What’s Left: The Midterms Show the GOP’s Extremist Gamble Did Not Pay Off

Ilyas Talwar, Contributing Writer

Heading into last week’s midterm elections, historical trends and polling would have indicated three things. First, Democrats would lose the House of Representatives, and not just lose it by a small margin but perhaps something akin to 2018 or 2010 when the party that controlled the presidency lost between forty and sixty seats. Second, the GOP would pick off vulnerable Democrats in gubernatorial and Senate elections, especially in swing states like Pennsylvania, Arizona, Nevada and Georgia. Although the chances of Republican Senate control were not as high as their odds of gaining the House, they were still favored in most election models. Third, that state legislatures across the country would flip into Republican hands or fall deeper into their control. Of these three predictions, Republicans, at best, partially fulfilled the first one as it seems very likely that they will control the House of Representatives by a very slim margin. The Senate is already lost to them and, pending the result of Georgia’s runoff election, Democrats may actually grow their Senate majority by one seat. As for state legislatures, Republicans failed to win any, and Democrats have actually secured the Michigan House of Representatives and looked poised to do the same in Pennsylvania. What does all of this tell us? Perhaps it’s that throwing in the crazies, radicals and extremists on the far-right for the past four to six years has not been the right course for the Republican Party. Maybe there is political value in having a backbone, sticking to your guns and upholding the morals that your party so often preached. It also helps to not be on the deeply unpopular side of issues like abortion, healthcare and social security.

Since 2016, the Republicans’ opposition or even willingness to criticize Trump as well as the more radical elements of their party has declined precipitously. When the events of January 6th came and went, the depths to which once self-respecting Republicans were willing to stoop became apparent. It seemed like there was no rightward limit nor electoral cost for them. Tuesday proved that notion wrong. Candidates like Blake Masters, Kari Lake, Adam Laxalt and Dan Bolduc were expected to either win or at least put up very strong fights in their respective races, despite their denial of the legitimacy of the 2020 presidential election. In the end, all were either defeated or, as of writing this, are awaiting their likely defeat. Moreover, in congressional districts like Washington State’s 3rd, Democrats were able to flip house seats that were once held by moderate, normal Republicans who were forced out by their radical colleagues. 

Democrats either won or put up strong performances in more moderate districts such as those in the Rio Grande Valley, Arizona, Alaska and Montana’s 1st, just to name a few. Additionally, Republican Senate and gubernatorial candidates performed badly across the board, perhaps with the exception of Marco Rubio in Florida. Some of this can be chalked up to the issue of extremism, as mentioned previously. A lot of this, especially in the Senate, was also due to candidate quality, or lack thereof. However, there is something bigger at play within the issue of candidate quality, and that is what Republicans stand for. Although it was hard to discern a concrete message among Republican candidates, some trends did emerge. First was the issue of abortion in which Republicans supported the Supreme Court’s decision to strip away the right to an abortion. This is not just morally wrong, but also wildly unpopular even in Republican-leaning areas. Second, was the proposed plan to bring up Social Security for a vote every five years. Although most candidates did not adopt this plan, championed by Senator Rick Scott, chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, it certainly stuck in the minds of voters. 

Was Tuesday a complete success for Democrats? No, certainly not. Losing the house is a big blow. However, what should have been a pretty right-skewed playing field turned out to be a relatively neutral environment because of Republicans’ embrace of extremism, poor candidate quality and unpopular positions on issues like Social Security and abortion. Although it may seem like this one was a fluke election, it is worth remembering that of the six presidential elections in the 21st century, Republicans have won the popular vote once. Maybe the party needs to do some soul-searching because ever since that one victory in 2016, the increasingly radical GOP has underperformed in every election cycle.