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What the Hell Just Happened?: A Guide to the 2022 Election

What the Hell Just Happened?: A Guide to the 2022 Election

We were told there would be a “Red Wave” of voters angry about crime and drag queens. That didn’t happen. 

A first-term President’s party usually faces big losses in the midterm elections as American voters race to ensure that their newly elected President can’t do anything. Reagan lost 26 seats in Congress in 1982. Clinton lost 52 in ‘94. Obama lost 63. Trump dropped 40. With a few races yet to be called, it looks like Biden will lose about 10. Meanwhile, pending the outcome of the Senate runoff in Georgia, it looks like the Manchin Administration will come to an end as Democrats gain an additional seat.

What will Republican Congressional control mean for the country? Probably nothing. With a very narrow advantage in the House and a delegation packed with attention-whores, religious nuts and grifters, merely selecting a leader is likely to be filled with drama. This Congress will be a dark circus, likely contributing to Democratic momentum in 2024.

So did the good guys win? Not exactly. The Senate map should have presented Republicans with a nightmare scenario, defending what had been competitive seats in places like Ohio, North Carolina, Florida and Wisconsin while facing few opportunities for gains. Instead, the map seems to have hardened, shrinking the number of competitive states.

Colorado and New Hampshire seem to be solidly blue at the federal level. Michael Bennet in Colorado outpolled the Democratic Senate candidate in Illinois. Florida and Ohio are solidly red, perhaps joined by North Carolina. Arizona is no longer a Republican state and Nevada is drifting blue.

Nobody won or lost, everything just became more of what it already was. Trends in US politics set in motion by the election of her first black President have now solidified. 

Dobbs was supposed to change everything, and it probably contributed to Democratic turnout in an otherwise challenging environment. But there was no sign of Republican power cracking in its strongholds. After a high-profile, exhausting and passionate campaign by Beto O’Rourke to unseat conservative mullah Greg Abbott, the Democrats managed the same vote percentage they achieved in the previous race. 

Ron DeSantis rolled to a blowout victory after killing off thousands of his own 2018 voters with pandemic policies designed to protect his donors. Nothing Republicans did over the past few years, from killing off grandma to keep businesses open to stripping reproductive rights to outright sedition seems to have flipped a vote. 

America’s tribal boundaries intensified in 2022. Republicans feel free now to run as unapologetic Fascists without eroding any of their base. They seem satisfied to hold their ground with no prospect of expansion as long as they control a large enough slice of the electorate to cripple the federal government. There’s no sign that this deadlock can be resolved through electoral politics. 

Aging, rural whites, especially those with a middle to upper income and a high school education, are now the Republican base. Democrats depend on a coalition of minority voters, urban and suburban residents, and college-educated whites. The exceptions to this pattern are steadily either falling in line or falling away. 

Republicans’ white base is dying off at an accelerating pace as mortality rates in Republican areas soar. What’s keeping the GOP competitive is the fluidity of whiteness. Hispanics and many other immigrant minorities are becoming white, taking the place of aging boomers at the front lines of the culture wars. Ron DeSantis won in Florida by pitching white nationalism to Hispanic voters. The same strategy propped up Greg Abbott in Texas. 

Gains on either side are largely impossible as both see the other as demonic. Your Republican uncle who ten years ago spent Thanksgiving Dinner complaining about taxes, now insists that Democrats are blood-sucking child molesters bent on oppressing white men. Post Dobbs, Democrats see Republicans as unreconstructed Confederates bent on rolling back every element of modern civil society. There’s no room left for persuasion.

Policy has largely disappeared from our politics. Elections are about defining and motivating a racial (Republican) or cultural (Democratic) tribe. The future course of this model depends on how quickly Republicans can turn immigrants into white people, how quickly aging Republicans die off, and how long it takes for a massively more progressive younger generation to become politically engaged. All of this, of course, assumes that the glacial progress of our electoral evolution isn’t interrupted by another coup attempt – the most likely next step in our politics. 

Four years ago, in the summer before the ‘18 election, I described this as the most important election of our lifetimes. It was Democrats’ chance to seal gains from the Trump backlash and begin to move the country forward. Democrats failed to realize that goal, but Republicans gained nothing. The 2022 election was a stalemate, buying a little more breathing room for a struggling democracy.


  1. As I said earlier, evil scum like the psycho green will have more power because the fascists need the REALLY crazy to maintain control of the House. That means impeachment hearings that drag on for 22 months. Impeachment is now something a president has to just shrug at.

    And yes, the violence will increase. The hard right still not does believe this election was fair. What is my biggest question is if the House shuts down support for Ukraine, given they are the tip of the spear of NATO now, regardless of the official political statements.

  2. I somewhat disagree that republicans in general can run as unabashed fascists without consequence. It’s increasingly true in gop strongholds but Arizona might be a good example of a place where republicans might have been able to squeeze out a win if they were centering their campaign messaging around inflation and lowering taxes instead of around Trump and election denial. The victory of Yougkin in Virginia and the disparity between the election results of Kemp and Walker in Georgia demonstrate that there is still a small but significant block of voters who are willing to vote for a Republican that is perceived to be civil and not beholden to Trump.

    This might be because they view Trump himself as the thing that has been poisoning the political landscape rather than his election being representative of issues within the party itself and its core base. You and I would probably both disagree with that but I still see plenty of people even in the democratic party who think that the gop as it exists today can be “saved” if Trump is out of the picture.

  3. Democrats didn’t exactly win but they over-performed, keeping one branch of government and providing America with a much needed break before the ugliness of House MAGA politics gears up. The world needed reassurance. Republicans needed and deserved this gut check which they appear certain to ignore.

    I’m clear-eyed about how difficult the next two years will be for democrats. I can’t project more long term. As Marc Elias noted in his usual spare style, “Democracy is fragile “. Had the 2022 election met hyped expectations from the right, democracy wouldn’t have lived to see another day. America has bought time. How we use it is up to us. At least there is some hope.

  4. A very good reading of the present political situation. The current political party system is locked in place. There will be no major changes in the current gridlock in America until some really major event occurs to dislodge individual voters from their present orientation. The polarization will continue until that happens. IMO, that will likely be an existential crisis that occurs in conjunction with the 2024 election. It may be another insurrection larger than Jan 6. It may be a major split in the Republican Party. I do expect the Republican Party to split. It may be some more outrageous decisions by the Supreme Court.

    There are a number of similarities to the 1858 election. Those elections resulted in the nascent Republican Party controlling the House without a majority and the Democrats retaining control of the Senate. The Dred Scott decision occurred in 1857 and had a significant impact on the elections. But the really serious incidents associated with that did not occur until later. The Dobbs decision did have a major impact in this election, but not sufficient to dislodge the existing polarization. It required 44 ballots to select a Speaker. Basically the ensuing Congress was notably gridlocked.

    Finally, in 1860 the Democratic Party split into Northern and Southern branches. Each nominated different candidates for President. The old Whigs had previously effectively died out. The Republicans nominated Lincoln and won. Seven Southern States seceded. South Carolina attacked Fort Sumter. Then the remaining four states seceded and the Civil War started. History changed.

    I personnally expect some major developments, which will have sufficient magnitude to shake up the existing order in conjunction with the 2024 elections. Exactly what they will be, only time will reveal.

    The one thing I am sure of is that the present polarization cannot continue. Lincoln’s statement that a house divided against itself cannot long last is equally true today. It is possible, but IMO dubious that the US could split into several sectional nations.. However, in the final analysis, I believe that the ties that bind us are greater than those that separate us.

    Nevertheless a reckoning is coming.

    Also in reading the above, it is helpful to realize that the Democratic and Republican Parties have essentially totally switched orientations during the ensuing years. That includes the sectional orientations of the the two parties.

  5. What’s your take on the possible Trump vs DeSantis rumble? Trump has the vulgar charisma that excites the base, but DeSantis is smarter with more self control.

    Given that either one in the White House is bad for American democracy, here’s hoping they destroy each other.

    1. DeSantis is untested on a national stage (much like JEB! was before he promptly bombed). All that’s certain is, as you said, that he clearly lacks the charisma and TV presence of someone like Trump. That’s not nothing.

      That aside, what’s most important rn is to see just how big the Republican field gets. Trump got by in ’16 because his opposition was so fragmented that they couldn’t coalesce around an alternative. There’s a chance that that happens again.

      How many candidates are we looking at right now? Trump, DeSantis, Abbott, Christie, Hutchinson, Hogan, Scott, Pompeo, Youngkin and Pence as the most likely.

      That’s quite a lot already.

    1. If you’ve read his collected works (starting with his pre-2016 you’d understand more.

      To be fair, and the more D-leaning folks here can enlighten me, did the NY State Dem. party “accidentially” flip some seats to the Rs because they’re afraid of more AOC-types? (Democratic Machine Politics… ugggh.)

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