The Red Trickle: Why the Midterm Red Wave Never Came

Steven Makino, Staff Writer

The 2022 Midterm Elections were expected to be a night that would set historic records as the Republican Party sought to regain control of both chambers of Congress. Honestly, it had every reason leading up to election day to think that this would be achievable, with only the margin of its victories in the House and Senate up for debate. With a still high level of inflation, the likelihood of a recession next year growing, a border crisis that continues to build up and a president with a historically low approval rating of about 42%, the odds were certainly stacked against the Democratic Party. And indeed, the night did live up to its historic nature – but in quite the opposite way than the GOP had hoped for, to say the least. 

With the Senate guaranteed to remain blue with the narrow victory of incumbent Catherine Cortez Masto just declared this past weekend, it’s safe to say that the “red wave” that was projected did not materialize – it was more of a red trickle. Even this is up for debate right now, as despite the GOP still being favored to gain control of the House, the Democrats still have a fighting chance to hold the chamber, making for a truly historic performance for the party in power during the midterms. Control of the House, regardless of which party ends up gaining it, does not change the fact that Republicans greatly underperformed in a year which should not have been the case, especially given the many advantages they had on their side. I believe that their performance can be summed up in reasons, and it will offer key lessons for the Republican Party (and even the Democratic Party) moving forward. 

For one, these elections solidified the notion that candidate quality still matters. Just because someone has a D or R next to their name does not mean that they will be able to garner the votes needed for victory. It is true that in today’s ever-increasing polarized climate, more people than in the past will vote in the aforementioned manner. However, that just makes independent voters even more important. And this was shown given that a comprehensive survey from National Opinion Research Center (NORC) at the University of Chicago found that independent voters broke for Democrats over Republicans by four points nationally. This in spite of the fact that 75% of Americans believe that the economy is heading in the wrong direction and that President Joe Biden’s approval rating with independent voters was at 28%, according to an NBC News poll just two days before the election. 

From that data alone, the fact that independent voters leaned towards Biden’s party by four points shows a flaw in the quality of Republican candidates across the nation. Herschel Walker and Dr. Mehmet Oz are great examples of this, as Walker not only has had no prior political experience but was also engulfed in a bevy of scandals relating to his personal life, calling into question his character. The allegation of him giving money to his ex-girlfriend for an abortion, his own son bashing him on him not being there for his children or family and the numerous amounts of gaffes and bizarre statements on the campaign trail reflected in the polls as he received fewer votes than his opponent, Senator Rafael Warnock. Dr. Oz was perceived to be someone who wanted to run for Pennsylvania office while not truly being a Pennsylvanian. In addition, his unlikability rating remained above 50% throughout the duration of his campaign as many voters likely saw him to be untrustworthy as well as not being representative of the working people of the state. There are also many other candidates who failed to appeal to the center such as Blake Masters, who repeatedly evoked former President Donald Trump’s name despite him losing the state in 2020, and Doug Mastriano, who was at the capitol on Jan. 6 and who had close ties with QAnon members. 

Second, Trump’s influence was not as great in the general election as it was in the primary season, showing that his unique appeal to his supporters only stretches to him as opposed to rubbing off on other candidates. It is worth noting that in competitive races on the national stage, Trump’s hand-picked candidates underperformed overall. Despite having his full support as well as the support of his hardcore base, it was not enough to make it over the finish line, especially given the trend of independent voters in this cycle. Even incumbent members of Congress who are devout supporters of the former President, like Congresswoman Lauren Boebert, faced an unexpectedly nail-biting race that still has yet to be decided.

Also, part of Trump’s appeal to many voters was the main elements of his 2016 campaign. In 2016, he campaigned against the establishment Republican Party and spoke to concerns that very few politicians did in the past. His popularity was further cemented by the fact that he had been a well-known Democrat in the past and thus in the circle of many celebrities in Hollywood and prominent politicians on the Democratic aisle. Thus, when he announced his candidacy and many of his former friends and associates cut ties with him, his case of taking the bullet for members of the Republican Party and even independent voters had much more merit than it would coming from any politician. However, following the 2020 election, he instead asked for his supporters to take the bullet for him, ranging from his false claims of voter fraud deciding the 2020 election to attacks on members of his own party. Not many people want to go back to the chaotic nature of 2020, contrary to Trump’s belief, which likely led not only to less turnout but also heavy motivation on the other side of the aisle with Trump’s name essentially on the ballot, despite it being a midterm election. 

So, what does this mean? In short, the political center of the aisle won in these midterm elections. Republicans should choose better quality candidates in 2024 rather than ones who do not appeal to swing voters or moderates on the side. For example, in the state of Florida, there was a red tsunami with Florida gaining four House seats, Senator Marco Rubio beating his opponent by 16 percentage points and rising star Governor Ron DeSantis beating his opponent by 20 percentage points, an incredible feat. This is due to the fact that Florida has governed in a way that stays true to Republican ideals, while also appealing to independents and even moderate Democrats. This overperformance, as well as figures such as Governors Mike DeWine, Brian Kemp, Greg Abbot and more, show that President Biden’s success in the midterms is more so a referendum of poor GOP leadership rather than a greenlight for his agenda. And since Biden stated that he is not likely to change course given the favorable results for his party, Republicans have an opportunity to learn from their mistakes and take a page from Florida and the aforementioned governors who easily won reelection. It’s really a matter of if they will take these disappointing results to heart that will decide future electoral successes for the party.