Good Friday Morning! The number one question that filled my texts and DMs on election night: “What happened?” or “What do you think about this?” Here’s one of my text answers: “It’s a disaster.” And so it was unless you were in Florida or New York. But I’ll note no one expected this outcome.
Here’s how I know, last week, I shared pieces in the New York Times and Washington Post that suggested Biden couldn’t do the job and needed to get replaced. On election day, Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-SC) told CBS News and Fox News that he didn’t immediately support a 2024 Biden bid. That raised massive red flags because President Biden only exists because Clyburn endorsed Biden before the South Carolina primaries, driving Black voters into Biden’s column and ending the primaries.
Any plans to push Biden out of office got on ice for now. These midterm results breathed new life into Biden and the Democrats. We will maintain a form of the status quo we had before the elections. Democrats are stuck with all the baggage of Biden for the foreseeable future. On the flip side, Republicans face new issues with Donald Trump. I’ll get into that below; this is a longer issue because there’s just too much data to summarize–links to follow.
Where you can find me this week
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[11/07/2022] Republicans poised for a big Red Wave election – Conservative Institute
[11/11/2022] Ron DeSantis is the answer after the Red Ripple midterm – Conservative Institute
From Red Wave to Red Ripple (unless you’re in FL/NY).
The 2022 midterms will go down as one of the stranger elections in recent memory. The results are just weird. There was no red wave and no blue wave; the election fundamentals I relied on to make projections were followed and not followed.
Dave Wasserman of the Cook Political Report tweeted the morning after, “Well, that was the craziest Election Night I’ve ever seen.” Among election prognosticators, you’d find similar sentiments everywhere. And I was off in my projection of 54 Senate and 30+ House seats for Republicans.
As of Thursday evening, I can’t tell you whether Republicans will have a majority in the House or Senate. The Senate is currently split at 49 Republicans and 48 Democrats. Control of the Senate comes down to what happens in Arizona, Nevada, and the Georiga run-offs. Nevada is the Republican’s best hope of those races, and I’m not confident in the other two.
In Arizona, Blake Masters is severely underperforming other Republicans in the race. He was a poor candidate before, and his best hope was riding the coattails of other, more popular Republicans. That’s not happening. In Georgia, Herschel Walker underperformed Brian Kemp by around 4 – 4.5 points all night. I’m not confident he’ll be able to cobble together a 50% majority for the run-off without Kemp pulling him up and Stacey Abrams dragging Warnock down.
That leaves Nevada, where Republican Adam Laxalt has a slim lead but is waiting for mail-in ballots to get counted. He’s in a tight race, but it’s not impossible for him to pull this out. Because Nevada won’t count some of these ballots until Friday, we won’t have results for some time.
On the House side, there are approximately 40 uncalled races at the time I’m writing. Republicans have 204 seats, and Democrats have 191. You need 218 seats for a majority, so Republicans have the inside track because they require fewer seats, but any majority by either party will be slim. Republicans need to win 14 of the remaining 40 for a majority, and Democrats need 27. Given that reality, it will make the Speaker of the House race fascinating (see links section for more).
I’m going to walk through where there were waves in this election, what things went wrong, cover some other thoughts I’ve had, and close with a view of where things head next.
The DeSantis Red Tsunami in Florida.
When categorizing elections, we often talk of waves, and big elections are tsunamis. What Governor Ron DeSantis did in Florida is above a tsunami. DeSantis and Florida Republicans so thoroughly destroyed Florida Democrats in every race, county, and city of Florida that the only thing left for Team Donkey is a smoldering crater. I couldn’t even begin to tell you how Florida Democrats can recover from the shellacking they just took.
For most of my life, Florida has been a battleground swing state. From 2016-2020, Republicans won narrow, hard-fought races in Florida. In 2018, in a Democratic wave election, DeSantis eked out a narrow victory over Democrat Andrew Gillum. The margin was 4,076,186 votes for DeSantis and 4,043,723 votes for Gillum — less than half a percentage point separated the two of them.
On Tuesday, DeSantis won a massive landslide. He’s going to finish with nearly a 20-point victory over Charlie Crist. I’m looking at the Florida map now, and only four counties are blue; DeSantis won everything else. DeSantis won Miami-Dade county by double-digits. This is a county that Hilary Clinton carried by 30 points in 2016. DeSantis won other Democratic strong-holds like Palm Beach county too.
It’s like a Republican walking into California and winning Los Angeles decisively. DeSantis dominated. He won every critical demographic, has a near 60% approval rating, and is now the de facto head of the national Republican Party. The WSJ concluded: “But there’s little doubt that his Florida success will grab the attention of voters outside the Sunshine State. You can bet Donald J. Trump was watching—unhappily.”
We’ll return to that last sentence.
The New York red wave.
The other place there was a distinct wave was New York. After the 2020 election, I wrote that I’d be watching New York with high interest in the coming elections. New York has started exhibiting some of the same signs as the rust belt, which has turned red over the last decade. Lee Zeldin lost his governorship race, but he was a great top-of-the-ticket candidate that raised the water for other Republican candidates.
If Republicans take the House majority or are close, New York and Florida will be why. The GOP picked up four new seats in Florida and another four in NY. The NYPost wrote the following:
The GOP candidates flipped a net of four House seats in New York, including the one held by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee chairman, Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney — as the party closed in on its largest share of the state’s congressional delegation in two decades.
“New York is the state that provided the Republicans the House gavel,” Suffolk County Republican Party Chairman Jesse Garcia told The Post on Wednesday.
With one race still yet to be called Wednesday, the Republicans’ strong showing in the suburbs helped the party win at least 10 of the 26 seats the Empire State will have in Congress next year — up from the seven they have in what’s now a 27-seat delegation.
In a major upset, Maloney — one of the most powerful Democrats in Congress who had led his party’s bid to retain control of the House — was beaten by Republican Mike Lawler.
New York is a deeply blue state. Expecting a gubernatorial victory was a lot to ask of Lee Zeldin. But he made significant inroads across the state and helped Republicans gain a foothold in New York. Democrats are trying to flip Texas red these days, but I’d keep an eye on New York in the next decade. This shift could be a flash in the pan, but it could also be a sign of a realignment happening in the Empire state.
The disaster everywhere else.
If Florida and New York were the bright spots, it was a disaster everywhere else. Republicans had few wins and lost some ground. States that showed some shakiness in polling, New Hampshire, Colorado, Oregon, and Washington, were never seriously in doubt.
That’s not to say there was a blue wave. There wasn’t. But there wasn’t a red wave either. Describing this election outside the states of Florida and New York is difficult, so I’ll give you some illustrations.
In Virginia, the three House seats that were bellwethers for the rest of the country were VA-02, 07, and 10. I used to live in VA-02 and was happy to see the GOP flip it. In 2020, Democrats won VA-02 by 5.8 points, a decisive victory. In 2022, Republicans won it by 4.1 points — a flip of 9.9 points. You see a ten-point move away from Democrats/Biden in two years.
In 2020 for VA-07, Democrats won by 1.8 points. In 2022, they expanded that margin to four points. In 2020 for VA-10, Democrats won by 13.1 points, and Biden won by 19.3 points. Yet, in 2022, VA-10 was won by 5.8 points by Democrats. That’s a 7.3-point difference on the House side and a 13.5-point shift on the Presidential side.
If you were going to tell me that Republicans were shifting 19-point Biden districts to five points or less, I’d have said Republicans romped everywhere. I would have never guessed Republicans were only flipping only one of the three toss-up Virginia House seats. Nor would I have imagined that each of those races would have looked so different.
Shift over to Ohio, and you’ll find more results that make no sense from a wave analysis. At the governor, secretary of state, and House seat levels, Republicans won their prospective races by 60% or more. Then you have JD Vance in the Senate race, and he wins with 53% of the vote. JD Vance underperformed Ohio Governor Mike DeWine.
I could pinpoint other instances of this happening in places like Pennsylvania, Georgia, Arizona, and more. Democrats and Republicans found different ways to under and over-perform. There are few clean observations, which makes it fascinating to analyze.
What should have been a wave year never materialized outside Florida and New York.
Exit polling shows similar oddities.
In analyzing their exit polls, NBC News pointed to one critical area: “[Democrats] narrowly won what turned out to be the true swing voters in this election — those who “somewhat” disapproved of Biden.” Here’s what the data showed:
They made up 10% of all voters, and they broke for Democratic candidates over Republicans by 4 points nationally, 49%-45%.
And check out how these “somewhat disapprovers of Biden” split their tickets in the key contests.
In Georgia, they backed Republican Brian Kemp over Democrat Stacey Abrams in the gubernatorial race by 16 points, 57%-41%.
But in Georgia’s Senate race, they preferred Raphael Warnock over Herschel Walker, 50%-44%. That’s a 22-point swing.
In New Hampshire, GOP Gov. Chris Sununu easily won these voters (59%-39%), but so did Democrat Sen. Maggie Hassan (72%-25%).
In Nevada, GOP gubernatorial nominee Joe Lombardo carried them (52%-40%), but so did Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (47%-44%).
And in Wisconsin, GOP Sen. Ron Johnson won them (51%-48%), as did Democratic Gov. Tony Evers (56%-41%).
GOP strategist David Kanevsky makes an important observation here: These “somewhat disapprovers” broke decisively against candidates made in Donald Trump’s image, but backed non-Trump/less-Trumpy Republicans.
In other words, we had the miraculous return of split-ticket voters. In the post-Cold War era, split-ticket voting has increasingly become a relic of a bygone era. When I analyze a predicted wave election, the two main assumptions I’ve been able to make for 15 years are 1) Support for third-party candidates will evaporate and never meet polling numbers, and 2) that people will vote straight-ticket when entering the voting booth.
It’s not that split-ticket voters don’t exist. As polarization has increased, people take support for one candidate as support for the entire party. And every election has seen fewer split-ticket voters until this one. Will this phenomenon continue, or is this a one-off?
It’s hard to say. Split-ticket voting bucks every trend from the last 20+ years of conventional wisdom that I’m trying to figure out where to place it. Aside from that uncertainty, the tickets split over one thing: Trump-aligned candidates. Candidate quality mattered tremendously this cycle (more on that in a moment).
One last exit polling note: the divide between men and women and married vs. unmarried voters is stark. Conn Carroll found this nugget in the exit polls.
Republicans won the following groups:
- Married Men: 59% to 39% (+20)
- Married Women: 56% to 42% (+14)
- Unmarried Men: 52% to 45% (+7)
However, Democrats won one group overwhelmingly:
- Unmarried Women: 68% to 31% (+37)
It’s not just that Democrats won unmarried women by 37 points that’s shocking. The other stunning part is that there’s a 51-point delta between a married and unmarried woman’s voting habits. There’s only a 13-point difference between married and unmarried men.
Conn Carroll’s piece focuses on the destruction of the American family as the main culprit here, which seems right to me. But if you want to lob a grenade in any political conversation with friends, toss that statistic in and watch the fireworks. I’ve got no answers here, but the number stands out.
Candidate quality mattered, A LOT.
Nate Silver noted this: poor Democratic and Republican candidates underperformed across the board. No partisanship or wave supported any of them.
[E]ven in states where there weren’t split-ticket winners, there were still big gaps in candidate performance. Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, a Republican, won reelection by nearly 26 percentage points at the same time the GOP Senate candidate, J.D. Vance, won by just 6 points. In Pennsylvania, Democrat John Fetterman did well enough in the U.S. Senate race against Republican Mehmet Oz, but Democrat Josh Shapiro nonetheless won by a much larger margin against Republican Doug Mastriano in the gubernatorial contest.
Who were the worst performers in this group? Trump-aligned Republicans, especially those that Democrats targeted to support in the primaries. If you recall, during the primaries, Democrats poured $44 million into supporting “election-deniers” or Republicans they’d define as “Ultra-MAGA” over the summer.
Every Republican that Democrats poured money into lost in the midterms. Every. Single. One.
When I started seeing that strategy, I said at the time that it clearly undermined the talking point that Democrats believed there was a threat to democracy. That’s still true. That’s a narrative that not a single Democrat in leadership accepts. But what Democrats do believe is that this is a viable strategy, and they’ll do it again in 2024.
The two big races where that mattered more: Pennsylvania and New Hampshire.
Democrats will pour even more money into securing poor candidates for Republicans. It will be incumbent on the GOP to find a way to defeat this effort in 2024 and beyond. It wouldn’t shock me if Republicans returned the favor, trying to elevate weaker Democratic candidates like Stacey Abrams or Katie Hobbs. If this tit-for-tat becomes commonplace, it will become harder to find quality candidates.
Trump vs. DeSantis over 2024 and the future of the Republican Party.
Everyone is turning on Trump because they (correctly) blame him for the 2022 results. John Podhoretz in the NYPost had this to say:
Hey, Lyin’ Ted and Sleepy Joe: Meet Toxic Trump. You know, if the former president had any self-knowledge or even the slightest ability to be self-deprecating, he might consider giving himself this alliterative nickname.
After three straight national tallies in which either he or his party or both were hammered by the national electorate, it’s time for even his stans to accept the truth: Toxic Trump is the political equivalent of a can of Raid.
What Tuesday night’s results suggest is that Trump is perhaps the most profound vote repellent in modern American history.
The surest way to lose in these midterms was to be a politician endorsed by Trump.
This is not hyperbole.
Except for deep-red states where a Republican corpse would have beaten a Democrat, voters choosing in actually competitive races — who everyone expected would behave like midterm voters usually do and lean toward the out party — took one look at Trump’s handpicked acolytes and gagged.
I have no disagreements. That’s where we are. Trump is more toxic now than George W. Bush was from 2006 – 2016 or Nixon post-resignation. History may calm some of the Trump passions. Still, his impact on the races is making elections where Republicans should be waltzing to victory a dead heat or worse.
Before Ron DeSantis romped to a massive victory in Florida, Trump attacked him in the days leading up to the election. And then, while I was writing this newsletter, Trump launched into a multi-page invective against DeSantis. Trump called DeSantis “average,” and went on and on about how bad DeSantis was at everything.
And as Kaylee McGee White noted in the Washington Examiner, Trump’s attacks are just flat false:
The most ridiculous part of Trump’s rebuke of DeSantis, though, is his attack on the governor’s COVID record. Trump claimed DeSantis “didn’t have to close up his state, but did, unlike other Republican governors” and suggested that the only reason Florida has experienced a massive influx of population over the past couple of years is because of “the advantage of sunshine, where people from badly run states up north would go no matter who the governor was.”
This has got to be the most idiotic angle imaginable. DeSantis’s COVID record is the reason he became a GOP star in the first place. His willingness to buck the establishment, question the narrative, and fight for the rights of Floridians made him a national leader, and it’s a big part of the reason he won so handily on Tuesday.
Trump could not help himself. At all. He’s now attacking the most popular elected governor in the United States. I thought Liam Donavan had it right, “Whole thing has the feel of a guy at the last barstool looking up at the tube, seeing the chyron about an old rival’s success, and ranting to nobody in particular about how he Used To Be Somebody.”
Here’s where I am on this: Until now, my 1A and 1B options for 2024 were Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR) and Gov. Ron DeSantis. Cotton announced he was not running in 2024 this week. That leaves me squarely on the Ron DeSantis 2024 train.
I hate losing elections. I especially hate losing elections that should have been a victory. John Podhoretz is correct. Trump has now cost Republicans winnable races in 2018, 2020, and now 2022. Between 2016 and 2024, Republicans had the electoral fundamentals to realize a Senate Super-Majority, control of the House, and more. The only good thing we have instead is Mitch McConnell steam-rolling judges through the Senate — and I’m eternally thankful for that.
But the judiciary is one of the branches of government, not the entire thing. Lawsuits won’t fix inflation, the disaster in school systems, and all the myriad of ways Democrats are wrecking the government. I expected Biden to be lousy, but I didn’t expect he’d achieve a generationally bad economy this soon after the Great Financial Crisis.
Trump cannot be the candidate in 2024. He’ll lose. This election makes it abundantly clear that Donald Trump would chase away all the voters necessary to give Republicans an edge. There’s exit polling showing that Democrats regained ground with white working-class voters. Trump’s hand-picked candidates lost that Trump’s bread and butter.
Would I vote for Trump again? Sure. But I’d do so knowing that we’d be losing races that would otherwise be victories absent Trump. The Republican Party is bigger than Trump, and there’s more at stake than his ego.
Ron DeSantis is the way forward. He needs to run in 2024, and I agree with the crowd chanting at his election night party: “Two more years!” No other potential Republican candidate matters. DeSantis cleared the field on election night.
Links of the week
Run, Ron, run! DeSantis leads a strong GOP bench for 2024 – NY Post Editorial Board
Here’s how Donald Trump sabotaged the Republican midterms – John Podhoretz, NYPost
Midterms Breathe New Life Into Biden – Philip Wegmann, RealClearPolitics
McConnell turns to Brian Kemp to help save Herschel Walker in Georgia runoff: The Georgia governor is loaning his get-out-the-vote machine to the McConnell-aligned super PAC, Senate Leadership Fund, ahead of the Dec. 6 vote. – Politico
Trump’s shadow loomed over Pennsylvania’s Republican bloodbath – Salena Zito, Washington Examiner
Republicans flip North Carolina Supreme Court – Washington Examiner
Arizona can be a laughing stock on vote counting or get serious like Florida – Jon Gabriel, AZ Central
Lee Zeldin didn’t win, but he made it close — and sent a message to Gov. Hochul – Nicole Gelinas, NYPost
Why the Red Wave Hit New York – Ross Barkan, The Atlantic
Thank you, Lee Zeldin, for starting to build a viable NY Republican future – NY Post Editorial Board
Rick Scott Was Prepared to Take On McConnell — Until Tuesday: The NRSC head thought a wave of victories for Trump-inspired candidates would give him enhanced stature, until most of those candidates crashed and burned. – Politico
GOP’s muted midterms jolt its House leadership rivalries: Several Republicans are projecting that Rep. Tom Emmer would struggle to win the whip’s race due to Tuesday’s disappointing returns. – Politico
Staff changes are coming to the White House. Will Klain be part of them? The chief of staff has charted a deeply consequential administration. The question is: How much longer will he continue going? – Politico
Can healthy families reverse the ‘closing of the American heart’? – Elise Italiano Ureneck, Angelus
Mike Pence: My Last Days With Donald Trump: I supported legitimate challenges to the 2020 vote counts. I also recognized that the Constitution didn’t give me authority to override the voters—and I followed my conscience on Jan. 6. – Mike Pence, WSJ
Twitter Thread(s) of the week
Satire of the week
Ireland Grants Political Asylum To Man Who Egged King Charles – Waterford Whispers News
Thanks for reading!