Opinion: The Red Wave that Never Came
The 2022 midterm elections are now over, and although final vote counts in some states are still trickling in as this is being written, the result is clear. Despite the Republican Party’s position out of power, 8% inflation, and an unpopular president, the hoped-for red wave did not materialize. In fact, Republicans had a historically bad performance for a midterm election with a Democratic president.
Democrats will almost certainly maintain their seats in the Senate, with the possibility of actually gaining a seat, seriously hampering Republican efforts to curtail the Biden administration. Republicans will take the House by only a hair’s breadth, leaving them extremely vulnerable during the next two years. What ought to have been a stunning repudiation of the Biden administration’s policies has turned into a pathetic route.
By any objective measure, the Republican electoral strategy has failed miserably. If the party intends to be competitive going forwards, there will need to be some major changes. Here are a few takeaways.
The repeal of Roe v. Wade was definitely a strong influence on Democratic success. Abortion rights ranked highly on voters’ list of important issues in exit polling, on par with inflation in many places. Democratic candidates capitalized on the issue, blanketing the airwaves with attack ads accusing Republicans of taking away fundamental rights and freedoms of women.
This had a significant effect: unmarried women voted for Democrats by an astounding 37%. Republican candidates, on the other hand, generally had no reply. Some, like Blake Masters, wavered and suddenly softened their positions on abortion in order to try to tack to the center, but many simply ignored the issue altogether.
Republican messaging on abortion has been weak for some time now, and voters have shown that they are not having it. Pro-life candidates and interest groups were so interested in securing the repeal of Roe that they dropped the ball on the effective communication and policy-making that would need to occur once the decision no longer stood. Now that the Supreme Court has returned the power to regulate abortion to the states, local candidates can no longer hide behind platitudes and shield themselves from responsibility behind Roe - they must propose policy and take a real position, and that position must be convincing to voters.
This does not mean that Republicans need to soften their commitment to the protection of infant life in the womb. It does mean that they need to take the concerns of women seriously. That means being willing to couple abortion prohibitions with bills to fund prenatal and postnatal healthcare for mothers, additional support for state adoption systems, and reasonable political compromises for the tiny portion of incendiary edge cases, like rape and incest. Supporting these kinds of policies and doing targeted outreach to women takes away easy avenues of attack and demonstrates a robust commitment to the life and welfare of mothers and children that will be far harder to dismiss than current messaging, which has been outdated since the Supreme Court decided Dobbs.
Florida is the Model to Follow
Republican performance was not dismal everywhere. The red wave did, in fact, materialize - but only in Florida, where Ron DeSantis swept to reelection as governor by 20%. Only a few years ago it was still a swing state. However, under the leadership of DeSantis, the Florida Republican Party has turned the state reliably red. The key constituency for the Republican victory was the Latino vote, a traditionally Democratic block. which this year voted for DeSantis at a rate of 50%. If the Republican Party as a whole is going to be successful, it should model this approach with appropriate adjustments as local circumstances dictate.
DeSantis is an unusual Republican in many regards. While he engaged strongly on culture war issues, including passing the Parental Rights in Education (“Don’t Say Gay”) Bill and curtailing the state’s special treatment of Disney, he also is quietly running an extensive campaign to increase environmental protections in the state and to reinforce cities and beaches against rising sea levels by building seawalls.
Adding to his success has been his competent governance in high-profile circumstances. He made extensive preparations for Hurricane Ian and began repairing and rebuilding the state immediately after the hurricane touched down without making it a political issue (as Chris Christie famously did with Superstorm Sandy). During COVID, he also avoided the excesses of lockdowns, boosted the state economy, and kept the education system open.
The Florida Republican Party has also been running targeted outreach to Latino communities in Florida. These voters have been traditionally neglected by the Republican Party as a constituency - perhaps out of concerns about immigration - but they make up an increasingly critical part of the Republican coalition. Latinos tend to be conservative on cultural issues and deeply patriotic, and have maintained the bright immigrant vision of the American dream. Not as much can be said about many white Americans, who have given it up as a fiction. Many, especially Cubans, are suspicious of socialism, having seen their native or neighboring countries ruined by cheap promises of welfare. When phrased properly, conservative appeals to family values, the importance of patriotism, and opposition to the crude redistributive of the Democratic Party will bring these voters into the Republican fold.
Trumpism is a Sinking Ship
Perhaps the most striking takeaway from this election is that Trumpism is a sinking ship. Trump’s hand picked candidates during the primary season saddled the Republican party with almost unthinkably incompetent candidates in high-profile races, including Dr. Oz, a quack TV salesman, and Herschel Walker, a man who has been diagnosed with multiple personality disorder. These flaws have been obvious since the beginning of the primary season, yet they were able to win Trump’s endorsement anyways because of their perceived loyalty to him, rather than because they would be able to effectively advance conservative priorities in their respective states.
The result has been predictable. Dr. Oz was regularly humiliated by Fetterman because of his complete alienation from the concerns of everyday Pennsylvanians, despite his opponent barely being able to speak coherently. Herschel Walker openly admitted to paying for an abortion, undermining pro-life advocacy in the state and his own credibility. Blake Masters has all the charisma and political talent of Peter Thiel’s doormat. All of them have run far behind generic Republicans in their states - in Arizona, for example, Masters is running 12.5pts behind generic Republicans. As it turns out, candidate quality matters. Including who is chosen to lead the Republican Party.
Donald Trump has always been deeply unpopular with the American public, barely scraping out a win in the electoral college in 2016 against Hillary Clinton, one of the worst candidates the Democratic Party has ever run, and losing in 2020 to Joe Biden, who doesn’t rank much higher. His approval ratings have never been positive, but Republicans bet that - despite his bad behavior and relative unpopularity - his ability to mobilize his base was worth it. That has now clearly been proven false, as his association with the party continues to undermine conservative success.
Trump rose to power as the Republican Party was struggling to create a new identity with solutions that would appeal to average Americans. However, his movement has failed to produce the desired outcomes. The Republican Party currently has no meaningful political program other than blind allegiance, handicapping the Party’s opportunities for years to come.
The Republican Party
As it stands, the Republican Party does not communicate a substantial set of policies, no platform to be used to govern, and worst of all no compelling vision of American society with which to appeal to voters. It is almost purely reactionary, lashing out at Democratic policies and cultural issues without any proactive measures or independent thought. This is most likely a product of its base, which consists primarily of older Americans who are dismayed at the direction of the country - but it has cost the party the ability to meaningfully appeal to many Americans by presenting a moral vision.
This is particularly damaging to the party’s appeal to younger voters, who need that vision to be convinced. Democrats certainly have one to offer: unrestrained expressive individualism with no consequences, supported by state redistribution of wages from workers to non-workers. Republicans will need to push back by offering their own vision of a dynamic society centered in family and community, opportunities for growth and prosperity for those who work, and they will need to craft policies to make that vision a reality.
That means dumping Trump, who is far more concerned with extorting personal loyalty than advancing a conservative vision in politics. In just the past week, he has published bizarre rants against both DeSantis and Glen Younkin, two of the GOP’s most popular and effective governors. Real leaders are willing to put aside petty personal concerns and work for the good of the party and the country.
The Republican Party was handed a sore loss this election, but it has been given the opportunity to reorient its approach before the vital 2024 presidential election. If it is going to seriously appeal to American voters, it will need to take their concerns seriously and build a new platform worthy of their approbation.
Written By: Joseph Addington
The opinions expressed in this piece are those of the author. The Cougar Chronicle is an independent student-run newspaper and is not affiliated with Brigham Young University or The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints