No one saw these election results coming. On Tuesday morning almost every observer (myself included) was asking how good the night would be for Republicans. Would we see a wave, surge, or ripple? Even with votes still coming in (the GOP looks likely to win the House by a small margin but not the Senate), it’s clear that voters had a different narrative in mind.
The challenge now is to recognize what we weren’t looking for. Instead of seeing a red wave, we saw a red, white and blue wave. Election results showed voters asserting their independence, rewarding competence, and rebuking the faux-outsider, extreme establishments on both sides. It wasn’t a great night for Republicans, but it may turn out to be a great night for the republic.
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On the right, the day started with former one-term President Trump trying to dictate who Senate Republicans should elect as Majority Leader. It ended with many of Trump’s hand-picked candidates losing. Trump’s pick in a key Pennsylvania Senate race, celebrity doctor and New Jersey transplant Mehmet Oz, who Trump elevated in the Republican primary over business CEO and Bush administration official, Dave McCormick, lost to John Fetterman. Voters decided to trust Fetterman, who was visibly struggling with the effects of a stroke during the campaign, over Trumpism.
Trump’s pick for governor in Pennsylvania, Doug Mastriano, also lost as did his pick for Senate in New Hampshire, Don Bolduc. In Arizona, Trump’s Senate pick, Blake Masters, is trailing as is Hershel Walker in Georgia. Trump’s Senate pick in Ohio, J.D. Vance, did win after being rescued with a cash infusion from Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell who was vindicated for sounding the alarm about “candidate quality” months ago.
The big winners on the right were normal, credible, and conservative candidates like Governors Chris Sununu in New Hampshire, Mike DeWine in Ohio, Brian Kemp in Georgia and especially Ron DeSantis in Florida. DeSantis emerged as a potential future standard bearer for the party after cruising to a nearly 20-point victory and winning big in traditionally blue counties. DeSantis’ leadership is a model for future conservative success. He was rewarded by his constituents for delivering real results, taking on the woke left and effectively leading his state through COVID and Hurricane Ian. If Trump is smart, he’ll make his “very big announcement” scheduled for November 15 a fundraiser for DeSantis.
On the right, voters made it clear they were growing tired of chaos. In Arizona, Trump booster Kari Lake trails in her race for Governor. Even if she wins, she’ll enter a different political world from the one that existed on Monday. In Colorado, a stunning upset could be brewing where incumbent and Trump acolyte Lauren Boebert trails challenger Adam Frisch who campaigned against “angertainment” in politics.
On the left, Democrats are certainly celebrating the shift in expectations. There will be no red wave, but a GOP House will be able to thwart the extreme big spending left. Voters also signaled their fatigue with progressive puritanism and those on the left former President Barack Obama calls “buzzkills” who make people feel like they are “walking on eggshells.” Progressive darlings Beto O’Rourke and Stacey Abrams lost their gubernatorial races in Texas and Georgia respectively. If Democrats want to be more competitive, they might want to find new candidates with whom to be enamored.
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The election results showed that many winning Democrats of course ran excellent campaigns, but they were also the beneficiaries of a generous portion of dumb luck in the form of subpar opposition. Democrats, therefore, should listen to the pre-election admonishment from the respected center-left think Third Way that said, “If Democrats manage to hold on to the House and Senate, it will be in spite of the party brand, not because of it … Despite a roster of GOP candidates who are extreme by any standard, voters see Democrats as just as extreme, as well as far less concerned about the issues that most worry them.”
In Tuesday’s election results, voters seemed to reject the ideological extremism of the left and the stylistic extremism of the right. If Republicans manage to take the House, they would be wise to emulate the principled and policy-orientated tough-mindedness of DeSantis over the performative whininess of Mastriano who lost by a wider margin than Oz but has yet to concede.
The GOP can start by picking a principled fight with Biden over energy prices and inflation. Exit polls showed that 73 percent of voters viewed climate change as either a somewhat serious or very serious problem. Of the 25 percent who said, “somewhat serious,” 69 percent were Republicans. A GOP House can remind the woke left that policies based on economic freedom are best for people and the planet. The Democrats’ profane four-word energy policy of “Drill there, not here,” by contrast, is terrible for people and the planet unless you’re a dictator or war criminal.
If Republicans force Biden to explain why we need to ask Venezuela and OPEC to produce more to satisfy climate activists who want America to produce less, the House GOP will do for America what DeSantis did for Florida. Voters made it clear that if the GOP decides to be normal and get to work it can enjoy any success it earns.
The views and opinions expressed are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of C3.