The California Recall and the 2022 Midterms 

The national importance of the recent California recall election needs to be highlighted. First, as a brief context for the recall, Republicans and other right-of-center political organizations attempted to use the recall provision in the California State Constitution to remove incumbent Democratic Governor Gavin Newsom from office one year before the completion of his first term. From the Republican perspective, pushing the recall was logical. In fact, according to The Guardian, the most recent Republican Governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger, came to power in 2003 as a consequence of the recall of his immediate Democratic predecessor. Moreover, no Republican has ascended to the California governorship independently of the recall process in over thirty years. However, the Newsom recall attempt was an abject failure for the GOP. Newsom, according to The New York Times, won by more than 25 points, the largest margin of victory for a Democratic gubernatorial candidate in California since at least 1875. Simply put, it was a remarkable performance by Newsom. 

As a Republican who would like to see my party succeed, it is essential to warn my party about how the results in California may indicate trouble for the GOP’s hopes in the 2022 midterm elections. There tends to be a pretty clear correlation, at least in recent years, between how well the newly minted opposition party (as defined by the party that has just lost the White House) performs electorally in the year just before the midterm elections and how well the same party performs during the midterm elections. To exemplify this relationship, consider the last time the Republicans were the newly defined opposition party, in 2009, as well as when the Democrats were crowned the opposition party in 2017. 

Way back in 2009, a year occupied by the Democratic Congress’s attempts to pass the Affordable Care Act, the Republican Party scored some extremely impressive victories. First, according to ABC news, Republicans won the gubernatorial elections in both Virginia and New Jersey, two strong blue states, which former President Barack Obama had won in 2008 by 6 points and 16 points, respectively. Both Republican candidates who won ran as pragmatic moderates focused on local issues particular to the state, and they convinced a sizable percentage of Democratic voters to cross the aisle and give them a shot. Moreover, in New York City, the then-incumbent Mayor of New York City Michael Bloomberg, despite changing his party registration to independent in 2007, decided to run for a third term in 2009 as the Republican candidate, according to The Daily News. Bloomberg overcame significant obstacles in his race, including the fact that former President Obama won 79% of the New York City vote just a year earlier and also endorsed Bloomberg’s Democratic opponent. Nonetheless, Bloomberg prevailed in a close race, making his victory, according to The New York Post, the fifth consecutive victory for the Republican mayoral candidate in the overwhelmingly Democratic city. But Bloomberg’s victory, despite being impressive, was not the most impressive one for the Republican Party during that cycle. That mantle goes to former Republican Senator Scott Brown’s January 2010 victory in Massachusetts, a state which had not elected a Republican Senator since 1972. All of these Republican victories in Democratic strongholds set the stage for a massive red wave in November 2010. And the wave was, of course, massive, as Republicans, according to The New York Times, gained 63 seats in the House of Representatives. 

This correlation between how the newly minted opposition party performs in the year preceding the midterm elections and the same party’s performance in the midterm elections themselves was also on display in 2017 for the Democratic Party. In 2017, the most impressive Democratic win was in Alabama, where former Senator Doug Jones carried a state which had voted for former President Trump by a 28 point margin. Moreover, the margins of victory for the Democratic gubernatorial candidates in Virginia and New Jersey were each larger than the margin by which former Secretary Hillary Clinton defeated former President Donald Trump in those states in 2016. Democrats also nearly won a statewide election in Montana, which former President Trump had won by 20 points, and nearly flipped staunchly Republican House districts in South Carolina and Kansas. Just as 2009 predicted 2010 for the Republicans, so too did 2017 predict 2018 for the Democrats. The Democrats had a large House victory in 2018, picking up 40 seats and winning the nationwide House popular vote by nearly 10 million votes

Therefore, given this recent strong correlation regarding opposition party performance, the GOP should be extremely concerned about how the California recall turned out. Winning the recall was not necessary to avoid raising alarms about the GOP’s 2022 prospects, nor was even coming within 10 points of victory. After all, according to The New York Times, former President Trump lost California by about 30 points in both 2016 and 2020. However, the fact that the results indicate that the GOP has apparently become even less popular in California relative to its popularity during the Trump era, considering Newsom’s historic margin of victory, should concern Republicans. Following its defeat in 2020, the GOP is still seemingly in the political wilderness.