The “Red Wave” turned out to be a ripple – so what does the GOP do now? – Orange County Register

The much-anticipated red-wave in the 2022 midterms turned out to be just a ripple – and Donald Trump is largely to blame.

Though we are still waiting on the final votes to be tallied in key races, the Republican Party’s performance this year is shaping up to be the worst for their party during the first term of a Democratic president since 1962.

Republicans will most likely still win control of the House, but with a much smaller margin than anticipated. In the Senate, where the GOP was projected to win a two or three seat majority, control will likely come down to a runoff in Georgia – a scenario Republicans would rather have avoided, given Herschel Walker’s weaknesses as a candidate.

Leading up to the midterms, Republicans had been hoping for an electoral blowout on par with, or just shy of, 1994 and 2010 – when the party won 54 and 63 House seats respectively – and with good reason.

Polling in recent weeks indicated that the Republican Party had the momentum, and the national issues agenda and anti-incumbent historical trends were working in their favor. Inflation remains at a four-decade high, President Biden’s approval rating is hovering around 40%, and economic pessimism is widespread.

Moreover, polling also suggested that Democrats’ social issues-oriented agenda was out of touch with voters who were largely concerned about quality-of-life issues such as the economy, cost of living, and surging crime – all issues that national Republicans campaigned on, and were more trusted to address.

While Democrats’ overperformance was due to a variety of factors – including the salience of the abortion issue in swing-states where access was being threatened – it can mostly be attributed to Donald Trump’s corrosive influence in the Republican Party.

Republicans ran extreme, low-quality candidates who were either hand-picked or endorsed by Trump in battleground states where a more mainstream Republican would have likely been successful. In the case of Georgia and New Hampshire, Trump-endorsed candidates failed while traditional Republicans in other races won handily. Even in the red-state of Ohio, the Trump-endorsed Senate candidate, J.D. Vance, underperformed the Republican Governor, Mike DeWine by 20-points.

Trump didn’t just endorse these candidates; he was also an active presence on the campaign trail, stumping for Republican candidates in states like Pennsylvania, which ultimately voted Democratic.

This turned the midterm election – which is usually a referendum on the party in power – into a referendum on an unpopular, twice-impeached, one-term former Republican president who tried (and failed) to subvert the will of the voters and steal the presidency.

If the Republican Party has any chance of remaining electorally viable in future elections, party leaders need to make a decisive break from Donald Trump, and the repudiation of Trump-endorsed candidates on Tuesday gives the GOP a clear opening to do so.

Some conservatives have – finally – begun acknowledging how toxic Trump is to all but his base, including outgoing Pennsylvania Senator Pat Toomey, who said: “I’m very disappointed. I think a huge factor in all of this was the disastrous role of Donald Trump in this whole process.”

Many Republicans are now calling for the elevation of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis over Trump as the Republican leader, and for good reason, as DeSantis had perhaps the best election night of all.

He won his race by nearly 20-points, and Republicans cleanly swept the Florida Senate contest and competitive House races. The scope of DeSantis’ victory – including winning in counties where Trump lost by double digits in 2020 – makes his electability argument very strong for 2024.

Along with Miami-Dade County, which Joe Biden won by 7% in 2020, every single county in Florida voted more Republican this year than just two years ago. Moreover, DeSantis was able bring key swing-groups into the GOP’s fold: he won 58% of Hispanic voters and 53% of Independents, per exit polls.

Though DeSantis is clearly the most viable Republican presidential candidate for 2024, a Republican Party pivot away from Donald Trump is clearly easier said than done. Trump won’t go away easily – he is expected to announce a run for president next week – and will likely leverage his devoted base in order to stay relevant.