The final midterm votes have been counted. Rather than being swept away in a “red wave”, Democrats increased their Senate majority (51-49) with the re-election of Raphael Warnock. And the Republicans gained a slight House majority of five votes (222-213) — with one Democratic seat (VA 4) open because of death. Here are three observations:
1.The United States is deeply polarized: This shouldn’t come as a shock. What surprised me was that in an election where Trump wasn’t on the ballot, Republicans voted in big numbers. Many of their voters seem locked into a mentality of “any Republican candidate is better than a Democrat.”
In the midterms, Democrats ran hard and Republicans did, too. While Democrats can take pride in the fact that they defeated dreadful Senate candidates, such as Herschel Walker, the fact remains that, in Georgia, Walker garnered 1.7 million votes. In Arizona, another dreadful Republican candidate, Kari Lake, garnered 1.27 million votes in an unsuccessful campaign for governor.
Republicans drank the Trump kool-aid and voted accordingly. More Republicans voted than did Democrats. It took a focused Democratic effort to (temporarily) stem the dark tide.
In 2024, even if Donald Trump is not a viable candidate, it seems likely that Republicans will operate in a different reality than do Democrats. What will it take to bridge this gap? Perhaps recognition that we have to unite in a response to climate change.
2. It helps to be an incumbent: All the Senators running for reelection, won their seats — including the dreadful Ron Johnson in Wisconsin. Democrats picked up the open Pennsylvania Senate seat when John Fetterman defeated Mehmut Oz. Only one incumbent governor lost, Democrat Steve Sisolak in Nevada. Nine House incumbents lost their re-election campaigns: six Democrats and three Republicans.
The key element in these races was support of “independent” voters. According to the Cook Report ( https://www.cookpolitical.com/analysis/senate/senate-charts/senate-governors-charts-chew-how-independents-and-meh-voters-split?), where incumbents had the support of Independent voters, they won. (For example, in the Nevada Governor’s race, Sisolak lost the support of independents.)
Three excellent Democratic Senate candidates — Barnes, Beasley, and Deming — were defeated because the Republican Party ran negative racist ads. Because of Trump the GOP has become the party of white supremacy — another indication Republicans are operating in an alternative reality.
3.The House races were very close. In the House of Representatives, the Republican margin of victory was five seats. The closest five Republican victories (AZ 1, CA 13, CO 8, NT 17, NY22) were decided by 10,249 total votes; for example, CO 3 was decided by 546 votes. Just a bit more effort could have resulted in a Democratic victory.
The blame for the Democrats loss in the House can be allocated between New York and California. In New York the Dems lost five blue seats. (https://www.thenation.com/article/politics/new-york-democrats-congress/ ) In California the Dems lost one blue seat (CA 13) and failed to swing several winnable seats because of low voter turnout. (In California, total 2022 turnout was 10.9 million. In 2021, for the recall election, it was 12.8 million. In 2020, turnout was 17.7 million and in 2018, 12.7 million.)
Writing in the Cook Report, David Wasserman observed: “Despite warnings from both parties that the midterms were existential to the future of the country, Americans cast just over 107 million votes for House, down from 114 million in 2018… The decline was highly uneven: in districts that are 75% white or more, turnout was on average 72% of 2020 levels (by total votes cast). But in majority/plurality Black districts, it was 61% of 2020 levels, in Hispanic majority/plurality seats it was just 57.9% of 2020 levels. Across all majority-nonwhite seats, it was 60.7%.”
(For an alternative perspective, the 538 website (https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/redistricting-house-2022/) argues that “Republicans flipped a net six seats because of redistricting.”)
What’s ahead? We’re in a period of dramatic transition. If you watch the stock market — not a task for the faint of heart — you know that at least once a week there’s a change of opinion about what direction the economy is headed. Today it’s a bear market; tomorrow it’s a bull market.
There’s a lot happening in the United States. We’re still struggling to get out of the pandemic. The impacts of climate change are more evident. The war in Ukraine indicates that the global order is shifting. The US economy is volatile. Trump has (so far) eluded prison. Etcetera.
The retirement of Nancy Pelosi indicates a shift to younger Democratic leadership in the House. I predict that this will happen with Democrats in general, and that Joe Biden won’t run for reelection in 2024. There are many Democrats who would be acceptable replacements.
Donald Trump has had a pathological impact on the Republican Party. In 2024, I don’t expect him to be a viable candidate, but I do expect his malignant influence to continue. Recent polls indicate that many Republicans prefer DeSantis to Trump. (Another possibility is Elon Musk.) Republicans are struggling to replace Trump with pathetic clones. The GOP is afraid to root out the malignancy.
I’m hopeful that 2024 will be a change election. In the meantime, hold on tight; we’re traveling through rough water.