolina’s court flipped as well), the GOP is likely to convert Ohio’s 10R – 5D and North Carolina’s 7R – 7D delegations to be much more GOP. The GOP also expanded their super – majorities in Utah, Idaho, Wyoming in the West as of this writing.
But, there were also significant losses for the party at the state level not just at the gubernatorial level. The GOP likely narrowly lost their majority in the PA State House, while they lost their slim majority in the MN State Senate. Further, the GOP lost their majorities in the MI House and Senate though they remain a strong minority in all the above states. As of this writing, the AZ legislature is coming down to the wire depending on Maricopa and whether they can count (I jest).
So what can we make of this midterm, an election for the ages I wonder if we will ever see again? Oh, where to start?
- Republican Underperformance in the House: There are a lot of reasons for the GOP’s “House Share” of seats in Congress. While it is true weak GOP candidates cost the party seats WA – 3 and almost CO – 3, that has to be countered with the GOP winning a whopping 11 of NY State’s 27 House seats with one seat uncalled and the Republican leading. Republicans can probably thank shifts in Brooklyn among Asians for their victories in competitive seats formerly held by long – time Democrats. Further, let’s not forget the GOP took a Biden + 8 seat in Oregon (similar to the seats taken in NY State). That said, a large chunk of the GOP vote share was inefficiently distributed across the country. A perfect microcosm of this would be the majority – minority NC – 1. The D + 9 Biden district went Democratic by a mere five points when historically, the former Rep G.K. Butterfield had won the district by 20 points two years ago. Similarly, in South Texas, where Republicans had made gains, both the 28th and 34th, which had gone Democratic by 11 points and 21 points in 2020, were much, much closer this go – round. Combine this with GOP candidates coming oh so close in many other swing districts but unable to get over the hump and you can see how for the first time this century, the GOP House popular vote won’t meet their total share of seats in Congress.
- Dobbs and Major Issues: Many are arguing abortion was the determining factor this election. Just look at Target Fart’s Tom Bonier’s Twitter page. Exit polls do show it mattered for about a third of the electorate nationally. But inflation mattered more. So did crime. It is highly likely abortion mattered in swing states such as MN, MI, PA, AZ and NV. But obviously not in FL, NC, OH or IA. Obviously, crime mattered a heck of a lot more in NY and OR judging by the share of seats the GOP claimed. Let’s also keep in mind the GOP is going to win the popular vote meaning Dobbs might have mattered at the margins, but it is impossible to know if it was the determining factor. Anybody who says otherwise is a partisan hack and Tom definitely is.
- Trump vs. Biden: Democratic attacks against Republicans for denying election results saw results in some contests. It likely helped in SoS races and surely in some aforementioned House contests. But, whether Democrats made the race a referendum on Trump vs. a referendum on Biden and Democrats is unclear. Consider that Democrats didn’t win new SoS offices this cycle short of Nevada and WA. But WA’s contest was unique (Republican retired, Democrat won) while in Nevada, Joe Lombardo, flipped the Governorship while being endorsed by Trump.
- Major Regional and Coalitional Shifts: The warning signs for both parties were clear this cycle. Despite a dominant advantage on the economy the GOP still lost college educated voters by four points in exit polls though they made this up by winning non college educated voters by massive margins. Further, narrow losses in many majority – minority Hispanic and Black districts indicate GOP gains among minorities did not dissipate. They just may not have grown enough for the GOP to break through in some locations. By the same token, Democrats massive losses among non college educated voters illustrate the education divide is here to stay. In some cases such as PA the party might be able to ride this out but as NC and OH illustrate, that is not universally the case. Regionally, it remains clear WI, PA and MI are swing seats with a blue tint but IA, OH and FL are now clearly off the board for Democrats. Georgia is still a purple state but Atlanta’s suburbs threaten to turn the state into the new South’s Minnesota (ie. Twin Cities determines the state’s electoral politics). North Carolina sure looks like it but than again the state has looked this way for almost a decade now. Finally, the lessons for the GOP out West are clear. Arizona is still a 50 – 50 state and candidate quality is important and while Nevada may be getting redder it is not yet ready to flip at the federal level. Few can doubt Democrats outperformed expectations in terms of seats, but in terms of the popular vote they lost how we thought they would.
Going forward both parties face major problems. The GOP is now riven by internal divisions. It is increasingly likely Mitch McConnell will not be Minority Leader. Just like at Marco Rubio’s statement on this after winning his state by 16 points. Rick Scott, who chaired the NRSC, will be lucky to be in Leadership when or if he runs for reelection in 24. Kevin McCarthy will likely still lead the GOP majority or minority, but his leadership will basically be defined by “getting nothing done.”
Democrats are masters at ignoring their problems and creating future issues for their party. Democrats are likely to lose the House popular vote by around four points (see #1 above) and Dobbs and the youth vote likely made a marginal difference here. However, what is more substantial is the GOP’s underperformance means it will undergo a likely heated debate but at least those conversations are already occurring. Democrats, on the other hand, likely will continue to campaign on the same issue set over and over, abortion, abortion, and abortion. Worse, the party is likely to be saddled with Biden.
Why saddled with an incumbent President? Well, voters might have rejected Senate Republicans but they sure did not do it because of Biden. His approval on election day was around 45 percent and many said the country was on the wrong track and rated the economy as poor or bad. Worse, Biden is likely to be unable to campaign as vigorously as a younger challenger and some of his past decisions might come home to roost.
It is unlikely Biden’s student debt loan forgiveness plan will survive the courts. Sure, Democrats in the Senate will likely stage votes on this and codifying Roe vs. Wade into law but a GOP house will likely block it. All those young voters who supposedly saved Democrats this go – round may turn out again in two years, but it all depends how many will turn out after enduring Broken Promises Welcome to Politics 101.
Finally, while polarization means most midterms are referendums on the President (and you could say in some parts of this midterm it held true), a Presidential election is voting directly for the President. You are unlikely to support him if you disapprove vs. approve. Biden won’t be able to escape that even if he pulled a Trump 2016. Caveat: A lot can happen in two years so I don’t expect this prediction to be 100 percent accurate in two years.