The news that Democrats have maintained Senate control is an immense disappointment. Also disappointing is that Republican House control, if it is even in the cards, will be extremely tenuous. At best, Republicans will serve as a placeholder, preventing Democrats from getting everything they want by blocking their legislation. That is a far cry from promoting a positive and forward-looking conservative agenda.
But you can’t help but look back at election 2022 and see what could have been. Because in states with strong leaders and good candidates at the top of the ticket, Republicans did quite well.
I wrote earlier about how Florida is obviously Exhibit A for this. And New York could be thought of as Exhibit B. For although Rep. Lee Zeldin (R) lost his race for governor there, he lost by such an unusually small margin that he probably pulled three or four Republican U.S. House candidates over the finish line. Thanks to Zeldin (and a crazy redistricting process with a long backstory), Republicans will likely hold 11 House seats from New York during the coming Congress. To put it bluntly, DeSantis and Zeldin together are probably responsible for the new Republican House.
But there’s another bright spot: just look to Iowa, where Republicans ran the table last Tuesday.
Their sitting governor, Kim Reynolds, won re-election by a 19-point margin — a striking improvement over her narrow victory in 2018. Her win surely played some role in Republican Zach Nunn’s razor-thin victory over incumbent Rep. Cindy Axne (D) in the state’s third congressional district. He won by less than a percentage point.
Reynolds’s big win surely also helped the popular and long-lived Sen. Chuck Grassley (R) win by 12 points.
The best news of the election out of Iowa was probably that Republicans at long last threw out their 40-year Democratic incumbent Attorney General, Tom Miller. This was long overdue. For the first time since January 1979, Iowa will have a Republican attorney general. That’s kind of a big deal. They almost seized control of all statewide offices for the first time since 1968. (Results in the state auditor’s race are still outstanding, and the Democratic incumbent narrowly leads.)
Meanwhile, Republicans expanded their majorities in both houses of the state legislature. In the state Senate, they officially reached supermajority status by expanding from 31 to 34 seats. This means the Democrats can no longer block any of Gov. Reynolds’s nominees, who require two-thirds Senate approval. And Republicans in the state House can now boast of representing parts of all 99 counties, as House Speaker Pat Grassley put it.
Note that, in the absence of any open-seat races, Iowa went through the 2022 election cycle without any interference from Donald Trump. That is one thing Iowa had in common with New York and Florida — and it might have been an important key to the state party’s success this year.
The lesson in all of this is not necessarily that Donald Trump caused all of Republicans’ problems on Election Day — that would be unfair and simplistic.
But in at least a few key states where his interference was light or absent — states like New York, Florida, and Iowa, and perhaps also Ohio (where he only intervened to endorse J.D. Vance over a dubious Republican candidate) — it’s hard not to notice that Republicans performed up to or above expectations. In states where Trump was heavily involved, such as Pennsylvania — where he endorsed an idiot for governor and an underperforming daytime television celebrity for Senate — Republicans got clobbered. Note that Republicans didn’t even win the House seats they were supposed to win in Pennsylvania. They even appear to have lost control of the state legislature.
Now consider this: a week before election day, Trump was in Pennsylvania, ripping on Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), even though he was facing re-election. So do you see a pattern here?
All in all, strong top-of-the-ticket Republican leaders like Florida’s Ron DeSantis, New York’s Lee Zeldin, and Iowa’s Kim Reynolds helped lead their state parties to big victories. Republicans in states where the party relied on Trump’s celebrity…well, they don’t seem to have done so well.