Mid-term exuberance may be irrational, but surely we are entitled to enjoy the respite from the deep anxiety and foreboding of the days leading up to the election. The dreaded Red Wave turned into a Pink Dribble, and many of our historically-driven worst fears were not realized. We are still a deeply divided country, and with Republicans’ control of the House, even though by a very narrow margin, we may be in for a rocky two years.
Still, let’s hear it for the voters! Instead of voting blindly for partisan tribes people showed they were willing to split tickets, embracing, for example, Trump nemesis Brian Kemp for Georgia Governor while casting 200,000 fewer ballots for unfit and lying Senate candidate Herschel Walker. Election deniers like gubernatorial candidates Tudor Dixon in Michigan and Doug Mastriano in Pennsylvania went down, as did Arizona Senate candidate Blake Masters and others.
Everywhere that abortion was specifically on the ballot, the results confirmed support for women’s right to make their own reproductive choices. And where abortion was not something to be checked off, exit polls reflect it was on voters’ minds anyway.
The youth vote, still disproportionately small among generations, was robust. For two thirds of those 18-29 years of age, reproductive rights, gun violence, climate change and, yes, democracy, were not abstract concerns. They, especially young women, voted overwhelmingly for Democrats.
Thirty high-visibility Trump-embraced election deniers went down in flames, making Tuesday night a really bad night for the Inciter-in-Chief. Even Mitch McConnell has said all along that candidate quality – or lack thereof – matters. Of particular note was the demise of TV celebrity doctor and quack pharma huckster Dr. Mehmet Oz, defeated by Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, whose victory tipped the Pennsylvania race. Here’s hoping Herschel Walker meets the same fate in the Georgia run-off next month.
I could go on and on with the list of races where sanity prevailed, even in down-ballot races. Republicans’ hopes fell short for super majorities in legislatures in North Carolina and Wisconsin, dashing their abilities to override Democratic governors. Democrats made gains in Michigan and Pennsylvania legislatures. Across the board, independents seemed to signal they are tired of extremists and want stability.
Rarely does the party in the White House not suffer large first mid-term losses in the Congress. In 1932, 1962 and 2002 the country faced domestic and foreign existential threats. Perhaps more people paid attention to the January 6 hearings, correctly reading the existential threat posed to our democracy.
At first blush, it seems the nation dodged a bullet, and we can all exhale. But now, a wet blanket alert. It is sobering to remember just how razor-thin some of the margins of victory were. Nearly half the population would have been happy with a massive GOP blow-out putting into office Trump acolytes and anti-democratic authoritarians.
While many of Trump’s handpicked candidates were defeated, 180 election deniers prevailed (305 if you include doubters). 155 of them won seats in the U. S. House of Representatives. Three secretaries of state, responsible for overseeing the integrity of elections, also succeeded. Clearly the GOP up and down the ticket has been contaminated by Donald Trump. In the only state in which U.S. Senate victories didn’t match the 2020 presidential vote, Wisconsin reelected un-indicted Oathkeeper ally Ron Johnson to a third term.
Trump may have been weakened, but Trumpism lives on. Red states are even redder. Prime example: traditionally swing-state Florida as gone solid red, even in reliably blue Dade County. Four House seats in New York, thanks to redistricting, went red. Partisan redistricting, enabled by a partisan Supreme Court worked, and these warped congressional lines will continue at least for a decade. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’ decisive victory may foreshadow a Trumpist-style run for the White House in 2024. He’s Trump with a brain, so all the more dangerous when he follows the Trump playbook.
While the Democrats generally did well among women voters, aided by the abortion issue, it must also be noted that four Republican Governors who opposed reproductive rights won decisively in key states – DeSantis of Florida, Mike DeWine of Ohio, Greg Abbott of Texas, and Brian Kemp of Georgia – and got a majority of women’s support. Reproductive choice was not dispositive.
Let’s not forget that the media largely did a terrible job, embracing an overly simplistic and misleading poll-based narrative and lazily feeding the pervasive gloom leading up to November 8. Once again, Biden and his strategy were underappreciated. In the end, the grassroots went door to door and got out the vote.
To an extent, I bought into that in challenging Democratic messaging. I believed Democrats would lose votes to those who painted them as the party of woke elites unable to relate to the economic pain and fears of ordinary working folks. In the end, as journalist Tim Alberta observed, the voters preferred candidates who were “out of touch” to those who appeared “out of their mind.”
Democrats can legitimately celebrate retaining control of the Senate, and coming close in the House. But, whether the GOP gets 218 seats or more, a majority is still a majority, and Republicans are poised to block the Biden agenda. Look for a busy lame-duck session.
The next two years may be rocky, but at least the Senate will not be able unilaterally to block Biden appointees for purely partisan reasons. And we can take comfort that Tuesday’s outcome was far better than that which we had been conditioned to expect. Many voters did reject extremism in significant ways. And, for now, outside of Georgia, we will be spared the Willie Horton-type political ads and partisan hyperbole text messages and will return to car commercials and ads for Depends. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.