The 2022 Midterms: The Red Wave That Wasn’t

Ashwin Prabaharan ’26

Tucker Scott ’26

Staff Writers

On November 8th, the United States held its first congressional midterm elections during the presidency of Joe Biden. Analysts and political pundits widely expected Republicans to make sweeping gains, allowing them to capture majorities in both chambers of Congress. Polls indicated that President Joe Biden’s underwater approval ratings coupled with strong dissatisfaction with incumbent Democrats would give Republicans the edge going into the election. But when voters woke up the next morning what they saw rivaled the disappointment and anger they felt after Trump lost in 2020, possibly even exceeding it. Democrats swept many contentious House seats in Pennsylvania, Michigan, Minnesota, and Virginia. Pennsylvania’s Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman narrowly flipped the Keystone State’s Senate seat, earning the Democrats an early victory in what was expected to be a long night. Vulnerable Democratic Senators across the country fended off challenges with large margins of victory, including incumbents Michael Bennett of Colorado, Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire, and Patty Murray of Washington. Democratic governors in competitive states managed to stave off their opponents and retain their seats for the party, securing re-election in Michigan, Pennsylvania, New York, and Minnesota. 

The night was not all bad for the Republicans, who retained several key Senate and Governor seats in battleground states. J.D Vance in Ohio retained the open Senate seat for the Republicans, while Ted Budd held onto North Carolina’s. Governors Brian Kemp of Georgia, Greg Abbott of Texas, and Ron DeSantis of Florida managed to retain their seats as well, despite millions of dollars spent on opposition media and strong establishment opponents. In the House, Republicans flipped several toss-up seats in New York, New Jersey, Virginia, Arizona, and Iowa. Georgia, Nevada, and Arizona’s Senate elections are still too close to call, with Georgia’s Herschel Walker and Raphael Warnock headed to a runoff election later this year.   

There are two main factors to Republicans’ abysmal showing: Poor candidate quality and former President Donald J. Trump.  

First, poor candidate quality. Up and down the ballot, we saw poor candidates losing races that Republicans easily could have won. Republicans effectively gave up potential Senate pickups because they decided to run weaker candidates who held controversial stances and had tons of baggage; Don Bolduc in New Hampshire, Dr. Oz. in Pennsylvania, Blake Masters in Arizona, and Herschel Walker in Georgia. On the flip side, candidates like Adam Laxalt proved otherwise, touting strong records and a bold ground game, and is expected to win his Senate seat in Nevada.  

Of course, the biggest drag on Republican performance was former President Donald J. Trump. He endorsed a slate of weaker candidates, like Dr. Oz and Kari Lake, promoting them not because they were good candidates but because they were good on television. However, he abandoned his candidates after their primaries, pulling out financially and physically campaigning for them. Over the election cycle, he raised nearly $100 million, but only spent $15 million. In contrast, Senator Mitch McConnell and his political action committees spent a total of $234 million on Republican Senate candidates. President Trump then forced these candidates to address his false claims of election fraud, often ripping them for not making his claims a prominent point in their campaigns. President Trump has cost the Republicans not one, not two but likely three Senate elections in Georgia up to this date. This election has brought one key lesson to Republican Party strategists and insiders: If Republicans run Trump, or a very Trump-like candidate in 2024, they are destined to lose. Trump had his moment in 2016, and it was incredibly significant for the party. But it is time to move on. It is 2022, not 2020 or 2016. He is a liability to every Republican candidate, and after this disastrous cycle, it is clear that heads need to roll.

Image courtesy of Francis Chung/E&E News/Politico

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