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.