Honestly, who could have foreseen, or even thought possible, the outcome of the 2022 elections? Political analysts on every side, whether conservative or liberal, expected Republicans to gain at least 20 seats and take control of the House, with only the fate of the Senate in doubt. Heck, even the impartial analysts at RealClearPolitics who sorted through all the polls predicted that the GOP would easily win the lower chamber of Congress and add three seats in the upper chamber. How wrong could they all be?
Very wrong, as it turns out. Again. Even as Republicans breathe a massive sigh of relief at achieving one of the slimmest majorities in the history of the House of Representatives – though the media withheld the call through the night as Donald Trump announced his 2024 intentions – the Senate has been lost. A bunch of factors combined to seal the results, but a few others provide cause for conservative optimism.
First on the negative ledger is that, even with two years to prepare, the Republicans again did not embrace the radical change in voting patterns since the onset of the pandemic – specifically the preponderance of mail-in balloting. To say that transformation has benefited Democrats in a big way during the last two elections would be a dramatic understatement. Second, it seems that abortion was a far more potent motivator for liberal and feminist voters than what was widely predicted by pollsters and pundits who thought the issue had faded in importance since Roe v. Wade was overturned months ago. Third, the alarming language of Joe Biden and his fellow travelers on the left about “threats to democracy” was evidently taken more seriously by voters than by analysts who did not believe the public writ large would buy into the narrative of MAGA Republicans as violent extremists. Fourth, the Dems’ cynical maneuver of bankrolling more “beatable” Trump-backed candidates actually was a success – witness Republican Senate losses in Pennsylvania, Arizona, and New Hampshire. Fifth, while the GOP was effective in identifying the many flaws of the Democrats, they offered little in the way of solutions beyond soaring rhetoric and familiar talking points. Unlike Newt Gingrich’s famed Contract with America in 1994 that laid out specific promises, resulting in historic gains for the GOP, prospective Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s (R-CA) “Commitment to America” went nowhere.
Conservative Hopes and Dreams
But amidst the relative carnage of Election Day – though election season would be a more precise term, given how voting commenced in some places as early as September – there are actually some silver linings for Republicans. Though they expected significantly larger gains in the House, they have done the one thing they totally, absolutely, positively had to do. They could afford to cede the Senate, lose some races they figured to win, and pick up fewer House seats than expected. But they had to take control of the House gavel. And while they can now chair committees, set the agenda, and launch investigations in the people’s house, those things pale in comparison to their newfound ability to stop the excesses of Joe Biden and the ever more progressive Democrats dead in their tracks.
This is just the third time since World War II that the GOP has gained seats in the House in consecutive elections. Even as Trump lost in 2020, Republicans picked up 15 seats and came as surprisingly close to gaining the majority then as Democrats did this year. Since this would be the fourth time in the last five elections that Republicans gained House seats – though it looks like they will in the end gain only seven or eight – does this mean voters have come to trust Republicans more than Democrats with the branch of Congress that controls taxing and spending?
It is also worth noting that the GOP won the collective national popular vote for the House by four and a half points, according to the Cook Political Report.
But beyond winning the House, by far the most positive and acclaimed accomplishment for Republicans is that they have turned Florida – with its 30 electoral votes – into the political equivalent of Alabama. Not a single Democrat now holds a statewide position there. We knew Gov. Ron DeSantis would win big, by a dozen points or so. But his eventual margin of almost 20 joints – especially when combined with Sen. Marco Rubio’s 17-point landslide victory over a Democrat with impeccable credentials – made a huge statement about both DeSantis and his state, now fully transformed from a medium shade of purple to ruby red. And, of course, DeSantis has been anointed in many circles as the future hope of the party.
Then there is Ohio, another state which, like Florida, was long considered a must-win for presidential candidates of both parties. As Ohio goes, so goes the nation, they used to say. But after Trump scored a pair of eight-point wins in the Buckeye State in 2016 and 2020, GOP Governor Mike DeWine won re-election this year in a 25-point landslide, and Trump-backed JD Vance won a Senate seat by a comfortable seven points. It is now clear that Ohio – and its 16 electoral votes – has also turned sharply to the right. It is not quite as bright red as Florida, but it has proven reliable enough for Republicans to count it in the win column, barring extreme circumstances.
Combining the electoral votes of Florida and Ohio with the 40 from Texas, the GOP can now put 87 electoral votes in the bank from their “big three.” That’s not as many as the 101 Democrats regularly receive from the troika of California, New York, and Illinois, but it significantly reduces the built-in advantage the Democrats enjoyed on the electoral map for decades. Even with Democrats picking up some ground in Arizona and Georgia in the last two cycles, the Republicans’ position heading into the 2024 presidential election is far stronger than before the rise of the former – and, he hopes, future – Republican president who just announced his third bid for the White House.
One of the year’s most closely watched gubernatorial races was in New York, where incumbent Democrat Kathy Hochul saw a huge lead shrink down to almost nothing before the Dems’ heavy hitters – Hillary, et al. – were parachuted in, and Hochul hung on. But amidst that ugly victory for the left in a deep blue state, the widely heralded campaign of Rep. Lee Zeldin made Democrats sweat and helped establish new or strengthened footholds around the state. In fact, it is the four congressional seats Republicans flipped in this deepest of deep blue states which ultimately allowed them to stagger across the finish line.
On the other side of the aisle, Democrats who dodged the expected red wave seem to have interpreted the outcome as validation of their aggressive left-wing agenda. Joe Biden dodged the expected rebuke of his presidency and with a spring in his step is now more likely than ever to seek a second term despite his age, condition, and the expressed wishes of more than half of Democrats who don’t want him to seek a second term. Biden has long asserted that he is the only Democrat who can beat Trump, and after 2020, he can make a strong argument to that effect. But will doubling down on the most progressive agenda in American history and re-nominating Biden not play into the hands of Republicans itching for another shot at this aging, unpopular chief executive and his increasingly socialist party?
See, if you look a bit beyond the headlines, it is not all gloom and doom for conservatives after the letdown known as the 2022 midterm elections. And while 2024 is two years away, the campaign for the White House has already begun in earnest with the 45th president officially seeking to become the 47th. The single most significant imperative is for the party to finally enter the playing field of mail-in balloting. If they can climb that hill, the burning question becomes whether the GOP’s newfound ability to stop Biden’s agenda and cash in on a broader swath of red across the land will ultimately land a Republican in the Oval Office.
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