The fact that the GOP was unable to capitalize on a wildly unpopular president with a jobs approval rating hovering between 30 and 40 speaks volumes about the party, its leadership, and its messages.
Going into the midterm polls, Republicans (GOP, the Grand Old Party) expected a “red wave,” a kind of tsunami, to sweep across the American landscape. It did not materialize. The GOP, however, is still likely to claw back a majority in the House, albeit by a slimmer margin than many party and media officials had predicted. The GOP still has a path to a majority in the Senate, although it seems less certain now.
Multiple surveys had revealed that Americans remained extremely unhappy with Mr. Biden and the direction in which he was leading the country, particularly economically. People were also weary of the country’s involvement in a proxy war in Ukraine. The US Supreme Court’s abortion-related Dobbs decision also weighed heavily on pro-reproductive rights voters. And when the country needed a chief healer after four years of Trump’s presidency and a deadly election in 2020, Mr. Biden proved to be an even more divisive figure than Trump. The “pandemic of the unvaccinated”, calls for “MAGA terrorists”, mandates for vaccines and masks, etc. of Mr. Biden have carved a wedge in American society.
The fact that the GOP was unable to capitalize on a wildly unpopular president with a jobs approval rating hovering between 30 and 40 speaks volumes about the party, its leadership, and its messages. Americans were also concerned about the economy, rising crime, gas and energy prices, the potential for nuclear war, an open border, a declining American cloud internationally under President Joe Biden, etc But essentially they chose to ignore them in the medium term. .
“This is not the outcome the GOP wanted or expected,” said Anang Mitta, a Washington, DC-based political commentator and strategist. “Clearly, young people and independents were unwilling to reprimand Democrats on key economic issues. Dobbs and anti-MAGA sentiments hurt the GOP and won in important races.
For Mr. Biden and the Democrats, these results are not the “blows” nor the “bombing” that former Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama received midterms in 2006 and 2010, respectively. Even a lighter loss would have humiliated a sitting president on any given day. However, with the hype created around the “wave” and “tsunami” talk, Mr Biden almost emerged unscathed. Interestingly, Democrats have spent millions promoting Republican MAGA candidates in the primaries in hopes of facing weaker opposition midterm.
The embarrassing and anemic pace of ballot tabulation in some hotly contested seats left many critical races undecided until the third day of counting. Some Democratic-led states have made Covid election measures a permanent feature. Multi-day voting, mail-in ballots, and same-day voter registration complicate tabulation. As of this writing, about three dozen seats in the House and two in the Senate have yet to be convened. A third Senate seat in Georgia is heading for a runoff in December.
The GOP’s disappointing performance over the medium term may indicate its inability to communicate a cohesive or compelling national message. “If the GOP can’t win in a horrible economy, far more horrible than 2020, bad poll numbers for Biden, then it needs some serious soul-searching,” Mittal said.
Introspection is indeed on the menu of the GOP. However, the overwhelming success of Republicans in states like Florida and Texas cannot be ignored. Two of the most important GOP governors of major US states – Ron DeSantis of Florida and Greg Abbott of Texas – won their re-election bid (Abbott, for his third term) and swept their states in a massive red sweep. Georgia Governor Brian Kemp, meanwhile, easily brushed off challenges from progressive Democrat Stacey Abrams. Ms. Abrams had previously lost her gubernatorial race to Mr. Kemp but refused to concede, accusing Kemp, then Georgia’s attorney general, of voter suppression.
Despite recurring talk of becoming a swing state, Texas has remained a strong GOP state. Even leftist media rock star Beto O’Rourke failed to take off against Mr Abbott. Mr O’Rourke had unsuccessfully tried to oust Senator Ted Cruz in 2018.
On the other hand, the US mainstream media has demonized Ron DeSantis for going against the Covid mitigation dogma of the elite laptop class – proponents of lockdowns and mask mandates and of vaccines. Mr. DeSantis’ stance against woke culture wars has made him a darling of conservatives. “Florida is probably a true red state now and not a swing state in the presidential race anymore,” said Ram Prasad, a Texas-based Native American political observer. “It’s a plus for the GOP,” Prasad added.
Florida and Texas have experienced large-scale population migration from the United States in recent years, increasing their political influence in the United States House. Texas, Florida and a few other Republican states gained representatives in the House of Representatives at the expense of Democratic-monopolized states such as California, New York and Illinois. The Golden State of California recorded a net population loss for the first time in its history and also lost a seat in Congress. Florida and Texas also saw the largest migration of wealth from the United States. Once again, New York, California and Illinois finished the top three spots among the losers.
In the safe Democratic state of New York, former President Donald Trump, backed by Lee Zeldin, has launched a fierce campaign in the gubernatorial race against incumbent Kathy Hochul. Even though Zeldin lost the race, he helped win a few GOP House seats and made several more competitive. Another Trump ally, Kari Lake was still in contention for the gubernatorial race in Arizona, where the election was marred by ballot box malfunctions and delays in ballot tabulation.
A contemplative GOP need look no further than these successful heads of state, especially Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. Many see a parallel to Narendra Modi in DeSantis, who transformed his state into a vibrant and successful Republican mogul state. The “Florida model” may be a model for the GOP to win supporters and elections nationwide.
Guns, abortion and evangelical white Christians shouldn’t be the only defining elements of the GOP. The Grand Old Party must broaden its base among people of all faiths and ethnicities and provide a clear alternative on issues of economy, culture, education, international relations, etc. People don’t vote for one party over another because they have similar ideologies and perspectives. You have to stand out with a positive agenda. Most believers feel uncomfortable with the progressive ideology of the Democrats. Mr. Trump has successfully expanded the GOP’s base among blacks, Latinos and American Indians. The GOP must continue this awareness.
America presents itself as a bitterly divided nation. Mr. Biden and his team still face the prospect of two tough years in government if Republicans seize the House of Representatives. The president’s agenda would likely be greatly reduced without GOP support, support that will be much harder to come by with a GOP-majority legislature.
Chicago-based columnist Avatans Kumar is the recipient of the 2121 Bay Area Journalism Award from the San Francisco Press Club.