The Red Wave That Wasn’t

Republicans expecting a big night Tuesday saw their storyline unravel, as Joe Biden defied his approval ratings and led Democrats toward the most successful midterms in two decades.

By Susan Milligan

The Red Wave That Wasn’t

It was the wave that wasn’t.

Republicans were gleefully anticipating a big night Tuesday, predicting a “red wave” – even a “red tsunami” – that would give the GOP control of the House and Senate, plus pickups in statehouses across the country. With the polls starting to close, Donald Trump Jr. tweeted out “bloodbath!” in expectation of a brutal night for Democrats. House GOP leader Kevin McCarthy, with a measuring-the-drapes tone to his voice, confidently talked to supporters about the plans to undermine Democrats once he took the speaker’s gavel.

Musk throws weight behind Republicans in U.S. midterms

Within hours, that storyline began to unravel, along with GOP hopes of delivering devastating losses that would repudiate the Biden presidency and send Democrats into despair. While outstanding races could still give the GOP control of one or both chambers of Congress, their majorities would be paltry, undermining the Republican argument that American voters would deliver a loud message against Biden and his agenda.

President Joe Biden, despite having higher disapproval ratings than approval ratings, is poised to score the most successful midterm results since George W. Bush defied history and picked up seats in Congress in 2002.

It was “a good day, a good day for democracy,” Biden said after an afternoon press conference, noting that presidents typically lose an average of 28 House seats and four Senate seats in midterms. Republicans “were hoping for big losses, but that’s not happening.”

Biden said he’d be meeting with congressional leaders in both parties after he returns from an upcoming foreign trip and wanted to work across the aisle – but said he would not compromise on matters such as protecting Social Security and Medicare, and continuing the infrastructure and climate change programs Congress has already approved.

The relatively good showing by Democrats is reflective of Biden’s own political trajectory, going back to his quest for the Democratic nomination in 2020.

The then-former vice president appeared headed for early elimination from the primary race, but a big win in the South Carolina primary propelled his campaign, putting him on a path to the nomination.

As president, Biden has seen his agenda declared dead on numerous occasions, as razor-thin Democratic majorities in Congress failed to muster the votes to pass it. But after painful political wrangling, Biden nonetheless managed to win passage of a massive pandemic relief package, the first gun safety bill in nearly three decades, a spending bill with historic climate change provisions, confirmation of the first Black woman to the Supreme Court and other items.

Despite the president’s tepid approval ratings, “the bottom line is, Joe Biden has been a good president and Democrats had a lot to run on – period,” says veteran Democratic strategist Simon Rosenberg, who predicted for months that Democrats would have a good election night.

“This is the third consecutive election where MAGA has failed the Republican Party. Whatever MAGA is, it’s not a successful political strategy for the Republicans,” adds Rosenberg, president of the New Democratic Network.

Democrats’ biggest prize was in the pickup of a pivotal Senate seat in Pennsylvania, with John Fetterman defeating one of former President Donald Trump’s favored candidate, Mehmet Oz.

Races Republicans thought they could flip went easily to incumbent Democrats. Sen. Maggie Hassan, who won her first race for the New Hampshire seat six years ago by barely more than 1,000 votes, coasted to victory by a double-digit margin Tuesday night. Incumbents Gov. Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan, Gov. Tony Evers of Wisconsin and Gov. Tim Walz of Minnesota also won, as did Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly, who’d been on many expected casualty lists as a Democrat running in a red state in a midterm election.

With the election battle cry that “democracy is on the ballot,” Democrats managed to defeat election-deniers in key races where adherence to election rules and norms could be an issue in 2024, winning secretary of state posts in Michigan, Minnesota and New Mexico.

The GOP mood shifted dramatically as it became clear that control of both chambers of Congress was in flux, despite the fact that presidents typically lose seats in their first midterms. Oz threw reporters out of his “victory” party venue Tuesday night. Trumps Sr. and Jr. went quiet.

“Definitely not a Republican wave, that’s for darn sure,” Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican, told NBC News on Tuesday night as the results rolled in.

Rep. Lauren Boebert, the combative Colorado Republican who had been expected to easily win reelection, last tweeted “the red wave has begun!” Tuesday evening – taunting no more online as results showed her Democratic opponent, Adam Frisch, pulled ahead of her in the count. With Frisch ahead by a hair, the race was still undecided Wednesday afternoon.

Democrats had their disappointments, including a rout in Florida – a state where Democrats had expected to lose races, though perhaps not by the big margins they did. The man in charge of getting Democrats elected to Congress, Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney of New York, narrowly lost his own reelection race.

But there were surprise pickups for Democrats in the House as well, keeping the battle for control of the chamber tight. In North Carolina, Democrats won an open seat, and challengers knocked off GOP Rep. Maya Flores of Texas and Rep. Steve Chabot of Ohio.

Nor was there a red wave in down-ticket races.

Democrats scored dramatic victories in Michigan, winning all three statewide office elections and flipping both chambers of the state legislature, achieving a “trifecta” there for the first time in 40 years. Democrats also took control of the Minnesota state Senate, scoring a trifecta of Democratic control in that state as well.

Also, Democrats also won supermajorities in the state legislature in Vermont – a critical advantage in a state that also reelected its GOP governor, Phil Scott – and held off Republican efforts to gain supermajorities in North Carolina and Wisconsin. Republicans won veto-proof majorities in both chambers of Florida’s state legislature, but since Gov. Ron DeSantis is Republican, they likely won’t need to use that expanded power.

With some races still not decided, Democrats by Wednesday afternoon had held onto every one of their governors’ seats and flipped two more – in Massachusetts and Maryland.

The results also signal a backlash – or at least a pushback – against the aggressive approaches many Republicans took, especially in the waning weeks of the election, experts say.

Boebert’s close race was a sign that her constituents were not happy with her bombastic ways, which include making anti-Muslim comments about a House colleague and saying she was “tired” of the constitutional separation of church and state.

At least one potential 2024 presidential contender appears to have had a rethink: Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin, campaigning with a fellow Republican, made a joke about sending Rep. Nancy Pelosi back to California – even as the Democratic House speaker was on her way back home to tend to her husband, Paul Pelosi, after he was brutally attacked by a man who told investigators his mission was to break Nancy Pelosi’s kneecaps if she didn’t tell him the “truth” as a warning to other Democrats.

Youngkin initially declined to say he was sorry for what he said. On Wednesday, Pelosi’s office confirmed that Youngkin had sent a handwritten note to the speaker apologizing for his remarks.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.