U.S Midterms: The Red Wave that Wasn’t
The U.S. midterm elections took place a month ago. This race determined the makeup of the next Congress and concerned 435 House seats, 35 Senate seats, as well as 36 state governorships and state-specific ballot initiatives. We will discuss what the midterms are, the results, why the Red Wave many expected didn’t happen, and what the consequences are.
What are the midterms?
Midterms are so named because they take place midway between the President’s four-year term. To understand the significance of the races, it is important to know a bit about the U.S. political system and the current political landscape.
The larger body in the legislative branch is the House of Representatives. Its members are elected via 435 congressional districts that elect one person for a two-year term, with the number of districts in a state determined by its population. This gives larger states more power. The Democrats have held the majority since 2018 and currently have 235 seats. (270 to win) (House.gov)
The senior chamber, the Senate, has two senators from every state serving staggered terms of six years — regardless of state population. Currently, the Democrats also control the Senate despite having only 48 seats, due to two Senators who formed a coalition with them (Bernie Sanders (VT) and Angus King (ME)) and the privilege of the Vice President. The Vice President technically serves as a member of the Senate and typically only participates in ceremonial occasions or when there is a tie. This privilege has been repeatedly used by Democrats. Vice President Kamala Harris has cast 26 tie-breaking votes in the U.S. Senate, the third most of a vice president in U.S history. (Ballotpedia)
While the results of the election have not yet been fully concluded, it is safe to call the results in terms of who has control over which chamber of Congress.
Republicans flipped 18 House seats and will have the majority with 220 seats. The highly contended Senate race will end with Democratic control regardless of the results of the Georgia run-off election taking place today. Democrats have flipped three governorships in Massachusetts, Maryland, and Arizona while Republicans flipped Nevada. (Reuters)
The Red Wave that Wasn’t
Predictions favored Republicans for several reasons. First, the party of the incumbent president tends to lose big in the midterms of their first term. For example, in the 2018 midterms the Democrats had a net gain of 40 seats; in 2010, the Republicans won a net gain of 63 seats. The President’s party loses an average of 26 House seats since the Second World War. Additionally, the United States is facing a recession and the current President has poor approval ratings (lower than Obama and Trump at the time of their midterms). This was a recipe for Republican domination.
Exit polls showed that inflation and abortion were among the most highly prioritized issues. Americans’ views on the state of the economy were negative across the board. Crime and immigration were of high but lesser importance – issues that Democrats have largely tried to sweep under the rug.
And yet, Republican victories are at the low end of what could reasonably be expected. So how did they drop the ball? We cannot say for certain, but we can point to three things that sure did not help: abortion, bad candidates, and Trump.
In the Pennsylvania senate race – which Democrats managed to flip – abortion was seen as a major issue. Most voters prioritizing the issue voted for John Fetterman. In California, Kentucky, Michigan, Montana, and Vermont, pro-abortion rights were favored on ballot measures. Furthermore, in Michigan, it was an important factor in the gubernatorial race; 45% of voters named abortion as their top priority. These voters overwhelmingly preferred the incumbent Democratic governor Gretchen Whitmer who won her election by a significant margin. Thus, when it comes to the fate of both gubernatorial races and key senate races like the one in Pennsylvania, we can assume that abortion gave Democrats a significant boost. (Yahoo) (VOA)
Then there is the issue of the objectively poor candidates on the Republican side. Standouts in the gubernatorial races are Dan Cox of Maryland, Doug Mastriano of Pennsylvania, Darren Bailey of Illinois, and Kari Lake of Arizona. All three expressed doubts about the legitimacy of the 2020 election and proposed lunatic legislation and reform. Cox propagated QAnon quotes and has alleged ties to the Proud Boys while Mastriano was present during the January 6th riot and holds far-right views on social issues. Importantly, all except Darren Bailey were endorsed by Trump.
Only Arizona’s race can be considered close. The rest were landslide victories for the Democratic candidates. Lake’s defeat by Katie Hobs in Arizona and Cox’s defeat in Maryland by Wes Moore flipped these governorships to the Democrats. (Yahoo) (The Hill)
In the Senate, weak Democrat candidates in Arizona, Nevada, and Pennsylvania came out on top. These were key races in holding the Senate. These states that were purple (that is, neither decisively Democrat nor Republican) and will remain so. In Arizona, Blake Masters lost to Mark Kelly. In Nevada, Adam Laxalt lost narrowly to incumbent Catherine Cortez Masto. In Pennsylvania, John Fetterman defeated Trump-endorsed Mehmet Oz to flip the Senate seat. These Republican candidates were not attractive enough for such competitive races.
This is not to say that controversial candidates lost everywhere. It is more accurate to say that competitive races did not go as Republicans had hoped and they have only their candidates to blame.
The midterm elections were in many ways a repudiation of Trump’s Republican party. In the primaries, Trump-endorsed candidates dominated; however, while not all polls are in yet, Trump candidates have only a 60% success rate in competitive races.
The former President has undergone a barrage of scandals during his tenure and after being kicked out of office. Yet, the man has had a tight hold of Republican voters; the primary elections were proof. Following the January 6th capitol riots and Congress’s investigation into the former President, Democrats drilled these elections with hyperbolic messaging equating Republican triumph with the end of democracy. Whether or not the fearmongering was effective, many Americans clearly disapproved of the more extreme Republican candidates that parroted Trump talking points on immigration, election fraud, crime, and so on.
Where did the Red Wave happen?
The United States is a large country. Changes in voting demographics matter more than they might seem for the outcome of future elections. Judging by a map of congressional districts, it looks like a Red Wave did occurr as certain states have become redder.
This is true of some states that were more competitive in the last election, such as Ohio and North Carolina. But most importantly, it was true for Florida. Not only did Governor Ron DeSantis win his reelection, but he by a landslide of 19.4 points, compared to 0.4 points in 2018. DeSantis’ policy during the Covid-19 pandemic caused many to flock there from states that implemented authoritarian measures such as California and New York. In addition, his actions during hurricane Ian gave him a positive reputation among many Floridians.
DeSantis also gained the support of over half of Latino voters: in 2018, he became the first Republican to win the Miami-Dade County in two decades, a county with a large immigrant population. Surveys suggest many were displeased with the economic situation of the country under Democrat leadership, while others are solid Republican voters who fled socialist regimes in South America. Republican Governor of Texas Greg Abbott also picked up support in this demographic, but Latino Republican candidates did not have much success overall. (Orlando Sentinel)
The victory of DeSantis is significant because Florida now holds 30 electoral votes — the third-largest amount after California and Texas. In the 2020 election, Florida was seen as a swing state, though Trump won by a comfortable margin. These midterms show Florida now strongly leans Republican again.
Will the GOP be saying goodbye to Trump?
While Trump announced his 2024 candidacy right after the midterms, considering the underperformance of his party in these elections and the rising of his potential challengers one has to wonder: will his grip on the Republican party loosen?
The tremendous influence of Donald Trump might be waning. While his endorsed candidates are still winning and their success rate has increased in terms of percentage, again, this is not the case in the races that matter. Mired in controversy for his entire political career and before, his brand of popular nationalism took the country by storm and inspired many people. Even in the 2020 election, he won more votes than in 2016. Yet, what we see now is a deepening divide within the Republican party, especially since the 2020 elections. The notion that most Republican members of Congress are Trump-fanatics is a misrepresentation: politicians have come out and said that they felt pressured by their party and their voters. Anti-Trump politicians would face scrutiny from their constituents and lose support in their elections. Essentially, to oppose Trump was political suicide.
Now, this might be changing. Trump will be tolerated so long as he makes Republicans win elections, and one cannot ignore the need for the GOP to re-assess their strategy. Perhaps this means pursuing more cooperation in the next two years in Congress so that they can claim they are improving government action. Perhaps this means next time around having more moderate and intelligent candidates in competitive races. This might also mean dropping the Donald once and for all.
Trump has announced his reelection campaign, but many expect Ron DeSantis will run as well. As it stands, Trump’s future in the GOP is uncertain.
Consequences of the midterm elections
To conclude, what will happen now that the Republicans have control over the House? Most importantly, House committees will be reformed in proportion to the Republican majority, and therefore Republicans will be able to commence their own investigations.
The Republicans will open an investigation into the business dealings of Hunter Biden and whether his father Joe Biden used his political influence while serving in the Obama administration to leverage his son into a privileged position with Ukrainian company Burisma. This comes from revelations from Hunter Biden’s laptop leak before the 2020 Elections, the FBI’s involvement with which may also be further investigated.
There is also the matter of Anthony Fauci, the Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) and member of the U.S.’s Covid taskforce. Fauci was at odds with the Republicans during the latter half of the pandemic. After his emails were released last year, Fauci has come under criticism for his actions during the pandemic. There is a possibility that he used the influence of his position to hide his agency’s funding of the Wuhan Lab, endorsed smear campaigns against academics that opposed him, and gave misleading information before Congress. While Fauci has announced he will step down from his position, it is possible he will appear before congress again and testify about his actions.
Finally, Republicans will now be able to end the January 6th Committee, formed to investigate Trump’s involvement in the January 6th riots. Democrats saw the possibility of losing the House and therefore tried to quickly close the investigation. Republican control of the House may result in an investigation of their own into the January 6th Committee.
By Luke Ravetto
Image credit: Elizabeth D. Herman/ New York Times