It’s still too close to know exactly how the balance of power will shape up in Washington come January, with a handful of key congressional races remaining up in the air after Tuesday’s midterm elections. But this much is true: On Tuesday night, Americans took back the reins of their country from a radicalized GOP, and in doing so defied longstanding historical precedent that suggests that a sitting president’s party almost always ends up getting destroyed in the midterms. It was a big night for President Joe Biden and one that will enable him and his team to completely rework their game plan for the final two years of his first term.
Moreover, and perhaps more importantly for Biden and the 2024 presidential election that lies just ahead, Tuesday night showed that there are now identifiable pockets of conservatives ready to move beyond former President Donald Trump, whose interference in the midterms likely cost the GOP a number of key seats and possibly control of one or both chambers of Congress. Coupled with the turnout by younger voters, it’s now becoming clear that the makeup of the U.S. political landscape is much more unpredictable than political scientists believed only 24 to 48 hours ago.
To be clear, the GOP may yet eke out razor-thin victories and seize control of the House or Senate, but the widely expected “red wave“ heralded by Republicans and feared by ever-despondent Democrats in the days leading up to the election never came ashore last night.
Media pundits are reaching for their thesauruses to recharacterize the ill-fated red wave as something of a “trickle,” “ripple” or another less assertive aqueous term, but these words fall short of what really happened. Perhaps a more apt metaphor would be that of a breakwater erected by a coalition of voters across the electoral map to halt a Republican surge in a host of key contested races.
Part of that structure was the abortion issue, which pundits across the political spectrum had seemed to downplay in recent weeks as a deciding factor (as opposed to issues like inflation or crime). It was clearly a major motivator for voter turnout. Emboldened by the overturning of Roe v. Wade, voters across the map, from reliably Democratic strongholds like California and Vermont to purplish Michigan, voted to uphold abortion rights in a host of state referendums. Even deep-red Kentucky, with most of its votes in, looks like it followed suit.
But aside from the animated response to the abortion question, an equally pellucid message emerging from the results is that America’s enchantment with Trump is just about over. Mehmet Oz, Trump’s handpicked Senate candidate in Pennsylvania, fell to Democratic Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, costing the GOP a crucial seat in an evenly divided Senate. His pick for Pennsylvania governor, Doug Mastriano, was crushed by Democratic Attorney General Josh Shapiro.
In Georgia, Trump foe Brian Kemp, the Republican governor, easily cruised to another term, besting Democrat Stacey Abrams. Meanwhile, Trump’s pick for Senate in the state, former football star Herschel Walker, is headed into a December runoff with Sen. Raphael Warnock. In Michigan, the Trump-endorsed Republican nominee, Tudor Dixon, got trounced in the governor’s race by Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. To add insult to injury, Trump’s pick for Michigan secretary of state — the person who, crucially, will oversee the 2024 election in the state — lost her bid to a Democratic challenger.
And then, of course, there is Florida, perhaps last night’s only bright spot for the otherwise beleaguered GOP. Gov. Ron DeSantis’ commanding triumph over Republican-turned-Democrat Charlie Crist sent a clear message to every GOP voter across the country: DeSantis can deliver a victory.
DeSantis’ winning nearly 60% of the vote — coupled with his clever stewardship overseeing the redrawing of state congressional maps that garnered a handful of congressional pickups — sent a clear message that DeSantis is the future of the Republican Party, not Trump. This is not to say that wresting control of the Republican Party from Trump will be easy for DeSantis, particularly given the former president’s rabidly loyal MAGA base and the fear that he instills in many elected GOP officials. But the governor’s successes in Florida sent a clear signal that his brand of conservative politics might be the GOP’s best path to getting support from a national majority.
In contrast, Trump’s performance seems to indicate that his path forward will be riddled with disappointment, frustration and defeats at the ballot box. The storyline of Trump versus DeSantis battling for control of the GOP is already shaping up to be one that will dominate the national political conversation over the next two years.
The other storyline should be how the outcome of the elections was a much better one for Democrats than the Beltway intelligentsia had been predicting. Either Democrats will retain control of the House and the Senate and continue to press ahead with an ambitious legislative agenda or a narrowly GOP-controlled House with a toxic admixture of traditional and radical fringe Republicans takes center stage and accomplishes nothing.
And all that is good news for Biden and his fellow Democrats, who can put all their energy into focusing on their agenda for America and staying above the hot mess engulfing the GOP.