The Red Wave that Wasn’t

Republicans have no one to blame but themselves. In what should have been an easy rout of the opposition, Republicans are barely hanging on. The reason why is clear: Republican candidates lost eminently winnable races because they insisted on nominating delusional candidates joined at the hip to the most delusional of all—Donald J. Trump. 

Make no mistake, this was not the Republican establishment, whatever that is these days.  This was the handiwork of the rank and file who voted in the primaries for a bunch of crackpots with little understanding of how government works or is supposed to work.

There is no lack of evidence the Republicans got creamed because the rank and file recklessly chose candidates who were clearly unfit for office. Which is not to imply that the Democratic candidates were all that fit; they had plenty of clunkers too. 

Take Pennsylvania, for instance. 

The Republicans in Pennsylvania nominated a crackpot for Governor who insisted that the 2020 Presidential election was stolen. For the Senate seat being vacated by Republican Pat Toomey, they nominated a Trumpy celebrity TV doctor, Mehmet Oz, whose speciality was hawking quack cures on his TV show. 

Despite a soaring crime rate in Philadelphia, the highest inflation rate in 40 years and chaos on the Southern border, both Republicans lost. And they lost because of poor candidate quality. Josh Shapiro, a relatively moderate Democrat, trounced Doug Mastriano, a full fledged Trump acolyte, by about 13 percentage points. 

In the process of losing the Pennsylvania gubernatorial race, the Republicans managed to lose the Senate contest to a far-left Bernie Sanders type candidate. The winner, Lt Governor John Fetterman, had recently suffered a stroke and was sufficiently damaged that he could barely string words into a sentence when not haltingly reading from a script. No matter, Dr. Oz, a political neophyte endorsed by Trump, went down to defeat by about 2 points, with an assist from Mastriano’s rout. 

Or take Arizona. Kari Lake a TV news anchor ran as a Republican and aggressively asserted that the 2020 election was stolen, and that Trump was the legitimate winner. With her experience as a TV news anchor she was polished in front of the cameras, and a favorite in late polls. 

But she lost. As did her less polished fellow Republican neophyte and ticket mate Blake Masters. He began slithering away from his anti-abortion position by attempting a surreptitious change on his website after the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision. He also denied that Trump lost the 2020 presidential race, apparently a prerequisite for new Republican nominees. In the event, he too went down to defeat. 

Compare the wipeout of the Trump backed high profile candidates with other conventional Republicans. In Georgia Brian Kemp, the incumbent Republican who stood up to Trump’s stolen election nonsense, easily beat Stacey Abrams who denied that she lost her 2018 race against Kemp. That said, his win (by about 7 points) may not be enough to drag Trump acolyte Herschel Walker over the finish line. 

Then consider Ohio. The Republican incumbent, governor Mike DeWine who avoided Trump like the plague, is mopping up the floor with his Democratic rival Nan Whaley. When it’s over, he will have won by over 30 percentage points. That was probably enough to drag the Trump backed author, J.D. Vance, over the finish line. 

Now let’s consider New Hampshire. The incumbent Democratic Senator Maggie Hassan was generally considered to be one of the weakest Democratic Senatorial candidates, and a top target of the Republicans. Until the primary that is. In the primary Trump backed retired General Don Bolduc secured the nomination and then proceeded to lose the Senate race in the general election by about 10 points. On the other hand the Republican incumbent Governor Chris Sununu, no friend of Trump’s, is handily winning his race by about 10 points.  

It should also be noted that the Trump candidates received virtually no financial support from the former president even though he raised a boatload of money for his MAGA PAC. Mitch McConnell had to pony up the dough from his Senate Leadership PAC to keep them in the game. 

In the end the midterm elections produced one very big loser and one big winner. The very big loser is none other than Donald J. Trump. His candidates were a drag on the party even though conditions for the opposition could not have been better. 

Americans are facing soaring inflation, a deteriorating economy, chaos on the border, increasing rates of violent crime, rising interest rates and trillion dollar deficits as far as the eye can see. And that’s not counting developing energy shortages, a presidential approval rate in the low 40s and a foreign policy devoid of articulated goals.

Still, the Republicans still managed to lose. It is reminiscent of the time in 1962 when Casey Stengel, the newly appointed manager of the NY Mets asked “Can’t anyone here play this game?”

The bright spot is that in addition to Trump’s being a big loser, there was a big winner named Ron DeSantis. He won his race for re-election as Florida’s Governor by a huge margin, somewhere in the neighborhood of 18 to 20 percentage points. That win is decisive enough to put him in a position to credibly challenge Trump for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination.  

So Republicans have a choice. They can continue to act like spoiled children having a collective temper tantrum in which case they will continue to lose. Or they can act like adults, recapture a sensible governing philosophy and stitch together a winning coalition that emphasizes the benefits of subsidiarity and free markets over central planning.  

The choice is theirs. Will they make the right one? We’ll have to wait and see.


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