Republicans will be down two governorships next year for the most obvious reason: Govs. Charlie Baker (R-MA) and Larry Hogan (R-MD) were replaced by candidates aligned with former President Donald Trump who could not win their deep blue states.
Baker, who declined to run for a third term, and Hogan, who was term-limited out of office, were two of the most popular governors in the country. Geoff Diehl and Dan Cox were the two least plausible Trump-backed candidates for their states from the beginning.
Yet Baker and Hogan, whatever their merits as competent governors of heavily Democratic states, are no more a model for the national Republican Party than Diehl and Cox.
Unless the next election is contested under highly unusual circumstances, such as a deep recession, it would be difficult for either governor to translate their success nationally. If they sought federal office, conservatives would not turn out, and much of their Democratic crossover vote would disappear.
Former Gov. William Weld (R-MA) was reelected in 1994 with 71% of the vote. Two years later, he won just 44% when challenging then-Sen. John Kerry (D-MA). Weld’s asterisk candidacy for the 2020 Republican presidential nomination came well past his prime but would have gone only marginally better in 1996 or 2000.
When the party looked more like Baker and Hogan, Republicans held more House seats in places like Maryland, Massachusetts, and Connecticut but won far fewer elections overall. Places where the Rockefeller wing of the GOP was strongest were dominated by Democrats even back then.
Silvio Conte was a Massachusetts Republican congressman for 32 years, not a single one of them in the majority. Republicans have controlled the House for 17 of the 25 years since the last time the GOP held any seats in the Bay State delegation.
Mitt Romney had to move from Massachusetts to Utah to be Mitt Romney truly.
Republicans underperformed in November because many of their candidates alienated too many swing voters in the general election. The GOP narrowly lost the independent vote nationally and saw a number of their losing statewide candidates fail to carry voters who said they somewhat disapproved of President Joe Biden’s performance in office — many of them ticket-splitters who backed other Republicans who won.
There will be a temptation in some circles to overcorrect, however. Baker and Hogan are extreme examples, though the latter is contemplating a run for the 2024 GOP presidential nomination. But they illustrate the point that there is more than one way for Republicans to win or lose elections.
A dozen years ago, Republicans threw away a good chance to win the Senate — that year, they did add 63 House seats — on candidates such as Christine O’Donnell. Her primary opponent, then-Rep. Mike Castle, was a better fit for the Delaware electorate. But he would have been a disastrous model for the national GOP.
Superior Tea Party candidates ranging from Rand Paul to Marco Rubio are now entering their third terms as senators. Rubio’s 2010 primary opponent, Charlie Crist, just lost a gubernatorial bid as a Democrat.
Republicans do need the working-class voters Trump attracted to the party. Winning will require retaining those voters, as well as winning back those he repelled. They will struggle just as much if they respond to the midterm elections by working with liberal Democrats to ram through an immigration amnesty the conservative base rejects as if they double down on conspiracy theories.
Herschel Walker was the only statewide Republican candidate in Georgia to lose this cycle. The GOP winners managed to turn out the conservatives galvanized by his candidacy while keeping some of the suburbanites who are put off by Trump and Trumpian candidates.
Kari Lake in Arizona had the ability to connect emotionally with voters whom Republicans have been lacking since President Ronald Reagan. But she went too far in embracing her party’s Trump-era excesses and lost, however narrowly, to a deeply flawed Democratic candidate.
Republicans often object to a large and intrusive federal government on the grounds that one-size-fits-all national solutions seldom suit the variety of needs one encounters in a big, diverse country.
The same logic ought to apply to the party’s efforts to recover from this year’s disappointments and setbacks.