PITTSBURGH — Since 2006, I have covered four midterm elections in which majorities changed hands in the House or Senate. In 2006, Republicans paid the price for George W. Bush’s wars and his response to Hurricane Katrina. In 2010, Democrats lost in response to the massive overreach of healthcare and climate change legislation they passed. In 2014, Democrats lost nine Senate seats because they still never corrected their overreach problem. In 2018, Republicans lost primarily because of then-President Donald Trump’s comportment.
Each time it happens, I have written that voters sent the party in power a message by voting against them. That message usually wasn’t that they liked the other party more but simply that they were upset at the ruling party and wanted a change.
Each time, it also seemed that the winning party took only a few days to miss the whole point. They would typically start believing their own hype and misreading the meaning of their mandate. They often came to believe that they won because people really liked them, an attitude for which they would later pay a price.
In the 2022 election, the voters spared Democrats the usual shellacking, taking away the House by just a bit. They even left Democrats in power in the Senate. So you’d think Democrats would be both grateful and humble about it.
Except already, that isn’t the case. President Joe Biden told reporters the following day he’d do “nothing” differently after the election because he’s “confident these policies are working.” He added, “I’m not gonna change.”
Never mind that nearly every race was very close. Never mind that overall, more Republican voters turned out than Democratic voters. Never mind that seven out of 10 voters sharing the top overall concern, rising prices, opted for Republicans.
But two things stopped the expected Republican red wave. First, abortion was much more a significant factor in the election than either party expected, with 61% of voters saying they were unhappy with the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade; 70% of those voters backed a Democratic candidate.
The other problem was Donald Trump. He is a polarizing figure, you might have noticed. He also worked to suck up all of the oxygen days ahead of the election, talking about himself and his personal grievances at every opportunity. This was a wildly different approach from 2016, when it was all about the voter. It is hard to say just how many voters were turned off from Republican candidates by Trump’s daily grievance-mongering. Here in Pennsylvania, voters looked at the candidates he had backed, saw that Trump could continue manipulating them for the next two years if they won, and said no thank you.
For many in the party, the leadership vacuum that Trump left behind when he left office has been filled by competent Republican governors such as Georgia’s Brian Kemp, Florida’s Ron DeSantis, and New Hampshire’s Chris Sununu.
To date, the two people who have not gotten the memo from voters are the former president and the current president. Biden’s decision to do nothing differently going forward is assuredly not what voters wanted; the same can be said of Trump’s evident intention to make the next two years all about him.
In other words, one consequence of 2022 is that neither Trump nor Biden should be considered a sure thing for their party’s nomination in 2024. We will see who is listening.