Since Election Day 2022, almost everyone has been playing Monday morning quarterback. Today, it’s my turn.
Republicans seriously underperformed and the establishment/media points the finger at two big factors: Donald Trump and abortion.
Specifically, voters were turned off by former President Trump and they reacted negatively to the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision overturning Roe v. Wade. If you look at election results across the nation, neither holds up as the real culprit. In Florida, we saw Gov. Ron DeSantis, a MAGA candidate if ever there was one, win by a record 19 percentage points. In recent elections, Florida had been a close state in terms of the “red vs. blue” dynamic.
Still, DeSantis won so big, he even carried Democrat stronghold counties like Miami-Dade and Palm Beach. DeSantis was also a strong pro-life proponent, last year signing a strict heartbeat bill banning abortions after 15 weeks.
In bellwether Ohio, Republican Gov. Mike DeWine, who also signed a law banning abortion after six weeks, won reelection by 26 points. And then in Democratic Wisconsin, pro-Trumper and pro-lifer Sen. Ron Johnson won reelection. Even in liberal, extremely pro-choice New York, Republican Lee Zeldin moved the needle 17 points from Trump’s loss in 2020, coming within five points of beating Democrat Gov. Hochul. Zeldin was both pro-life and pro-Trump, even seeking the former president’s endorsement in the race. More astounding, the GOP won 11 House seats across New York state, including several in suburban districts with those allegedly angry-over-Roe women swing voters. As it turned out, 10 of the 11 New York Republican congressional winners were pro-life, and almost all were pro-Trump.
So, what really happened on Election Day?
I believe the Republicans completely misread the electorate. The GOP actually believed their own press releases (and yes, polls) and thought voters were just as furious as they were with Joe Biden, Nancy Pelosi, and their friends. Republicans thought everyone was shocked by Biden’s spending policies, outraged over his border crisis, frightful of woke policies like defunding police, and were really angry over inflation. But they weren’t. They weren’t because on Election Day the economy was much stronger than the GOP admitted to.
Unemployment is at historic lows of 3.7%. Practically everyone who wants a job has one.
And yes, while the first two negative quarters of 2022 appeared recessionary, the GDP surged in the third quarter by 2.6%.
Inflation isn’t good, but its flipside is that there is a tremendous amount of cash in the economy. Before COVID-19 started, the Fed reported $1.8 trillion in Americans’ checking accounts. Today, the amount stands at a record $2.3 trillion. In my book, Biden’s massive COVID-19 stimulus and infrastructure bills ignited inflation. But Republicans did a poor job connecting the dots for voters. If we look back at the big GOP wins in the House in 2010 and 1994, both came after Democrat presidents proposed radical healthcare bills (Hillarycare and Obamacare). These bills led to a revolt of voters, especially seniors. This time Biden and congressional Democrats did nothing like that. Yes, a recession is looming, but voters haven’t been impacted yet. Next time could be very different. Voters tend to cast ballots based on their current economic situation. What’s happening right now. While a swing, nonideological voter may not like Biden personally, they appear to find many of his policies comforting. Biden handled the nation’s exit from COVID-19 well (largely following Trump’s lead); he spent massively on popular programs; he’s offered no radical overhauls of healthcare; he offered some positive solutions to the student loan crisis, and his foreign policy has been, amazingly, tough on Russia and China. The Feds even coughed up a record 8.6% Social Security cost-of-living adjustment just weeks before Election Day. (That was mandated by law, but most voters probably don’t know that.)
Sure, there are many, many problems with Biden. The border, for example, is in crisis — a result of his policies. But most people are not directly impacted by border issues. Even in a border state like Arizona, where it was the No. 1 issue for GOP candidates running in 2022, Democrats still won both the Senate and governor seats. All across the nation incumbents—Democrats and Republicans—fared well on Election Day because voters generally liked the status quo.
So, here’s my takeaway from all of this: Republicans who lost the presidential popular vote by 3 million in 2016, by 7 million in 2020, and who saw few sparkles in 2022, need to go back to the drawing board. The old GOP game plan of playing to a dwindling base of older white voters is a train wreck in progress. Census data shows 2 million whites over age 50 die every year. These dying voters are being replaced by young millennials who are both multiethnic and progressively left. Demographics mean pure and simple that Republicans need to offer independent and swing Democrat voters a positive reason to make the switch to them.
If they do that, they will be an unstoppable force in 2024 and beyond.
If they don’t, they risk oblivion.