Is there one particular factor we could isolate that caused such a disappointing Election Night for Republicans and conservatives? Some will say candidate quality prevented the expected red wave. Others will point to a hangover from the 2020 election. And then there was abortion.
In fact, all of the above are legitimate explanations after what was once projected as a red tsunami wound up as more of a gentle ripple lapping up on the shores of a placid lake. Veteran Republicans had been nervous all along about the untested rookie candidates who won their primaries strictly because they were endorsed by Donald Trump. And their fears were realized. Senate candidates Mehmet Oz in Pennsylvania, Don Bolduc in New Hampshire, and Blake Masters in Arizona all struggled to break through in winnable states. Herschel Walker finished behind Democrat Raphael Warnock and would have lost in Georgia, absent the archaic law requiring a run-off if no candidate reaches 50% +1, so he now lives to fight another day, specifically December 6. How ironic it would be if the same state which cost the GOP the Senate weeks after the regular 2020 Election Day could now lead to déjà vu – losing the Senate again – or turning the tables and regaining control in the same fashion they lost it.
It has often been said that elections are about the future, not the past. The most glaring example of the axiom is that even one of history’s greatest statesmen, Winston Churchill, was turned out of office after his legendary leadership during World War II helped save the Western world. Whether fairly or not, Trump-friendly Republican candidates this year were labeled “election deniers” for daring to question the outcome in 2020, rather than focusing attention on 2024, and it seems the charge stuck enough to save Democrats from the apocalyptic outcome they so feared. It is inarguable that the MAGA candidates nominated strictly because of Trump’s endorsement collectively underperformed.
A Red Wave With Heavy Undertow
Some Senate candidates benefited from fellow Republicans who appeared alongside them on the ballot, and some most decidedly did not. Dr. Oz struggled mightily to overcome the widely panned campaign of Pennsylvania gubernatorial candidate Doug Mastriano, who was front and center in efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential result in the Keystone State. In sharp contrast, the one Trump endorsee who shined, JD Vance in Ohio, was victorious largely due to the downdraft from the Buckeye State’s popular Governor Mike DeWine, who romped by 25 points – while Vance prevailed by seven.
We were led to believe that, after becoming a central issue over the summer following the reversal of Roe v. Wade, abortion had been placed on the backburner as Election Day neared, as voters focused more on issues directly affecting them – primarily inflation, the economy, and crime. Instead, exit polls revealed that more than a quarter of the midterm electorate – 27% – listed abortion as their top issue – and of course the great bulk of such voters were pro-choice.
More than anything else, November 8 demonstrated that our politics appear to have become more tribal than ever. All one needs for evidence is the victory of Pennsylvania’s John Fetterman. This man who is still unable to form a coherent sentence will now join the “world’s greatest deliberative body.” Even after an ostensibly catastrophic debate performance, the Dems retreated to their corner, seemingly prepared to pull the lever for anyone with a pulse and the right choice between R and D next to their name.
And that brings us to one more element of this election which now deserves serious scrutiny. Fetterman likely won in large part because of early voting in Pennsylvania, which began in September – for a November election! Would not the outcome have changed if votes had been cast in normal fashion after people personally witnessed the degree of neurological damage caused by his stroke? We will, of course, never know. But the notion that voters can cast their ballots essentially any time and by any means which suit their personal schedule – weeks before an election, by mail without sufficient reason, etc., will undoubtedly lead to nothing but trouble over the long haul. The single day previously designated for all of us to vote used to have a unifying effect on the country. Now, in a time of greater division than most of us can ever remember, voting has come to appear like a free-for-all.
As disappointed as many conservatives are in the wake of a letdown election, some big-picture perspective is warranted. Ron DeSantis achieved rock star status in now-bright red Florida. And though their majority will be narrower than they expected, Republicans will nevertheless control the House, and that is what matters most – more than the size of their majority or whether they also control the Senate – and they still have roughly a 50-50 shot at winning the upper chamber. Controlling the lower chamber will cripple the ability of Joe Biden and Democrats to push through more radical legislation and wild spending sprees like Build Back Better, and allow the GOP to launch legitimate inquiries into several subjects buried over the last four years by the Democratic majority. Little in the way of legislation will get done, of course, with Biden still in the White House ensuring divided government, but for Republicans weary from fighting the left-wing agenda of Democrats controlling the entire federal government, the word gridlock suddenly has a nice ring to it.