I’ll be the first to admit that I expected Tuesday’s midterm election results to be much more favorable to Republicans. As of this writing, it looks like the GOP will win back the House but only by a very narrow margin. And the party’s chances of winning the Senate all but collapsed overnight, with Pennsylvania Democrat John Fetterman beating Republican Dr. Mehmet Oz and Georgia’s race between Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock and Republican Herschel Walker veering into runoff territory. If there is still a path for victory in the Senate for Republicans, it will be through Nevada and Georgia — neither of which is going to be easy to win if last night is any indication.
Republicans didn’t win nearly as many state-level positions as they had hoped either. In Michigan, Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer cruised to victory and brought with her a new Democratic majority in the state legislature. Wisconsin Democratic Gov. Tony Evers also won reelection, and New York Democratic Gov. Kathy Hochul easily trounced Republican Lee Zeldin. It appears Republicans might be able to win the governorships in Arizona and Nevada, but both races are going to be tight.
How did this happen? Heading into Election Day, most pollsters expected Republicans to waltz back into the majority with ease. The political environment all but guaranteed a gobsmacking for Democrats, with the vast majority of voters expressing disapproval with the way President Joe Biden’s party has handled things in Washington for months leading up to the election. But with the exception of Florida, the red wave was little more than a pink splash.
Here are a few takeaways based on where things stand now. First, the Republican Party has an enthusiasm problem. Voters may have been disillusioned and frustrated with Biden and the Democratic Party, but that didn’t translate to support for the Republican alternatives. That could be because some of the Republican candidates put forward by the party weren’t all that likeable to begin with. Oz and Pennsylvania Republican gubernatorial candidate Doug Mastriano, for example, were far from the most popular candidates during the primary cycle. But former President Donald Trump endorsed them anyway, and now the GOP is stuck cleaning up the mess.
So, candidate quality matters. But Republicans also have to have a solid policy agenda worth supporting. The reason Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and the GOP dominated in Florida on Tuesday is because voters know what he has to offer. He delivered for them during the pandemic and has continued to prove over the past two years that he is willing to put up a fight for the things they value. And they rewarded him with a massive 20-point victory, even in counties that had once been blue, like Miami-Dade.
National Republicans, on the other hand, never really made it clear to voters what they planned to do if given the majority. Though they had the edge on issues like inflation, few policy solutions, if any, were offered. Much of the talk on the campaign trail instead focused on blaming Biden for current state of things, which is fine — but you have to give voters something to vote for, not just someone to vote against.
Perhaps Republicans allowed their optimism to get the better of them and lead them to believe that a “red tsunami” really was possible in a political environment that is clearly still very divided. Or, maybe they took the enormous opportunity that had been given to them and spoiled it. We’ll be debating about what exactly happened and who’s to blame for the next several months, I’m sure. But one thing is clear: something needs to change before 2024 — and fast.