A Red Wave? A Red Ripple? Ask Again

Many people across the nation anticipated Republican dominance in November’s midterm elections, with the party gaining dozens of seats and taking complete control in Washington. The voters, and more crucially, democracy, had a different answer.


Clay Banks / Unsplash

In the 2022 midterms, many believed Republicans would ride a wave and sweep crucial races across the map. That result was far from the outcome.

As Kevin McCarthy eagerly awaited the results of election night on November 8th, 2022, Republicans believed victory was inevitable. McCarthy had been waiting years for his moment in the spotlight, a chance to take the speaker’s gavel and cement an outcome that no one seemed to doubt. However, as the results trickled in, the GOP began to worry. 

Reporters stood awaiting McCarthy late into the evening, but the podium remained empty. When McCarthy finally arrived at two in the morning, he maintained confidence but not certainty. Such a projection, in and of itself, better reflected the outcome than any other. 

Before November’s midterm elections, Republicans anticipated a massive red wave, picking up dozens of house seats and recapturing the senate majority. However, for the most part, that wave never crashed on shore. Amidst economic woes, rising crime, and an unpopular administration, Democrats held the line.

The result has shaken our political attitudes upside down. Fears about the death of democracy have been tamed, at least for the time being. Many GOP heavyweights, who only two years ago defended Trump’s ambitions to become a king, now want him to abdicate his throne. These sudden shifts paint a clear picture: elections, no matter the outcome, always change the political headwinds in directions no one could have expected.

Republicans, to no one’s surprise, were highly confident. They expected massive gains of between 30-40 seats in the House and a net gain of 3-4 Senate seats. Neither of these outcomes came to fruition. Not even close.

The House seemed like a lock for the GOP, with the party only needing to net only five seats to win the majority. They ultimately emerged victorious, but made gains in the single-digits, far fewer than anticipated.

GOP success came in a handful of states, primarily Florida and New York, where strength, or a lack thereof, at the top of the ticket translated to down-ballot contests. Florida governor Ron DeSantis trounced former governor Charlie Crist in a nearly 20-point victory, exceeding all expectations. His victory has helped solidify Florida’s status as a red state while simultaneously helping to deliver Republican candidates convincing victories across the board. It has also established DeSantis as a credible candidate to launch a 2024 Presidential bid as certain Republicans actively seek a more favorable alternative to Trump. 

Republicans ultimately sealed their House majority in New York, where Democrats lost significant ground. Kathy Hochul’s narrow victory against Lee Zeldin was not without a cost; as a result of Hochul’s lackluster performance, Democrats suffered painful defeats in battleground districts, all of which Biden won a few years ago. 

The most stinging defeat came in the Hudson Valley, where Sean Patrick Maloney, the chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), lost his Biden +10 district to his Republican challenger, Mike Lawler. In an election where Maloney helped deliver his party a strong performance given the circumstances, he could not withstand the cesspool that New York became for his party.

However, no one could truly realize the depth of Democratic failure until nearly a month after the election. New York Times reports emerged that Republican George Santos, who flipped a swing district in Long Island, fabricated elements of his résumé and misrepresented details about his background, education, and work history, among other things. 

Santos spewed numerous falsehoods, deceiving the voters of his district about his entire life story. These headlines continue to emerge regarding Santos’ falsehoods daily, further exposing the new Congressman as misrepresenting the truth.

These revelations, at least in some ways, tell us more about Democratic failure than Santos’ delusion itself. The fact that the party did little to no opposition research and found none of this information before the campaign is appalling to say the least. 

While triumphant in certain races, which came few and far between, Republicans across the country underperformed significantly. Though the party and its loyal followers were shocked by defeats in races firmly believed to be in their corner, the writing was on the wall. 

Here is the 2022 House results, shaded by party of victory. Districts shaded dark red indicate Republican pick-ups, while districts shaded dark blue indicate Democratic pick-ups. The lighter shades of red and blue indicate Republican and Democratic holds from 2020, respectively.
(Ketrit, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons)

Following the election, Trump sought to spin the narrative, touting his endorsement record of 232 wins against 20 losses. Yet, those numbers are deceiving. The 232 victories primarily came in safe house districts where the outcome was inevitable, while the 20 defeats all came in competitive battlegrounds. Those candidates drastically underperformed, lagging an average of nearly five points behind the generic Republican vote shares. For many crucial contests, this gap ultimately made a monumental difference.

Arizona best highlighted this condition, with Trump’s hand-picked candidates performing dismally compared to other Republicans in statewide races. Kari Lake, a former TV news anchor and Trump’s pick for governor, touted her loyalty to the former President, especially in her continued belief in the “big lie” about the 2020 election. While Lake consistently led in polling down the stretch, she could not seal the deal, narrowly falling to Democrat Katie Hobbs.

The same fate rang true for senate hopeful Blake Masters, who found no mercy against Senator Mark Kelly. Masters, a tech entrepreneur who funneled money from the likes of Peter Thiel and other tech billionaires, completely self-destructed, performing nearly five points worse than Lake. 

John Fetterman flipped an open senate seat in Pennsylvania, expanding the Democratic majority in the chamber. His opponent, celebrity TV doctor Mehmet Oz, also touted Trump’s endorsement, which destroyed his chances of victory. Oz was toxic from the start: he openly “carpet-bagged” to the state from neighboring New Jersey, claiming his in-laws’ residence to qualify for the race. That, along with his entitled behavior and unsavvy tactics, didn’t win him any favors in voters’ minds.

Oz was also undermined by his gubernatorial running mate, Doug Mastriano, a far-right Christian nationalist who promoted conspiracy theories about COVID-19 and religious ideology. Mastriano lost by 15 points to Josh Shapiro, which constituted a monstrous defeat for a Republican in a state like Pennsylvania, which rarely sways from its competitive status.

These losses prove a massive victory for the political establishment on the Republican side. The best example of such came in Georgia, where voters rewarded Governor Brian Kemp for standing up to Trump, who has continued to be a thorn in the side of the state’s GOP. Kemp easily dispatched Democratic superstar Stacey Abrams, whose second run for the office left much to be desired. 

While Kemp has governed as an ardent conservative, he has maintained a positive image, allowing him to receive support from the GOP’s rural base, as well as suburbanites outside of Atlanta. His model of governing and frankly, his willingness to accept reality, should send a message to the GOP about who they should be nominating for crucial election contests.

Unlike Kemp’s success, the GOP’s senate campaign in Georgia didn’t find the same reception. Their candidate, former college football star Herschel Walker, came under intense scrutiny for accusations of violence and infidelity, which he vehemently denied. 

Walker’s estranged son Christian even denounced his father, speaking out against his absence and lack of care for his children. Walker often touted his love for family values, but in the end, he merely appeared as a hypocrite. 

Trump’s endorsements in 2022 continue to come under immense criticism, but Walker might be the worst of his choices. In a blue-trending state, he was potentially the last of the GOP’s fleeting hopes of wielding federal power and influence. Instead, his delusion-filled campaign ultimately cost Republicans a crucial seat for the next six years and likely beyond.

Beyond national and statewide contests, Democrats also saw unexpected gains in state legislatures, which have become an emerging battleground for both sides. Democrats not only gained both legislative chambers in Michigan, a state they haven’t controlled since the 1980s, but they also gained a trifecta in Minnesota, holding control of the governorship and both legislative chambers. In a shocking result, the party also took a narrow majority in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, riding the strength at the top of the ticket to gain a net of 12 seats.

While there are thousands of other races that each impacted the overall result, there is no time or patience for such a discussion. Nevertheless, the trend is clear: Republicans, especially Donald Trump, got in their own way of a convincing victory. If Trump, his loyal supporters, and the party leadership had remained silent, the outlook would be drastically different.

Just look at the mountain of chaos in Washington. House Republicans are in disarray, with the anti-establishment figures in the conference attempting to derail the political landscape. The vote for speaker, usually a forgone conclusion long before the first tally, took four days and 15 rounds to complete. 

On the 14th ballot, in the darkest hours of the night, McCarthy finally saw victory in sight. The pressure in the chamber hit a boiling point; visible screaming matches, confrontations, and political theater appeared commonplace. This scene came to a head when Matt Gaetz, the infamous Florida congressman known for causing a ruckus, waited until the end of the round to vote present, preventing McCarthy from reaching a majority by a single vote. McCarthy and his allies were furious, marching up the aisle of the chamber to Gaetz, hoping they could change his vote. It came to the point where Mike Rogers, a congressman from Alabama, lunged at Gaetz, with another member holding him back and leading him out of the chamber.

While Republicans attempted to spin the affair as productive dialogue and deal-brokering, the American people should not be fooled. Those four days, as well as the persistent and pervasive behavior surrounding them, were a disgrace to our system of government which prides itself on its checks and balances and the equal distribution of power between the three branches. When one of those branches cannot operate in its standard capacity due to the majority party being utterly incompetent beyond repair, we should begin to worry.

The 118th congress must ultimately step up to the plate, with some putting their objective to disturb and disrupt in the rearview. The voters sent a clear message to both parties: work together and get things done. However, the ultra MAGA flank of the Republican conference seems unfazed, ready to unleash obstruction on the Biden administration and the functioning of congress. Specifically, they have vowed to prevent legislation raising the debt ceiling, potentially forcing the treasury to default on its trillions of dollars in debt. Such a move would hold cataclysmic consequences, once again jolting the nation into severe economic pain.

Despite the vast array of outcomes, the voters continue to speak their minds. The electorate has responded time and time again, wanting their voices to be heard and their opinions to be represented by a government that seeks to promote them. When Trump cried fraud two years ago, with no sufficient evidence to back up his claims, his supporters stormed the capitol, signaling the potential destruction of democracy and the institutions at the bedrock of its foundation since the very beginning. Yet, in 2022, when all hope was lost, people fearing the end was in sight, democracy fought back.

At a pivotal turning point in history during which Ukraine fights back against Russia, the voters demanded that the United States, a bearer of freedom and peace, continue to do its part. When Republicans claimed that the Biden administration and the government was simply “writing a blank check” to the Ukrainians, the people stood up and demanded more.

And, when the former President’s allies sought to achieve victories that could imperil the fate of democracy, the voters stood firm in their convictions. Many worried that politicians who believed the last election was fraudulent would control the outcomes of future ones, especially in 2024. Now, people appear slightly more confident in the vote-counting process as the fight for the White House begins anew.

While democracy appears immune to attempts at its destruction, we should not let our guard down. If 2022 taught us anything, it should be that in every future election, we must vote like democracy is at stake. Because in reality, it unfortunately is.

It takes millions of people to preserve democracy, but it could only take a single election for one tyrant to destroy it. With many young people – our own generation – nearing the voting age of 18, we can, and arguably must take matters into our own hands. By doing so, we must ensure that democracy perseveres, not just for the sake of posterity or prosperity, but for the very freedom we hold so dear.

When Trump cried fraud two years ago, with no sufficient evidence to back up his claims, his supporters stormed the capitol, signaling the potential destruction of democracy and the institutions at the bedrock of its foundation since the very beginning. Yet, in 2022, when all hope was lost, people fearing the end was in sight, democracy fought back.