The Red Wave That Wasn’t

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Republicans assumed they’d be celebrating — instead, they’re shrugging their shoulders.

Everyone seemed to be primed for what most sane people considered a disaster — a “bloodbath,” a “red wave,” and other images that seemed to be plucked straight out of a Chucky movie. A sense of dread spread throughout the land. The narrative going into Tuesday was that crime, inflation, and Joe Biden’s low approval rating would sink the democrats. That women voters had forgotten about the overturning of Roe v. Wade. That Donald Trump still held tremendous sway over the Republican Party. As my friend, political scientist and Emeritus scholar, Norm Ornstein told me, “In our media, there’s a herd mentality.” On top of that, polls (once again) were misleading, if not flat-out wrong. According to Norm, many of them are heavily slanted in the GOP’s favor and Republican pollsters “flooded the zone” with these biased surveys.  I’m not sure who’s in charge of the Department of Public Polling, but the whole business needs reforming — stat

Yes, it was tight. But the good news is, democracy won this week. More than 370 Republican candidates on the ballot expressed some measure of doubt about the veracity of the 2020 elections. Thankfully, many of them were defeated…most importantly, perhaps, Kari Lake, the telegenic former TV anchor turned Trump’s Mini-Me, who refused to say she would respect the will of the people if she lost. I’m not sure where her craven midlife conversion came from (she voted for Barack Obama), but Arizona voters, by a teensy, tiny margin, decided that Katie Hobbs, considered one of the worst campaigners of this cycle, was a better alternative. Other squeakers? Colorado Congresswoman Lauren Boebert, who has questioned the separation of Church and State, is inching ahead as I write this, and in Nevada, it’s neck and neck between Catherine Cortez Masto and her Republican opponent, Adam Laxalt. This story is still being written.

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – NOVEMBER 08: Nevada Republican Senate nominee Adam Laxalt (L) hugs his wife, Jamie Laxalt, at a Republican midterm election night party at Red Rock Casino. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

Despite the absence of a red wave, there’s still plenty to be blue about. Herschel Walker, the former football star who became hypocrite-in-chief on abortion (I’ve lost track of how many he paid for), not to mention a closed-captioning nightmare, is now in a runoff with Raphael Warnock. J.D. Vance — who I interviewed before the 2016 election and who was once a vocal critic of Trump, is now the Trump approved junior Senator from Ohio. 

J.D. Vance’s stand on abortion won votes among Ohio conservatives. But in an otherwise dreadful year for reproductive rights, voters felt bodily autonomy was worth turning out for. The most vociferous anti-abortion candidates were sent packing; Pennsylvania gubernatorial candidate Josh Shapiro beat out GOP challenger Doug Mastriano, ensuring that new abortion restrictions which the state’s Republican controlled legislatures pass will be vetoed, and abortion will remain legal; Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer won reelection and voters passed a ballot measure enshrining abortion rights in the state Constitution; and Tennessee, North Carolina, and Kansas rejected measures that would have outlawed abortions in those states. Even Lindsey Graham, who had flouted his plans to introduce a national ban of abortions past 15 weeks, was uncharacteristically muted. “Definitely not a Republican wave, that’s for darn sure,” Graham told NBC on election night. And while gun-safety advocates made strides in some local races, one of the most disheartening results was in Uvalde County, where 19 children and two teachers were gunned down in May. That county went overwhelmingly (60-38% in final votes) for incumbent Gov. Greg Abbott — a staunch supporter of Second Amendment rights. 

But perhaps the most encouraging news of all? Don’t bet the farm on it, but it seems Trump fatigue has finally set in. As David Brooks wrote in his latest column,The election of 2022 marked the moment when America began to put performative populism behind us. Though the results are partial, and Trump acolytes could still help Republicans control Congress, this election we saw the emergence of an anti-Trump majority.” Some of the wind has certainly been taken out of The Donald’s sails, so his announcement on Tuesday at Mar-a-Lago may not get the swooning, fawning coverage Fox News has become famous for. But as most commentators have observed, he will not go down without a fight. And even though Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is now the “it” guy, Donald Trump will still be in our feeds for the foreseeable future. 

It’s fascinating, yes, but so frustrating. Future political leaders like Stacey Abrams and Beto O’Rourke seem to be sidelined for now. Sensible and decent Republicans like Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger have been pushed out. Politics has always been a blood sport, but these days, it’s become so much about extremism and mutual destruction — even if democracy is on the chopping block. I long for the days when there were policy differences, argued in a civilized way. If I could turn back time, to quote Cher, some of the big problems, seemingly intractable, would get ironed out: Comprehensive immigration reform, common-sense gun laws, climate change, and the economy. Our leaders would try to fix things, not break them. But for now, I will allow myself to do a subdued happy dance. Sanity and democracy is alive, if not completely well, in the United States. And that’s worth something.