The fact that the GOP couldn’t capitalize on a highly unpopular President with a job approval rating hovering in the high 30s to low 40s says a lot about the party, its leadership, and its messaging.
Going into the midterm polls, Republicans (GOP, the Grand Old Party) were expecting a “Red Wave,” a tsunami of sorts, to sweep through the American landscape. That did not materialize. The GOP, however, is still likely to reclaim a majority in the House, albeit with a slimmer margin than many party functionaries and media outlets had predicted. The GOP still has the path to a majority in the Senate, though it looks less sure now.
Multiple surveys had revealed that Americans remained wildly dissatisfied with Mr Biden and the direction he was driving the country—especially on the economy. People were also weary of the country’s involvement in a proxy war in Ukraine. The abortion-related Dobbs decision of the US Supreme Court also weighed down heavily on pro-reproductive rights voters. And when the country needed a Healer-in-Chief after four years of Trump’s presidency and a bruising election in 2020, Mr Biden proved to be an even more dividing figure than Trump. Mr Biden’s “pandemic of unvaccinated,” “MAGA terrorists” calls, vaccine and mask mandates, etc., drove a wedge through American society.
The fact that the GOP couldn’t capitalize on a highly unpopular President with a job approval rating hovering in the high 30s to low 40s says a lot about the party, its leadership, and its messaging. Americans were also concerned about the economy, rising crimes, gas and energy prices, the potential for a nuclear war, an open border, a declining American cloud internationally under President Joe Biden, etc. But essentially, they chose to overlook them in the midterms.
“It is not the outcome GOP wanted or expected,” said Anang Mitta, a Washington, DC-based political commentator and strategist. “It’s clear that young people and independents were unwilling to deliver a rebuke to Democrats on the top economic issues. Dobbs and anti-MAGA sentiments hurt the GOP and carried the day in the important races.”
For Mr Biden and the Democrats, these results aren’t the “thumping” nor “shellacking” that former Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama had received in the 2006 and 2010 midterms, respectively. Even a milder loss would have humbled a sitting President on any given day. However, with the hype created around the talk of “wave” and “tsunami,” Mr Biden almost came out unscathed. Interestingly, the Democrats spent millions of dollars promoting MAGA Republican candidates during primaries in the hopes of facing weaker opposition in the midterms.
The embarrassingly anaemic ballot tabulation pace in some hotly contested seats has left many critical races undecided well into the third day of counting. Some Democrat-ruled states made the Covid election measures a permanent feature. Multi-day voting, mail-in ballots, and same-day voter registration complicate tabulation. When writing for these pages, roughly three dozen House and two Senate seats still needed to be called. A third Senate seat in Georgia is headed to a runoff election in December.
GOP’s underwhelming performance in the midterm may indicate its inability to communicate a coherent or compelling national message. “If the GOP can’t win in a horrible economy, much more horrible than 2020, bad poll numbers for Biden, then it needs a serious soul searching,” said Mittal.
Soul searching is indeed on the menu for the GOP. However, one cannot overlook the overwhelming success of Republicans in the states like Florida and Texas. Two of America’s most prominent large state GOP Governors—Ron DeSantis of Florida and Greg Abbott of Texas—won their re-election bid (Abbott, for his third stint) handily and carried their states in a massive Red sweep. Georgia Governor Brian Kemp, on the other hand, easily fended off challenges from progressive Democrat Stacey Abrams. Ms Abrams had previously lost her gubernatorial race against Mr Kemp but refused to concede, accusing Kemp, then-Attorney General of Georgia, of voter suppression.
Despite recurring talks of turning into a swing state, Texas remained a solid GOP state. Even the rock star of the left-wing media, Beto O’Rourke, failed to take off against Mr Abbott. Mr O’Rourke had unsuccessfully tried to unseat Senator Ted Cruz in 2018.
On the other hand, the American mainstream media has demonized Ron DeSantis for going against the Covid mitigation dogma of the elite laptop class—the proponents of lockdowns and mask and vaccine mandates. Mr DeSantis’ stand against woke culture wars has made him a darling of the conservatives. “Florida is probably a proper red state now and no longer a swing state in the presidential race,” said Ram Prasad, a Texas-based Indian American political observer. “That’s a plus for GOP,” Prasad added.
Florida and Texas have seen large-scale population migration from within the US in the last few years, increasing their political clout in the US House. Texas, Florida, and a few other Republican states gained representatives in the House of Representatives at the cost of Democrat-monopoly states such as California, New York, and Illinois. The Golden State of California posted a net population loss for the first time in its history and also lost a congressional seat. Florida and Texas also saw the most significant inward wealth migration from within the US. Once again, New York, California, and Illinois wrapped up the top three spots among the losers.
In the safe Democrat state of New York, former President Donald Trump-supported Lee Zeldin mounted a fierce campaign in the gubernatorial race against incumbent Kathy Hochul. Even though Zeldin lost the race, he helped carry a few GOP House seats and made several others competitive. Another Trump ally, Kari Lake was still in contention for the Arizona gubernatorial race, where the election has been marred by malfunctioning polling machines and delays in tabulating the ballots.
A contemplative GOP needs to look no further than these successful state leaders, especially Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. Many see a parallel with Narendra Modi in DeSantis, who has transformed his state into a vibrant, prosperous Republican powerhouse magnate state. The “Florida Model” can be a template for the GOP to win nationwide supporters and elections.
Guns, abortion, and evangelical White Christians don’t have to be the only things defining the GOP. The Grand Old Party needs to widen its base among people of all faiths and ethnicities and provide a clear alternative on the issues of the economy, culture, education, international relations, etc. People don’t vote for one party over the other because they have similar ideologies and outlooks. One has to set itself apart with a positive agenda. Most people of faith feel uncomfortable with the progressive ideology of the Democrats. Mr Trump successfully expanded the GOP base among Blacks, Latinos, and Indian Americans. The GOP needs to continue with that outreach.
America stands as a bitterly divided nation. Mr Biden and his team still face the prospect of a difficult two years of governing should Republicans seize the House of Representatives. The President’s agenda would likely be sharply curtailed without GOP support, a support that will be much harder to come by with a GOP-majority legislative body.
A Chicago-based columnist, Avatans Kumar is a recipient of the San Francisco Press Club’s 2121 Bay Area Journalism Award.