Reality Check

Donald Trump and Kari Lake at “Save America” rally in Florence, Arizona.

A day after the 2022 midterm elections it is looking like the projected Red Wave turned into a Red Swell. I have spent many hours in the Atlantic Ocean and many times what looked like it might be a wave while it was still way out ended up being nothing more than a swell by the time it reached us. That certainly seems to be the case with these elections.

Two weeks ago, Oliver Wiseman, writing for The Spectator World, headlined his column “All signs point to a red wave.” He began with, “It’s now just under two weeks until the midterms. Judging by the mood music on both sides of the aisle, all signs point to a very good night for the Republican Party.” He concluded his comments on the midterm with this: “Midterms tend to be a referendum on the party in power, and Democrats have every reason to believe that the verdict will be unfavorable.”

While not all results are yet in, and which party will control the Senate is still unclear, we do know that the verdict was actually not unfavorable for the Democrats—or at least not very unfavorable. It was, however, unfavorable for the Republican party as a whole and for Donald Trump and his minions in particular.

Someone suggested to me today that the media had done a good job of gaslighting everyone—that the best way to discourage people from voting is to make them think that the outcome was in the bag. He was specifically suggesting that some voters who would have voted Republican did not bother to vote because they were sure the Red Wave was coming. I disagree, though.

There really was every reason to expect a Red Wave. And I will even go so far as to suggest that without Donald Trump, there would have been one. President Biden currently has an approval rating of 41.4% according to FiveThirtyEight. That means that almost three out of every five Americans do not approve of the job that he is doing as president. Every president since Franklin D. Roosevelt had a higher approval rating at this point in his administration than Joe Biden currently has—with the president closest to Biden’s rating being Donald Trump. By the way, I suspect FDR’s approval rating was higher, too, and probably many other presidents, but FiveThirtyEight only has data back to Truman.

The makeup of the Senate is currently 50-50 (including two Independents who caucus with the Democrats), with the Democrats being in the majority thanks to Vice President Kamala Harris being the tiebreaker. That means that the Republicans needed a net gain of only one seat in order to take the majority. Politico rated ten Senate races as toss-ups or likely narrow wins. As of right now, Democrats held three and flipped one, Republicans held three and three are still undecided—Arizona, Georgia and Nevada. Georgia is all but certain to be headed to yet another run-off, since neither incumbent Raphael Warnock nor Herschel Walker managed to get a majority of the vote. Somehow only two-thirds of the vote in Arizona have been counted thus far, but Democratic incumbent Mark Kelly currently has a lead of five percentage points (roughly 90,000 votes). In Nevada, 77% of the vote has been counted. Adam Laxalt, the Republican challenger, has a narrow lead over Catherine Cortez Masto (less than 23,000 votes). Interestingly, Laxalt leads in every county but one, yet his victory is by no means certain. He does not currently have a majority of the vote, either; as of the most recently reported results, 24,608 people voted for one of three other candidates or for “None of These Candidates,” an option Nevada has offered since 1975.

The Republicans retained the seat in Wisconsin, but Ron Johnson barely defeated Mandela Barnes, winning by about 27,000 votes out of more than 2.6 million cast. Barnes actually achieved the exact same percentage of the vote as Joe Biden did in 2020—49.5%. That was enough for Biden to carry the state and pick up Wisconsin’s 10 electoral votes, but not enough for Barnes to win; 1.7% of the voters in 2020 cast their votes for one of several third party candidates, whereas only Barnes and Johnson were on the ballot for Senate yesterday.

That the GOP did so poorly yesterday is certainly not a sign of confidence in or approval of Joe Biden. Instead, it is, mostly, a refutation of Donald Trump. Don’t get me wrong—Trump candidates did well in several races. Ron Johnson, for example, was linked to some election shenanigans in 2020 and originally said he would not vote to certify Biden’s victory, though he changed his mind after the January 6 riots. And J.D. Vance, a political newcomer who said that the election was stolen from Trump, won in Ohio. Sarah Huckabee Sanders was one of the earliest candidates endorsed by Trump, having served as his Press Secretary, and she won handily in Arkansas—but she is also the daughter of a popular former Arkansas governor.

But in Arizona, it is a different story. Kari Lake, the Trump-endorsed candidate for governor and a political newcomer who thought she was such an influential figure that she made campaign ads for candidates in other states, is not leading with two-thirds of the vote in. She is at least close. Secretary of State candidate Mark Finchem, however, who has ties to QAnon and the Oath Keepers, is considerably behind Adrian Fontes for Secretary of State.

In Alaska, with about 75% of the vote in, it seems that either Kelly Tshibaka or Lisa Murkowski will win the Senate race, but it is not clear which one. And Alaska has an interesting new ranked voting system in place. Trump has been clearly, consistently and adamantly opposed to Murkowski; if she wins, it will be a clear repudiation for Trump by Alaskans. And Trump-endorsed Sarah Palin has a slight lead over fellow GOP candidate Nick Begich for the a House seat, Democrat Mary Peltola has a sizable lead over both of them.

In Michigan, Democrats swept the statewide offices. Gretchen Whitmer, one of the most authoritarian governors amidst the COVID pandemic, won handily over Trump-endorsed Tudor Dixon. Incumbent Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson defeated Trump-endorsed Kristin Karamo, who denies the legitimacy of the 2020 election, even more handily.

In New Hampshire, Karoline Leavitt lost her bid to unseat incumbent Chris Pappas. Leavitt’s website proclaims that she “worked tirelessly” to get a position in the Trump White House and she later served as Assistant Press Secretary to Kayleigh McEnany. After that she was Communications Director for Congresswoman and House Republican Conference Chair, Elise Stefanik. But she came up short. Trump also endorsed Donald Bolduc in the New Hampshire Senate race, but he came up a full 9 percentage points behind incumbent Maggie Hassan.

In Pennsylvania, Trump-picked Mehmet Oz lost the Senate race to John Fetterman. While it is true that Fetterman is the incumbent lieutenant governor, the fact that he defeated Trump’s guy is noteworthy. Trump received 48.58% and 48.84% of the vote in Pennsylvania in 2016 and 2020 respectively. Oz received 46.8%. Fetterman’s own website describes him this way: “John doesn’t look like a typical politician, and more importantly, he doesn’t act like one. He supported legalizing marijuana before it was popular, officiated a same-sex marriage before it was legal, and pushed for single payer healthcare long before it was mainstream.” He regularly appears in a black hoodie. He did put on a suit and tie for his one debate with Oz, but the tie was not cinched up all the way. Oh, and because of a stroke, Fetterman had the assistance of a closed captioning device for the debate. Still, his performance was rough—so rough that Axios called the reaction to the debate “brutal.” Last Thursday, a poll done by Emerson College and The Hill showed Oz leading Fetterman. And yet….

Donald Trump held a big shindig at Mar-a-Lago last night to watch the election results. Earlier in the day, he released what CNBC called “a four-page press advisory detailing how much he had done to help Republicans up and down the ballot.” During the evening, radio host Jason Miller said that Trump should get the credit for GOP victories because “he is the inspiration and he is the one who has recruited a number of the MAGA candidates to run…no one has been out working harder for the candidates, he is still the kingmaker when it comes to the primaries and he’s the one who can turn people out in the general election.”

Hmmm. Sadly, Trump is a credit hog but spurns any responsibility at all when things go poorly. To his credit, he at least acknowledges it. He said, in an interview with NewsNation that was shown yesterday, “Well, I think if they win, I should get all the credit. And if they lose, I should not be blamed at all. But it will probably be just the opposite.”

In a column posted at 3:30 a.m. today, David Siders wrote, “Trump’s place in the party is far weaker after Tuesday. Truth is, if not for the former president’s interventions, the night could have been a lot better for the GOP.” What does he mean by that? Consider…

In New Hampshire, Bolduc lost to Hassan, receiving 267,594 votes, while Chris Sununu, a Republican not endorsed by Trump, won re-election to the governor’s office with 341,907 votes. In Georgia, Herschel Walker received 1,906,246 votes while Governor Brian Kemp, a Republican not endorsed by Trump (in fact, Trump endorsed someone to run against Kemp in the primary) received 2,109,105 votes. In Ohio, where Trump-endorsed J.D. Vance did prevail in his senate race against Tim Ryan, Vance received 2,147,898 votes, while Mike DeWine, the incumbent Republican governor, won re-election with 2,528,018 votes. In Vermont, Republican governor Phil Scott won re-election, receiving 201,316 votes. He was not endorsed by Trump. Gerald Malloy was endorsed by Trump for the Senate, but he garnered only 80,330 votes, losing badly to Peter Welch. In Maryland, Larry Hogan is the incumbent. He is term-limited and cannot run again, but he won with 51% of the vote in 2014 and with 55% of the vote in 2018. In 2018 he became the second Republican ever to be re-elected governor in Maryland, receiving the most votes of any governor in Maryland history in so doing. For 2022, he endorsed Kelly Shulz. Given his track record, you would think Republicans would pay attention. But Hogan is not a Trump lapdog, and Trump instead endorsed state delegate Dan Cox. Hogan refused to support Cox, calling him a “QAnon whack job.” How did that work out for the Republicans? Cox lost in a landslide, picking up only 37% of the vote, while Wes Moore, who has never before held political office, collected just shy of 60%. In Arizona, which has not yet been called, Trump tapped Kari Lake, who won the GOP primary over Karrin Taylor Robson. At the moment Lake is trailing Democrat Katie Hobbs. Chuck Coughlin, a GOP strategist in Phoenix, said, “I mean, come on. This should be a walk in the park for Republicans … If Karrin Taylor Robson was the [gubernatorial] nominee, it would be an a**-kicking this cycle.”

Kevin McCarthy is in line to become the Speaker of the House if the Republicans do, in fact, gain the majority. But if they do, it will be with a much smaller majority than McCarthy previously predicted. In fact, a year ago he suggested a 60-seat gain for the GOP. There are 46 House races that have not yet been called, and the Republicans only need to win 12 of those to take the majority, so it seems that that will happen. But even if they won all 46 of those races—which will not happen—they would not pick up the 60 seats McCarthy predicted last year.

It’s time for a reality check. Any efforts to truly make America great again will not involve Donald Trump. The sooner the Republican party realizes that the better.

Photo credit: Gage Skidmore