Republicans went into Tuesday's midterm elections expecting the kind of big gains the opposition usually gets when the other party is in the White House. President Biden's low approval ratings and mounting anxiety over the economy and the highest inflation in decades appeared to create the perfect conditions for a GOP sweep in Congress. Three days after Election Day, Republicans now appear likely to win control of the House, but with a razor-thin majority. Democrats still have a good chance to hold onto control of the Senate. "Definitely not a Republican wave, that's for darn sure," Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) told NBC News.
Former President Donald Trump said on social media that Tuesday was "A GREAT EVENING" as Republicans picked up several House seats, putting them on the cusp of a majority there. Other Republicans started finger-pointing, with many of them blaming Trump for endorsing hardline conservatives who won the primaries only to lose in general election contests more moderate Republicans might have won. Some blamed GOP abortion restrictions imposed since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, although Graham argued that "pro-life people did well," citing victories like Senate wins by Ted Budd (R-N.C.), J.D. Vance (R-Ohio), and incumbent Marco Rubio (R-Fla.). What's the real reason Republicans failed to deliver their "red wave"?
The GOP nominated too many extremists
"Republicans are dismayed, and they should be — at themselves," says The Wall Street Journal in an editorial. Biden is widely unpopular, 70 percent of voters are unhappy with the state of the nation, inflation is near 8 percent, crime is rising, the border is in chaos … the GOP should have coasted at least to a normal midterm victory." Instead, Republicans lost in one toss-up race after another.
The GOP made plenty of mistakes, but the one that hurt the most was nominating "too many lousy candidates who courted Donald Trump more than they did voters." Millions of Americans "found GOP candidates too extreme," which resulted in Republicans merely breaking even among independents, who should have been easy to win over with a convincing economic message. Doug Mastriano, the far-right gubernatorial nominee in Pennsylvania, pleased the MAGA crowd but "hurt GOP candidates up and down the ballot." "Americans are unhappy with Democratic governance, but they aren't sold on the GOP as an alternative."
Republicans miscalculated on abortion rights
Republicans blew it in many ways, says Michelle Goldberg in The New York Times, but what might have cost them most dearly was "the furious political energy unleashed by Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization, the Supreme Court decision stripping women of their right to bodily autonomy." Republicans reacted to the ruling by imposing new abortion restrictions. They tuned out the millions of women who were outraged over the overturning of Roe v. Wade and responded with a surge of voter registrations and early voting.
"When it comes to reproductive choice, Republicans are simply out of touch with the values of a significant part of the electorate." Consider Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.). The "high-profile, anti-abortion Christian nationalist" was widely considered a "shoo-in for re-election," but she was down by 64 votes, as of Thursday, as the count continues in her district. As Tom Bonier, a Democratic analyst who followed women's early response to Dobbs during the campaign, put it: "I do think there is a broader narrative of Republican extremism that Dobbs really connected the dots on."
Trump's last-minute campaign surge was counterproductive
Donald Trump's weekend "campaign surge" was a last-minute mistake that really hurt his party, says Henry Olsen in The Washington Post. The former president's rally appearances "made him the focus of attention, and that is never good for a party trying to woo voters who despise him." And his endorsements backfired more often than not, with his picks going "down to defeat in most contested races, proving that he foisted weak nominees on the party," as Democrats and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) pointed out before Election Day.
The list of candidates who proved Trump's knack for losing winning races was long: "Mehmet Oz and Doug Mastriano in Pennsylvania; Tudor Dixon and John Gibbs in Michigan; Tim Michels in Wisconsin — all defeated (or apparently headed that way) in states that could have backed a more normal Republican." And Trump's hand-picked Senate candidate in Georgia, Herschel Walker, narrowly trailed incumbent Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock, and now faces a December runoff, while "Trump's nemesis, Gov. Brian Kemp, won re-election comfortably. Trump's awful judgment even polluted a winnable House seat or two, such as Ohio's 13th District, where his pick — 30-year-old former Miss Ohio USA Madison Gesiotto Gilbert — lost to an established Democratic state legislator."
Nominating election deniers was the GOP's biggest mistake
The biggest factor in the GOP's underwhelming midterm performance, says the Los Angeles Times in an editorial, was the party's "attempts to put election deniers in charge of elections" in numerous swing states. Democrats beat "far-right opponents" for secretary of state — the official who oversees elections — in Michigan, New Mexico, and Minnesota. "Georgia voters re-elected Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger — who famously rebuffed Trump's plea to "find" enough votes to make him victorious in 2020 — after rejecting a Trump-backed challenger in the primary."
In Arizona, where the counting continues, "GOP election deniers Kari Lake and Mark Finchem are in tight races for governor and secretary of state, respectively." If Lake — "who's said she would not have certified Biden's win in Arizona if she were governor in 2020" — and Finchem — "whom the Arizona Republic describes as 'the loudest election denier in the state'" — win, "they will have critical roles in a swing state in the 2024 election, raising frightening prospects for the integrity of the next presidential race. The entire nation should be terrified." Voting against toxic far-right subversives like these was easy. "The fate of the country and democracy" depended on it.