So there was no red wave. In defiance of polls showing significant Republican momentum leading up to Election Day, Democrats managed to avoid a 2006-style midterm “thumpin’” and a 2010-style “shellacking.” The expected Republican wave today looks more like a puddle, as Washington Post columnist Karen Tumulty put it.
President Joe Biden had faced criticism from members of his own party who suggested that the White House messaging strategy in the closing days of the campaign was misguided, and that Democrats had failed to focus enough on voters’ top concerns, which polls consistently found were inflation and the economy. On Wednesday, White House staffers and allies were reportedly feeling a mixture of relief and vindication.
“While any seat lost is painful — some good Democrats didn’t win last night — Democrats had a strong night,” Biden said at an afternoon news conference. “We lost fewer seats in the House of Representatives than any Democratic president’s first midterm election in the last 40 years. And we had the best midterms for governors since 1986.”
Biden’s job just got more complicated — as did Kevin McCarthy’s: There may not be much time for Biden to celebrate — or, in the end, all that much reason to crow. Even as Democrats may have bucked historical trends and outperformed the direst predictions, Republicans remain poised to win the House by a narrow margin. Control of the Senate is still up for grabs with races in Arizona, Georgia and Nevada yet to be called. It could again come down to a December runoff in Georgia, just as it did two years ago.
The narrow Republican edge in the House likely gives conservatives such as those in the Freedom Caucus more leverage to push their priorities on Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), the presumptive speaker.
Looking ahead to the next couple of years, Biden said Wednesday that he understands that voters are frustrated, but he believes the public will embrace his agenda even more strongly once the benefits of legislation he’s enacted become more visible in the coming months.
Where compromise may or may not be possible: He emphasized, though, that he’s prepared to compromise with Republicans on some issues. “Regardless of what the final tally in these elections show, and there’s still some counting going on, I’m prepared to work with my Republican colleagues,” Biden added. “The American people have made clear, I think, that they expect Republicans to be prepared to work with me as well.”
Biden specified that he hoped to see continued bipartisan support for Ukraine in its war against Russia’s invasion and said he would not support any Republican proposal that would make inflation worse, rejecting a potential GOP effort to repeal a recently enacted Democratic measure to lower prescription drug prices.
Biden also rejected the idea of tax cuts for the wealthy. “As we look at tax cuts, we should be looking at tax cuts for working people and middle-class people,” he said, promising to stick to his pledge to not raise taxes on people making less than $400,000 a year. He added that “under no circumstances” would he support GOP proposals to cut or make fundamental changes to Social Security and Medicare. “That’s not on the table,” he said. “I will not do that.”
An Orange Crush election? As the final results are clarified in the coming days, perhaps the biggest outstanding question will be whether 2022 goes down in history as the Orange Crush election instead of a red wave — whether it will turn out to be the Republican letdown that loosens former President Donald Trump’s clementine-hued grip on the party.
Republican pols and their allies in the chattering class are already raising the prospect of dumping Trump — and it’s no coincidence that the New York Post, owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp., splashed Florida’s Ron DeSantis on its front page after the Republican governor cruised to reelection Tuesday night. The Post’s cover line: “DeFUTURE.”
“Regardless of the reality with GOP primary voters, Republican elites — and other anti-Trump Republicans — sense blood in the water,” Axios’s Mike Allen writes. “There's an increased likelihood of a larger, more boisterous primary field competing against Trump in 2024.”
On the other hand, we’ve heard Republican talk turn against Trump before only to see party members fall back in line as it became evident that the MAGA base still backed their guy.
It will take time for all that to shake out. For now, here’s a look at more of the smartest — or most entertaining — reactions to the election developments.
Independents broke blue: “Independent voters, who were expected to break for the GOP due to economic anxiety, instead backed Democratic candidates by 4 percentage points nationally, according to a large survey of the 2022 electorate called AP VoteCast. Independents broke for Democrats by far bigger margins in many states with competitive Senate races—by 18 points in Pennsylvania, 28 points in Georgia and 30 points in Arizona.” – Wall Street Journal’s Aaron Zitner and John McCormick
It wasn’t just the economy, stupid: Inflation clearly was a top concern for voters, but the Biden strategy of emphasizing a range of topics may have paid off — and issues including abortion rights and preserving democracy clearly were still powerful drivers, as this exit poll from NBC News shows.
Inflation beats unemployment: “Some vindication in this for the full employment hawks — obviously in an ideal world you would neither undershoot nor overshoot, but the public backlash to inflation in 2022 does in fact look smaller than the backlash to unemployment in 2010.” — writer Matthew Yglesias
Economics writer Zachary D. Carter of the Hewlett Foundation suggested on Twitter that the “political toxicity of inflation has been significantly overstated.” He added that expansionary fiscal policy was the biggest winner of the night. “Compare these results to the 2010 midterms and the economic strategy that led up to them. Across the two recoveries, voters punished unemployment much harder than inflation. Evidence that the most serious political risk in a macro crisis is undershooting on economic relief.”
Saying no to extremists: “Republicans misread the mood of the country, and many political analysts went along. Young voters backed the Democrats, and enough voted this year to make a big difference. Americans are quite capable of being angry about the state of the economy without letting their unhappiness push them into the arms of extremists. And for the Republican Party, Donald Trump is a stone cold loser.” — Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne Jr.
A reckoning for Republicans? "We had the worst inflation in four decades, the worst collapse in real wages in 40 years, the worst crime wave since the 1990s, the worst border crisis in U.S. history. We have Joe Biden, who is the least popular president since Harry Truman – since presidential polling happened – and there wasn’t a red wave. That is a searing indictment of the Republican Party. That is a searing indictment of the message that we have been sending to the voters. They’ve looked at all of that and looked at Republican alternative and said, no thanks. That is, the Republican party needs to do a really deep introspection look in the mirror right now because this is an absolute disaster for the Republican Party and we need to turn back.” — former speechwriter for George W. Bush and Washington Post columnist Marc Thiessen
“If Republicans had simply nominated bland moderate business types, held their tongue on abortion, and run on inflation and crime, I have no doubt they would have won a smashing victory. But aside from a few outliers — like Vermont Gov. Phil Scott, who won by almost 50 points — they just don’t have people like that anymore. The party is simply crawling with bug-eyed psychos, conspiracy theorists, and gutter racists at every level.” – American Prospect’s Ryan Cooper
Biden, about to turn 80, may be emboldened to run again: “He has every reason in the world to run again,” Democratic strategist Adrienne Elrod told Politico. “And there are a lot of Democrats waking up today — and not just Democrats by the way, independents — who are saying, ‘I hope he runs again, because look at the night that we had.’” But the president still isn’t popular, even if he didn’t drag down other Democrats. “This was a choice election, even as midterms are usually a referendum on the party in power,” notes The Washington Post’s Aaron Blake. “Also driving that home: Democrats actually won voters who disapproved of President Biden ‘somewhat,’ 49 percent to 45 percent.”
Responding to a recession may have just gotten harder: “Reaching agreement on fiscal policy is likely to become more difficult,” Goldman Sachs analysts said in a research note. “Congress will need to raise the debt limit by Q3 2023. Under a Republican House and Democratic Senate in 2011 and 2013, debt limit uncertainty disrupted financial markets and led to substantial spending cuts. A similar scenario could play out next year, though a Democratic Senate would make it less likely that a debt limit deal would involve spending cuts of the sort enacted in 2011. A legislative response to a potential recession would also be more difficult, we believe, as the House and Senate would likely pursue different approaches and the odds of gridlock would be somewhat higher than if Republicans controlled both chambers.” Divided government could mean a policy response to an economic downturn is harder to pass and ultimately smaller in scope.