The pre-election predictions were tidy and expected: Amid economic uncertainty and a sitting Democratic president, a Republican-powered “red wave” was almost certain to crash over the midterms. Not to invoke 2016, but one would think that after that shocking outcome, we would have learned that cable news crystal balls and national political-media narratives are imperfect at best and woefully out-of-touch at worst. This disconnect showed itself yet again on Tuesday night, as the ruin foretold by the polls and pundits (for Democrats, anyway) simply did not come to pass. Despite the long history of the party not in the White House snatching back congressional seats, the red wave was more like a ripple.
In a series of key races, the 2022 midterms weren’t as victorious for Republicans—or as painful for Democrats—as they could have been. Despite the promise of sweeping GOP wins in Congress—wishful, magical thinking at Fox News?—the House of Representatives and Senate majorities remained up for grabs on Wednesday morning. And while Republicans are expected to regain control of the House, they are poised to do so with only 224 seats, only six more than the 218 necessary for a majority, according to The New York Times. That would represent the weakest midterm performance by a president’s opposing party in 20 years. Would I be defying Michelle Obama and going low if, after years of Trumpist trauma, I savored a fleeting moment to declare Republicans politically flaccid?
In the Senate, Democrats have already flipped one crucial seat, with John Fetterman beating Dr. Mehmet Oz—a man I rue ever watching on Oprah—in the nail-biting race to replace retiring Republican Sen. Pat Toomey. In New Hampshire, a seat Republicans aimed to flip, Democratic Sen. Maggie Hassan held on. Three more Senate races—in Arizona, Georgia, and Nevada—remain too close to call. Either party will need to win two of three to claim the majority, but the closeness in itself is encouraging.
Why did the Republicans fail to capture the flag? For one thing, an unpopular president: Not Joe Biden, but ex-President Donald Trump. Several of his endorsed candidates outright faltered, including Oz, Pennsylvania gubernatorial hopeful Doug Mastriano, and candidate for Michigan governor, Tudor Dixon, who lost to Democratic incumbent Gretchen Whitmer. Other Trump pets find themselves in extremely tight, still-uncalled races, like far-right Arizona gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake and conservative Colorado Rep. Lauren Boebert, an incumbent molded in Trump’s image now facing an upset by Democrat Adam Frisch. In the New York governor’s race, worries that Trump-endorsed Republican Lee Zeldin could pose a legitimate threat to Democratic incumbent Kathy Hochul turned out to be unfounded, even as Zeldin won 40% of the vote—disturbingly impressive for the stalwart (thanks to New York City) blue state. It should be telling, however, that Zeldin had downplayed Trump’s endorsement.