The Red Wave That Wasn't

Matthew Hoy
By Matthew Hoy on November 9, 2022

In a midterm election where inflation over the past year has topped 8 percent, gasoline prices top $5/gallon in California and are nearly $4/gallon in most other states, well over half of those polled say the country is on the wrong track, and Joe Biden's job approval at just 42 percent, the Republican Party fell flat on its face.

For weeks the debate in the punditocracy—both the left and the right—was whether voters would deliver a red wave or a red tsunami. When asked by pollsters "If you were to cast your vote for Congress today, would you vote for a Republican or Democrat?" Americans picked the GOP by a 2.5% margin. Historically, Republican have always overperformed this metric. In 2020, Democrats held a 6.8% edge, but this translated into just a five seat margin in the House and a tie in the Senate.

With those winds at their backs, it looked like yesterday's election would be a massacre for the Democratic Party. Some believed that the GOP might pick up four senate seats, setting the table for a filibuster-proof 60 seat majority come 2024. In the House, they could pick up 30 or 40 seats, making Democrats pay for some of their gerrymandering in states like Nevada where they spread their voters thin enough to make them safe in most elections, but vulnerable in a wave election.

The Day After

Today is the day after, and what do we have?

In Pennsylvania, Trump-backed TV snake oil salesman Dr. Mehmet Oz lost to stroke victim John Fetterman for a Senate seat being vacated by Republican Pat Toomey. The Fetterman campaign's decision to only do one debate, and do it after several weeks of early voting had already occurred, likely helped put him over the top. Many voted for him without knowing the full extent of his mental degradation due to the stroke.

The Federalist's Sean Davis last night on Twitter, sent this out:

I'm sorry, but this doesn't make the point he thinks it does. If a clearly brain-damaged candidate like Fetterman can win in a purple state, then that doesn't mean that candidate quality doesn't matter. It means that Dr. Oz was an absolutely horrible candidate.

Republicans may pick up the Nevada Senate seat with Adam Laxalt. It looks like a slightly bigger stretch today for Blake Masters to unseat Mark Kelly in Arizona. After being a tight race all night, media organizations are now stating that Georgia's Senate race between Raphael Warnock and Herschel Walker will go to a runoff, with neither garnering 50%+1 votes.

The most likely scenario in the Senate is the same as it was going in: a tie with Vice President Kamala Harris giving nominal control over the chamber to the Democrats, but it could also end up 53-47 Democrats. (I don't think the GOP running the table on the three remaining contests is within the realm of the possible.)

Over on the House side, there are still a large number of seats in question, but the GOP should take control of the chamber. They needed only five seats, and they did manage to unseat Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Rep. Sean Maloney which is a bit of a coup. But Republicans are not going to have the kind of margin in the House that the polling indicated was likely to happen.

Polling is broken

With the demise of landlines and the rise of cell phones and caller id, polling has gotten to the point where it is seldom an accurate indicator of the feelings of the electorate. In recent years, the consistent undercounting of GOP voters has caused many of them to stop participating altogether, resulting in a continually worsening end product.

Looking at the polling from this election cycle, it appears that in an effort to combat this trend, some pollsters attempted to weight their way to something more accurate.

It didn't work. And really, it's not all their fault. It's one thing to recognize that Republicans aren't keen on responding to your questions. It's something else to listen to Independents and even Democrats say they're unhappy with the economy and the way the nation is trending and then vote for more of the same because Trump is just so damn toxic.

What the heck just happened?

With numbers like the ones we had going into yesterday's election, there should've been a red wave. Instead, we may have gotten the smallest of surges, like the water displaced when a single pebble is dropped in Lake Superior.

Charles C. W. Cooke is right when he puts the blame for this squarely at the feet of former President Donald Trump.

Trump is the Republican establishment now. He’s the default, the Man, the swamp. It is Trump who is widely considered the front-runner for the party’s nomination in 2024. It is Trump whose endorsements are treated as if they were official edicts. It is Trump to whom the press and the public tend to link all GOP nominees. And, judging by the squeals that emanated from his allies yesterday, Trump’s machine intends to do everything it can to keep it that way, and to thus ensure that he wins the next primary election and loses the next presidential election.

Many of the losing candidates in those races where a red wave should have easily put the Republican over the top were conspiracy theory mongering nutjobs or sycophantic Trumpites. Trump boosted these often-fringe candidates in the primary (along with cynical Democrats), then abandoned them in the general, failing to cut checks for a potential GOP majority and preferring to save that campaign cash for his own 2024 run.

A "generic Republican" never runs against a "generic Democrat," but this sort of formulation in polling would seem to capture trends when the actual party candidate is within what one would call a "range of normalcy." Unfortunately, candidates who hitch themselves to Trump are no longer perceived to be in that range. We should hope that yesterday was the end of Trump. Yesterday's results make it clear that Trump isn't a winner, he's a loser.

Where the red wave showed up

There was one state in the union where there was a red wave, and it's one that's very familiar with storm surges: Florida. The first results last night coming in from Miami-Dade County consisting of mail-in and early votes showed Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis in the lead in that traditionally Democratic stronghold. DeSantis finished with a nearly 20 point margin over Charlie Crist. GOP Sen. Marco Rubio won reelection by a 16-point margin over Democratic Rep. Val Demings.

On the House side, Republicans took 20 of the 28 available seats, a net gain of four seats.

What happened in Florida was what Republicans were hoping was going to happen everywhere. Instead, the red wave was confined to the Sunshine State.

It should be obvious the lesson that Republicans should take from this: Dump Trump. The guy is a self-centered, narcissistic, egomaniac. In the 2024 presidential race, DeSantis will be a formidable force and, should Democrats foolishly renominate President Joe Biden, will likely win in a landslide.



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November 2022



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