From red tsunami to red ripple

Jake Mireles, Assistant Opinion Editor

With the conclusion of the 2022 midterm elections, one thing has been made clear: the “red wave” of GOP victories predicted by many news outlets and political commentators as being unavoidable, never came. Criticisms about inflation and fears of a new crime wave were levied by Republicans on a national level, which complemented a Democratic legislature and executive who have failed to pass many of the campaign promises they made in the 2020 election due to fierce resistance from the opposition. As a result, many thought it was almost inevitable that Democrats would severely underperform and a party shift in Congress would be the consequence. This never came to fruition, so how did the Republican Party, who touted rhetoric about a “red tsunami” for months leading up to the midterms, blow their lead so severely?

While Democrats were widely expected to underperform in the midterms, one aspect greatly helped slow the surge of conservatism — there was a significant disparity in the quality of candidates chosen by the Democrats and the Republicans, many in battleground states where these selections would be extremely costly. A key player in these selections was none other than former President Donald Trump. Trump endorsees had the benefit of his cult following, often sailing through their primary elections with little resistance; however, once they were put up against the Democratic candidates who ran on more popular policies, it was clear that these Trump-adjacent Republicans fell short. This was seen in the race for the Pennsylvania senate seat between Trump-backed Republican Dr. Mehmet Oz and Democrat John Fetterman. Oz, who Trump handpicked, was plagued by bad press and campaign mishaps. He was portrayed to be an elite, charlatan Republican who was disconnected from the problems of everyday Pennsylvanians. While Oz did run a relatively successful campaign against Fetterman, even using the stroke Fetterman had endured during his campaign to his advantage, Fetterman’s victory signifies that a grassroots, locally renowned candidate who runs on populist policies like legalizing marijuana, protecting abortion rights and improving access to healthcare will draw more voters in than an endorsement from the former president. 

This can also be seen in the Arizona Senate race between Republican nominee Blake Masters — a Trump-endorsed candidate — and Democratic incumbent Mark Kelly. According to a report from CNN, days before Masters won the Republican nomination, his team scrubbed his website of possibly controversial stances and positions. These include statements that the Democratic Party was trying to “import a new electorate,” a talking point with white-supremacist ties that claims the purpose of immigration is to diminish the political influence of native-born Americans. During his campaign, Masters also attempted to distance himself from controversial stances on abortion and the legitimacy of the 2020 presidential election. In stark contrast, Mark Kelly was a strong incumbent candidate who proved to be a worthy adversary for Masters. Kelly, who benefitted from the fame of being a NASA mission commander, ran on more popular and tangible positions: lowering prescription drug costs, creating more jobs for the state and cutting taxes for working-class Arizona families while continuing to tax corporations. These policies, along with the stigma surrounding Masters as a Trump-endorsee, contributed to keeping Arizona — a state that had been considered red since the turn of the century until 2020 — blue. 

Candidates like Oz and Masters have discouraged disaffected Republican voters from showing up to the polls and have only served to galvanize the Democratic voter base to come out in droves against them. As a result, many conservative commentators have come out against the former president and have heavily criticized him for being the main contributor to the Republican Party’s failure in the midterms. In a recent tweet, Ben Shapiro — host of the “Ben Shapiro Show” and Editor Emeritus of the conservative news outlet The Daily Wire — claimed that “Candidate quality matters. Gravity applies, and certain candidates may be able to defy gravity for a short period of time, but it usually doesn’t last for long. Pick better candidates, win more races. Stop playing stupid games.” This may be a sign that the Republican Party will soon look to move past the volatility and unstable nature of Trumpism, as it is costing them key elections that they should, in theory, have little problem winning. The Republican Party severely overplayed its hand when it came to their increasingly radical stances on abortion rights, LGBTQ+ rights and election denial, which caused many Republican voters — looking for a return to civility — to reject the candidates put forward by Trump, while also galvanizing the Democratic Party’s voter base to show up in unusually high numbers for a midterm election and vote defensively against these volatile candidates.