With the conclusion of the Senate runoff in Georgia cementing Democratic control of Congress, the 2022 midterm elections are all but over and the conclusion is clear– despite losing control of the House of Representatives, Democrats massively overperformed.
There is an unwritten rule in American politics that is almost never broken; the first midterm following a presidential election always results in a major loss for the incumbent president’s party. In 2018, under the leadership of former President Trump, Republicans lost 41 seats in the House of Representatives. In 2010, the Democrats lost 63 seats during the Obama administration.
Given the history, polls and unfavorable economic climate for President Biden, there was a media consensus on an impending red wave for the incumbent Democrat. On election night, Republicans were favored to easily take control of both chambers of Congress, according to poll aggregator FiveThirtyEight.
However, little more than a red trickle came in on election night. Republicans failed to gain control of the Senate, losing a seat in Pennsylvania, cementing Democratic control of the chamber for two more years. Meanwhile, in the House of Representatives, Republicans gained just 10 seats.
This gave Biden the most successful Democratically controlled midterm since John F. Kennedy’s in the aftermath of the Cuban Missile Crisis.
Historically, in the few midterms where the president’s party managed to expand its House majority, a massive historic event preceded the election. The most recent example of this was in the 2002 midterms. The Sept. 11 terrorist attacks hardened support for incumbent President George W. Bush, which resulted in an eight-seat gain in the House of Representatives.
For the 2022 midterms, that major historical event, according to exit polls and voting patterns, was the overturn of Roe v. Wade and the degradation of democratic norms. Independents, a group of voters that naturally vote against the president’s party during midterms, leaned Democratic this past election, citing abortion access and democracy as their top issues.
Across the country, Republicans nominated Trump-endorsed 2020 election deniers, in part due to Democratic ad spending on radical ‘unelectable’ candidates. In the first election since the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, exit polls are clear– Trump is highly unpopular and election integrity is an ineffective talking point. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) blamed the losses on “chaos and negativity” within the Republican party, which he claims alienated independent voters.
The narrowly Republican-controlled House, set to convene on Jan. 3, 2023, leaves an uphill battle for House Minority Leader Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.). The California Republican spoke with Newsmax, telling his party to not “play games” with their slim nine-vote majority, as doing so could risk handing Speaker of the House to the Democrats, unified in voting for Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.).
McCarthy must obtain 218 votes, a majority, on Jan. 3 in order to assume the role of Speaker. However, Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.) claims at least 20 members of the Republican caucus are “pretty hard no” votes against Minority Leader McCarthy.
In the aftermath of the tumultuous election, prominent Republican politicians and commentators reevaluated their tactics, abandoning Trump-era voting policy positions. Larry Kudlow, National Economic Council director under Trump, urged Republican voters to take advantage of early voting in the 2022 Georgia Senate runoff, arguing that “Republicans have to learn how to play this game too.” Stephen Miller, a former top aide to President Trump, credited the mobilization of the early vote as the reason why Democrats outperformed expectations.
The failure of Trump-endorsed candidates in the election has resulted in a massive degradation of his control over the party. Despite announcing his 2024 presidential campaign, Republican leadership remains distant. Polls of likely Republican voters have experienced a sharp decline in Trump support after the midterms, with up-and-coming Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.) emerging as an early favorite for both donors and grassroots supporters.
Although Democrats showed surprising resilience this year, maintaining their slim Senate majority in 2024 will be almost impossible. Senators Joe Manchin (D-W.V.), Kirsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), Jacky Rosen (D-NV), and Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) are up for highly competitive re-election. In the case of Senator Manchin, if he decides to run, the centrist Democratic must maintain his seat in a state that voted for Trump by nearly 40 points in 2020.
Meanwhile, aside from the state of Florida, Republicans will only have to defend conservative strongholds. In fact, according to polling, the largest threat to Republican popularity is not Democratic enthusiasm but a third successful Republican primary for Donald Trump.