The dust is still settling around the congressional midterms, but it looks like Republicans will retake the House by a very slim margin and Democrats will have an ever-so-slight lead in the Senate.
But with stubbornly moderate Democrats such as Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, Republicans can be fairly confident the upper chamber will not try to advance the most extreme parts of President Biden’s agenda, even if they do increase their majority by one seat in the December runoff in Georgia. And of course, because of the flip in the House, those uber-progressive proposals will never make it up to the Senate. The governor’s houses in Maryland and Massachusetts may have flipped blue, but Republicans knew they were lucky to be holding them in the first place.
Even so, at the topline level it is understandable Republicans are disappointed. With a struggling economy and a sitting Democratic president with approval ratings stuck in the forties, conventional wisdom says they should have picked up thirty to forty seats in the House and easily taken the upper chamber. There was also a hope, realistic at the time even if fantastical now, of taking control of some blue-state governor’s mansions like Oregon that didn’t materialize. Yes, the GOP flipped Nevada, but that was canceled out by Katie Hobbs’s victory over Kari Lake in neighboring Arizona.
But if conservatives can look past the disappointment they feel from overblown expectations, they will see there is plenty of good news. They have control in the House of Representatives and hold the majority of gubernatorial seats. In North Carolina and Ohio, Republicans won all of the Supreme Court races on the ballot, winning and preserving Republican majorities, respectively. Democratic Kansas governor Laura Kelly hung on to her job, but Republicans gained a super-majority in the House to match their existing advantage in the Senate. While Republicans lost chambers in Minnesota, Michigan and Pennsylvania, they gained a super-majority in Iowa and West Virginia and took away one held by the Democrats in Oregon. Overall a good result, if falling short of great.
A look at 2018 and 2022’s exit polls also quantify the narratives about Democrats losing ground with minority voters. Compared to the 2018 midterms, Republicans grew support among all minority groups: +4 among Black voters, +10 among Hispanics and an impressive +17 among Asians. If Republicans can continue to improve on these trends, even at the marginal level, it puts a significant number House districts previously out of reach on the table and solidifies their positing in current swing districts. For example, Florida’s 25th and 26th congressional districts flipped in 2020 as Republicans increased their margins among Hispanics and Democrats were unable to regain power during the midterms.
State-specific exit polls also show encouraging data for the future. Even though Republican Mehmet Oz lost the Senate race in Pennsylvania, he won the vast majority (72 percent) of voters who were focused on inflation. The same was true in Arizona and New Hampshire showing that if Republicans can keep debates focused on economic issues, they have a significant advantage.
President Biden’s victory lap speech last Wednesday likely contributed to the feeling of loss among Republicans. Biden made a prime-time address to talk about the “strong showing” Democrats had and how he saw the results as a vote of confidence in his priorities — an odd conclusion for someone whose party is on track to lose control of the House. His remarks centered around working with Republicans also felt forced given he was using his official capacity to publicly gloat over his opponents.
The speech perhaps felt like salt in the wound for Republicans trying to make sense of what they did wrong, while simultaneously preparing for in-party drama that is sure to follow former President Trump’s prime-time announcement tonight. But Biden’s speech was the most encouraging part of the week. President Biden’s rush to claim victory despite objectively losing power and his belief that such a loss communicated approval of his agenda signals that no real post-mortem will be done on the left. President Biden will use this better-than-expected showing to rebuke his potential challengers who would carry far less baggage and bring more enthusiasm to the Democrats’ 2024 campaign. He will continue to play to the progressive wing of the party, push unpopular, if not flat out economically damaging, policies and engage in the divisive politics the American people have come to loathe.
For Republicans and their 2024 chances, this is where good turns to great.