Most reviews of the midterms concluded that the Democrats did really well. After all, they held the Senate and lost only 10 seats in the House. By historical standards, that is fantastic. But is it really? Thomas Edsall has a different take on the midterms. It is worth looking at.
First, turnout was down all over the place. In Philadelphia it was down 33% from 2020. In Chicago, turnout of registered voters was 46% (vs. 61% in 2018). In Cuyahoga County (Cleveland) is was also 46% (vs. 55% in 2018). In New York City it was only 33% (vs. 41% in 2018). New Yorkers don't like voting.
The demographics weren't great for the Democrats either. Yes, over 80% of Black voters went for the Democrats, but that is 4-7 points below 2018. Among Latinos, 56-60% voted for the blue team, but that is off 9-10 points compared to 2018. Among Asian-Americans, 64% voted for Democrats (vs. 71% in 2018).
Republicans won the House, partly due to gerrymandering, but also because they got more votes. Just adding up the raw totals, they got 53.9 million votes to the Democrats' 50.4 million. That said, and as we've pointed out, it's a little more complicated than that because there were some races that did not feature a Democrat vs. a Republican. In the 16 uncontested races this cycle (13 Republicans, 3 Democrats), the red team netted about 1.45 million votes. In the 13 races where the only opposition was from a third-party candidate (10 Republicans, 3 Democrats), the red team netted about 1.3 million votes. In races in California, Louisiana and Alaska, where it was Republican vs. Republican or Democrat vs. Democrat, the Democrats netted about 500,000 votes. In other words, if you only count Republican vs. Democrat races, the Republicans got about 50 million votes and the Democrats got about 48.5 million.
So the Republicans got 50.7% of the competitive vote (and 51.7% overall) and 51% of the House seats. When your percentage of the seats is about the same as your percentage of the votes, that's not really gerrymandering in action (unless it was done by junior gerrymanders without any experience). Senior gerrymanderers get a much larger percentage of the seats than their percentage of the vote would justify. So while Florida and Texas was horribly gerrymandered, when you look at the maps overall, if the Democrats had gotten more votes than the Republicans, they would probably have held the House. It's that's simple. And if the New York State legislature hadn't botched it, the Republicans would probably have had a two- or three-seat margin instead of a "giant" five-seat edge, 222-213.
Edsall's conclusion after crunching the data is that the voters did not turn against the Republican Party. They turned against Donald Trump's truly awful hand-picked candidates. You know, that old "candidate quality" thingie. After the election, Karl Rove wrote in The Wall Street Journal: "The losers Tuesday were often the candidates who closely followed the former president's rally-speech scripts—campaigning on the lie that the 2020 election was stolen from Mr. Trump by fraud on a massive scale. Of the Republican candidates for secretary of state or attorney general who based their campaign on this falsehood, only one has pulled through, and he was in deep red territory."
Edsall believes that if the Republicans nominate Trump in 2024, the Democrats will have a good shot at the trifecta they enjoy now and will lose on Jan. 3, 2023. If the Republicans nominate someone else for president, the Party's chances shoot up. And, we might add, if Trump is under indictment or has been convicted of felonies anywhere, nominating him could be just toxic for the GOP. Being elected to public office from prison is tough—unless you are James Michael Curley. Republican pollster Ed Goeas said: "Assuming that the economy is out of the ditch by the end of '23, I would have to believe a Trump nomination would be devastating."
Democratic strategist Paul Begala said: "Swing voters in swing states and districts didn't marry the Democrats; they just dumped the Republicans." He also noted that when the House Republicans open a dozen investigations into Hunter Biden's laptop, every Democrat on every committee should ask out loud: "How does this hearing lower the price of gas or reduce crime?"
A post-election analysis also shows that ratf*cking works. In six races where Democrats dumped millions of dollars in the primaries to get crazies nominated as their opponents, the Democrats won. But Begala warned the Democrats that they shouldn't try this in the presidential primaries. They should let the Republicans fairly and honestly nominate their own Trump, and then reap the consequences of that.
The midterms are not good predictors of the next presidential election, but the 2022 midterms do not suggest a badly damaged Republican Party that is beyond repair. Maybe some day, but not yet. (V)