Op-Ed: The midterm results (so far) show that old political narratives don’t apply

A voter holds an "I voted" sticker.
(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)
Share via

As Republicans gloated in recent weeks about the red wave they expected to wash over America, Democrats and their allies were, as usual, beating themselves up for blowing the election before it happened. The actual outcome? It could have been worse — for Democrats, Republicans, Donald Trump and America itself.

In a divided nation with a MAGA movement that makes the tea party seem like, well, a tea party, this should not be a surprise. As of now, each party still has a shot at controlling at least one congressional chamber. A few candidates endorsed by Trump won, but many lost. So far, so good on the democracy front, though Arizona’s Big Lie slate for governor, senator and secretary of state continues to loom.

Still, anyone who went to sleep Tuesday counting on a full-bore Republican restoration, sorry — or congratulations.


In the House, both parties flipped seats and control remains undecided. Republicans need to net five seats to win a House majority, and they have captured six held by Democrats in Florida, Virginia, Tennessee and New York, including that of Rep. Sean Maloney (D-N.Y.), who led his party’s campaign committee, inching toward taking control. But Democrats have won at least four GOP-held seats in North Carolina, Texas, Ohio and Michigan.

Trump, who once said Mexico was not “sending their best” people to America, sent his worst people to the voters by endorsing election deniers, celebrities, hypocrites, rank novices or some mix of all four. His endorsee J.D. Vance was elected to the Senate in Ohio, where the GOP incumbent is retiring. But in Pennsylvania, where another Republican is retiring, Lt. Gov. John Fetterman turned it Democratic by beating Dr. Mehmet Oz, praised by Trump for his TV fame and popularity with women. And Sen. Maggie Hassan managed to hang on in New Hampshire against flamboyant, Trump-endorsed election denier Don Bolduc.

The former president’s picks for governor in swing states Michigan and Pennsylvania lost, and Democrat Katie Hobbs was narrowly leading in Arizona against glam former TV broadcaster Kari Lake, a rising MAGA star who had already promised she’d serve eight years as governor even if Trump asked her to be his running mate in 2024.

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

Overconfident much?

If Democrats are the party of self-flagellation, Trump and the GOP are all about bluster and premature drape measuring. Still, some conservatives saw the reality written on the wall as results rolled in. “It’s pretty hard, at this point, to imagine how Rs take the Senate. In fact, Ds picking up a seat seems more likely right now,” Real Clear Politics analyst Sean Trende tweeted Tuesday night. His assessment eight hours later: “It turns out that selecting your candidates from the Star Wars cantina might not be a recipe for electoral success.”

It also turns out that the economy was not the be-all, end-all in every race, nor did Democrats stay home in despair over President Biden’s tepid approval ratings. And people care about threats to abortion rights and democracy.

The Supreme Court‘s overturning of Roe vs. Wade, ending the national right to an abortion, proved to be a durable concern and turnout driver, particularly among women. Abortion rights were directly on the ballot in five states and protecting those rights won out in four — and will likely win in Montana too.


And democracy as a voting issue wasn’t a washout. Democrats’ controversial decision to amplify Trumpy election deniers in GOP primaries paid off by sidelining more moderate Republicans in several races. The strategy helped Dems hold Hassan’s Senate seat and a New Hampshire House seat, flip a Michigan House seat, and contributed to blowout victories for a couple of potential national Democratic candidates — Pennsylvania Gov.-elect Josh Shapiro and Maryland Gov.-elect Wes Moore.

“We’re tired. Down-to-the bones tired,” said Cathy Darling Allen, the Shasta County clerk and registrar of voters, who has been harassed and vilified by election deniers.

Nov. 9, 2022

Florida was another blowout, with Gov. Ron DeSantis confirming his standing as the one Republican who might possibly defeat Trump in a presidential primary. But overall, conservative strategists and GOP-leaning pollsters misread the electorate.

Republicans don’t instill confidence and yet they are filled with it. Time for them to rediscover humility and honesty. Democrats need to get out of the doom loop and stop cowering. Not every election will be a repeat of shellackings past, and not every electoral trend is immutable.

Republicans usually try to make their own luck, regardless of reality. Fortunately for Democrats, that strategy didn’t work this time.

Jill Lawrence is a writer, an editor and the author of “The Art of the Political Deal: How Congress Beat the Odds and Broke Through Gridlock.” @JillDLawrence