Column: The reprieve we got on Nov. 8

Man in "Make America Great Again" hat mugging at a microphone
Former President Trump at a campaign rally in Latrobe, Pa., on the weekend before the election.
(Jacqueline Larma / Associated Press)

Fooled once again by the pollsters and expecting a Republican blowout in Tuesday’s elections, I was all set to write a big miserable scream of frustration saying that the United States was putting itself back on the road to Trumpism.

My point was going to be that this is who we are now: a MAGA country. It’s one thing to vote for an irresponsible demagogue like Donald Trump once. That could be written off as an aberration, a terrible miscalculation. But to come back a few years later and elect a ragtag pack of Trump sycophants and unqualified incompetents and election deniers and QAnon sympathizers, having already seen once what it meant to go down this dangerous path — if we did that, how could we still say with a straight face, “This is not who we are.”

I was halfway through writing that column on election day when, amazingly, it didn’t happen. The blowout didn’t come. I had trusted the pollsters and pundits, like Charlie Brown trusted Lucy to hold the football. I was wrong.

Opinion Columnist

Nicholas Goldberg

Nicholas Goldberg served 11 years as editor of the editorial page and is a former editor of the Op-Ed page and Sunday Opinion section.

Trumpist Republican J.D. Vance won his U.S. Senate race in Ohio, it’s true, but Democratic Sen. Maggie Hassan held her seat in New Hampshire against her election-denying opponent. Democrat Josh Shapiro bested Doug Mastriano (described by Axios as “Trumpier than Trump”) for governor and Democrat John Fetterman beat TV doctor Mehmet Oz for U.S. Senate in Pennsylvania, though I was sure he wouldn’t after his poor debate showing. Incumbent Democrat Raphael Warnock and the stupendously unqualified former football player Herschel Walker will now go to a runoff in Georgia’s U.S. Senate race.

In Arizona, both Kari Lake and Blake Masters, who had campaigned as Trump clones for governor and senator, respectively, were trailing their opponents as of the last count.

Democrats staved off total disaster despite enormous concern about inflation and the economy, and despite the 53% disapproval rating of the sitting Democratic president. The party opposing the president almost always gains a substantial number of House seats in midterm elections. But it looks as though Republicans will underperform the average this time.

“Definitely not a Republican wave, that’s for darn sure,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) to NBC News on election night.

In short, the battle for the soul of the country is not yet over.

The GOP had been favored to win at least one chamber of Congress. But as of early Wednesday, both houses were undecided.

Nov. 9, 2022


That’s not to say that the country has regained its senses or gone back to the pre-2016 normal. We’re still a bitter, divided mess. There are 74 million people out there who voted for Trump in 2020, and the vast majority of them have not seen the error of their ways. Some 70% of Republicans still believe, despite all evidence, that Biden was not legitimately elected.

The Democratic-controlled House of Representatives seems likely to fall to the Republicans — by a narrow margin — and the Senate may do so as well. If even just one of the two chambers changes hands, that means divided rule. Legislative paralysis. Sham investigations. You can forget any forward movement on abortion access, voting rights, climate policy, social welfare and who knows what else. Some number of election deniers, irresponsible rabble rousers and conspiracy theorists will certainly take office.

Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Bakersfield) is already campaigning to become speaker of the House, hoping that if or when control shifts to the GOP, he can preside gleefully over the chaos and obstruction.

The Biden legislative agenda? It’ll go nowhere.

And don’t get me started on all of the local candidates who will have won seats on their promises to dismantle credible existing voting infrastructure, impose new voting restrictions and take control of future election oversight. Election deniers overseeing the election system is a grave concern.

An even greater concern is that former President Trump is expected to announce his candidacy for reelection on Tuesday at Mar-a-Lago, unless this election somehow persuades him otherwise.

Republicans who backed Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election lose key races for positions in which they would have overseen elections. But in some areas, they’re poised to win.

Nov. 9, 2022

So the long national nightmare is by no means over.

The MAGA movement is still powerful. It brought us two impeachments, near constitutional crisis, international derision, January 6, a new level of partisan vitriol and a widely acknowledged threat to the future of American democracy — and Trump still hopes to resuscitate it.

A country whose people once seemed to share certain basic national values — including a respect for democracy and a belief in the rule of law — remains riven and fractured. Political violence pulsates just below the surface, except when it explodes.


But for the moment, I’m not in full-fledged despair mode. Maybe it’s the tyranny of low expectations.

We have to take solace where we can. The big takeaway of the week is that there’s some hope. Trump’s bid to tighten his grip on the GOP, win seats for the hundreds of candidates he endorsed and position himself for 2024 was not terribly successful.

We’re not in a good place, but we’re in a better place than I, at least, had thought we’d be.