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  • George Miles

Barely a ripple: the midterm elections of 2022


Prior to election day with history on their side, a lagging economy, and an unpopular President, it was widely expected that the Republicans would achieve a positive outcome. However, despite exit polls showing Joe Biden’s approval rating being as low as 39%, the Democrats have held the Senate and gained governorships, whereas in the House of Representatives the Republicans have a razor thin majority. This has resulted in infighting within the Grand Old Party with various explanations as to why the party failed to live up to expectations. However, despite the poor performance from the Republicans, Democrats should not be ecstatic as, despite defying history, Republican control of the House may well lead to difficulties in implementing Biden’s agenda.

Two days before the midterms, it was projected that the best the Democrats could hope for was a split Senate with Vice President Harris casting the tie breaking vote. However, even before the runoff in Georgia, the Democrats know that they will keep control of the upper chamber in January. Therefore, as has become the norm for American politics, the pollsters were wrong. Reasons for this are varied and are different across states and races. In the key election in Pennsylvania, one factor which influenced Republican Dr Mehmet Oz’s defeat was that voters did not believe he had lived in the state long enough to represent it in the Senate. Therefore, there is not a single explanation for why a Republican wave did not occur; the issue of Oz being from New Jersey is limited to his race. However, in the most disappointing races for the GOP (including in Pennsylvania), there was one common factor.

In races across the country, Donald Trump-backed candidates did not fare well. Senate races in New Hampshire, Nevada, Arizona, and Pennsylvania all ended in defeat for GOP candidates supported by Trump, and the governorships in Pennsylvania, Arizona, Massachusetts and Maryland saw the same outcome. This implies that although voters do not approve of Biden’s performance thus far, this was a secondary concern to worries about the future of American democracy. Senate candidates in New Hampshire, Arizona, and Nevada all argued that the 2020 election was not free and fair, and the same was true for the gubernatorial candidates in Arizona. In Nevada, It is telling that Adam Laxalt, an election-denier, lost in the Senate race, whilst Joe Lombardo, the governor-elect who did not claim that the 2020 election was rigged, won.

Moderates, such as Larry Hogan, have suggested that Trump was responsible not just for 2022’s poor showing, but also for the defeat in 2020 and the poor midterm performance in 2018. On a similar theme, Mitch McConnell (who I would not describe as a moderate nor a Trump loyalist) has suggested that an inability to appeal to moderates is to blame. In comparison, the Trump loyalists believe that the blame lies at McConnell’s door. Blake Masters, for example, who lost in Arizona’s Senate race, blames McConnell for his defeat . Yet this does not consider that the area where Republicans did worst was in gubernatorial races, where they suffered a net loss of seats. A lot of the time these candidates were backed - and, therefore, essentially chosen by Trump. They were not made by McConnell. Subsequently, if you were to consider the midterm elections as a whole, the one recurring theme where Republicans performed worst was where Donald Trump played a major role in the primary.

Despite their remarkable results, Democrats should still proceed with an element of caution. As expected, they lost control of the House, albeit by a much smaller margin than many were anticipating. This will likely result in obstructions to Biden’s agenda as some are predicting that, instead of trying to build bipartisan coalitions, Speaker-elect McCarthy will focus on trying to secure the votes of the most extreme wing of his party. It appears that members such as Lauren Boebert and Marjorie Taylor Greene will refuse to compromise on any issue and if McCarthy is having to rely on members such as this to pass bills, major gridlock could be ahead as they are unlikely to support anything which Biden supports.

The Republicans performed well below par for a party out of power during the midterms. Trump and the candidates he endorsed were to blame for this. In several key states, Trump-backed candidates who expressed scepticism with regards to the result of the 2020 election lost. Whilst Trump should never be written off (in 2015 it was seen as improbable that he would win the Presidency), this should be the nail in his coffin. The candidates who copied his campaigning style of division and denying election results performed weakly. The question is whether Republicans recognise that the divisiveness of Trump is costing them elections.

Image: Flickr/ Gage Skidmore



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