The Sort of Red Wave We Got

On November 8, Republicans were dreaming of catching a red wave that would carry them to victory.  The next day, Democrats snickered at the faint red stream trickling by.  After putting away their surfboards, Republicans scratched their heads in wonder.  Democrats had botched the withdrawal from Afghanistan, encouraged inflation with excessive spending, implemented an egregious energy policy, rarely encountered a criminal they wouldn't coddle, and supported the proliferation of wokeism.  Republicans believed they were dealt a winning hand and were anxious to cash in by flipping blue seats to red.  When the players laid down their hands, there were precious few chips to rake in.  What happened?

The media conduct opinion polls to inform the public.  Opinion polls "are an assessment of public opinion obtained by questioning a representative sample."  These polls are also used by the media to generate interest and fuel their narrative.  It is up to consumers to determine whether the information they are ingesting is relevant to ongoing events or entertainment produced to increase ratings and advertising revenue for media outlets.  The media were happy to push the red wave narrative to keep consumers engaged.  Surfboard sales skyrocketed.

The last RealClearPolitics (RCP) polling average projected a pickup of three Senate seats for Republicans.  RCP picked Masters in Arizona (0.3% lead in the last poll), Laxalt in Nevada (3.4% lead), and Walker in Georgia (1.4% lead) to flip Democrat seats.  Walker may still win his seat in a runoff, but the other two candidates lost.  RCP also picked Oz to win the Senate seat in Pennsylvania.  Oz was up 0.4% in the last poll.  Excepting Laxalt, these candidates were within the polls' margin of error.  To pick them all was risky.  It is likely that employees of RCP were expecting these candidates to ride a red wave to victory because the polls were a little sketchy. 

RCP predictions in the House races were reasonably close.  The site predicted a Republican majority of 227 seats, a pickup of 15.  The generic congressional ballot gave the GOP a 2.5% advantage going into the election.  In 2020, Republicans held all their House seats while picking up 14, an unusually good year, considering that a Democrat won the presidential election.  After doing well in 2020, the expectation of significant House gains in 2022 was unreasonable.  Republicans received a 3% advantage in the national House vote this year, garnering 3.5 million more raw votes than Democrats.  This is a bit of a red wave.  

We've been informed by politicians and media pundits that candidate quality makes a difference in elections.  What a brilliant notion!  Articulate, charismatic candidates should enjoy an advantage over less talented opponents.  There are exceptions to this notion, which might be viewed as a paradox.  Sometimes the best candidate doesn't win.

John Fetterman is the Democrat senator-elect from Pennsylvania.  His greatest asset may be the image he skillfully modeled after the beloved Addams Family character Uncle Fester.  His radical liberalism was softened by this carefully crafted persona.  Fetterman suffered a stroke during the summer, and as a result, lost his capacity to hear and understand language.  His attempts at public speaking were also impeded.

During a debate with Dr.  Mehmet Oz, he was unable to effectively engage.  Dr. Oz easily won the debate, but Oz received no noticeable bounce in the polls.   

While recovering from the stroke, Fetterman's press releases painted Oz as a rich outsider from New Jersey.  This stuck to Oz like a bad hairpiece on an aging Hollywood star.  Pennsylvanians got behind their home boy.  In the end, Fetterman won easily. 

Was the winner the highest-quality candidate?  It depends on how you look at it.  Oz seemed better prepared to represent the people of Pennsylvania.  He is an intelligent, well educated person who effectively communicated the issues of the day.  A reasonable person would conclude he could better represent the interests of Pennsylvanians.  Fetterman's victory is a paradox.  The candidate who possessed qualities voters should favor was rejected in favor of a stock character with no such qualities.

Ron DeSantis and Lee Zeldin were high-quality candidates.  Both Republicans ran for governor, in Florida and New York, respectively.  DeSantis won handily, while Zeldin lost in a competitive race.  DeSantis, who barely won election four years ago, seems to have made Florida a solidly Republican state.  Zeldin ran a good race in the Democrat stronghold of New York.  Florida and New York flipped four seats each from Democrat to Republican.  High-quality candidates make a difference. 

Democrats had some issues working in their favor.  After the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, the Democrats circled the corpse of Roe like vultures.  They picked all the meat from the bones, then enshrined the skeleton on the steps of the Supreme Court.  Republicans had hoped to increase votes from suburban women.  Their hopes were diminished in the wake of the Roe decision.

Conservatives have worked for forty years to overturn Roe.  The laws of physics apply in politics; for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.  Reaction to the decision likely cost Republicans votes.  Roe was overturned, and Republicans won the House in the same year.  This should be recognized as success.   

The Jan. 6 Committee propaganda seems to have successfully indoctrinated many voters.  The Democrats' allies in the media produced the hearings and delivered them like prime-time TV specials.  Many voters either watched the hearings or saw the highlight reels.  In the waning days of the campaign, Democrats advanced the supposition that Republicans are a threat to democracy.  Obama, Biden, the Clintons, and the usual suspects in the media advised voters that to save democracy, their ballots must be cast for Democrats.  The indoctrination was complete.  The message was delivered.  Many moderates rejected Republican candidates to save democracy and protect their abortion rights.

The biannual diatribe pitting Republicans against Social Security and Medicare once again hurt Republicans.  These programs are cornerstones of Democrat legacy and are the argument for the beatification of Franklin Roosevelt and his enshrinement on Mt. Rushmore.  Republicans made arguments about the solvency and management of these programs providing Democrats fodder for attack ads.  Democrats could use the money they gifted participants in the student loan program to fund Social Security and Medicare.  Republicans should demand that the trust funds be funded and forever remove this issue from Democrat election playbook.

Many Democrats believe that their legislative victories prevented the red wave.  Democrats took credit for the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, the CHIPS and Science Act, and the Inflation Reduction Act.  Most, if not all, of this legislation is dubious.  Maybe a few voters looked at this legislation as a magnificent accomplishment, but it's doubtful that these new laws attracted Democrat voters.

Both parties had issues that favored their candidates.  One can argue that Democrats outmaneuvered Republicans, but it's a fact that Republican candidates received 3.5 million more votes than their opponents and now control the House of Representatives.  A red wave suitable for surfing didn't materialize, but the victory is something Republicans can build on.  They have much work to do.

Image via Max Pixel.

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