By Ethan Oppenheim
Republicans performed far below expectations in the 2022 midterms. The GOP not only failed to retake the Senate majority, but gained only a slim numerical advantage in the House. These results should have been different, and if not for former President Donald Trump, they would have been.
According to a poll conducted by AP VoteCast, 24% of all registered voters reported that a reason for their vote was to support Mr. Trump, while 34% reported that a reason for their vote was to oppose him. Among Independents, only 11% reported that a reason for their vote was to support Mr. Trump, while 34% reported opposition as a reason. Another poll conducted by NBC close to one month before the midterms shows Mr. Trump’s favorability rating at only 34%, lower than that of the current president which is currently at just over 41%. Finally, a poll from NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist reveals that only 28% of Independent voters want Mr. Trump to run in 2024.
And yet, nearly three-quarters of voters say the country is headed in the wrong direction, particularly highlighting the economy and crime as major issues. Further, historically-speaking, the party not holding the presidency does well in midterm elections, especially if it is also the minority party in both chambers of Congress. In other words, Republicans should have performed far better than they did, but thanks to Mr. Trump’s outlandish political approaches and his endorsements of unelectable, election-denying candidates, the GOP’s message did not resonate with voters.
Far-right election deniers Blake Masters and Kari Lake each lost their respective races in Arizona, a traditionally red state that Mr. Trump won in 2016 and that term-limited Gov. Doug Ducey has represented since 2015. Similarly, television personality Dr. Mehmet Oz (who has no political experience), and far-right election denier Doug Mastriano (who was present at the Jan. 6 Capitol riot) each lost their respective races in Pennsylvania, another state that Mr. Trump won in 2016 and that retiring Republican Sen. Pat Toomey has represented in the Senate since 2011.
Many other such examples exist, including Don Bolduc in New Hampshire, Adam Laxalt in Nevada, and Dan Cox in Maryland, who lost the gubernatorial race by a whopping 29 points despite the fact that Republicans had previously held the governorship for two consecutive terms under Larry Hogan, who received an overall 74% approval rating in deep blue Maryland. On the other hand, Republican candidates who either distanced themselves from Mr. Trump or refrained from making false claims about the 2020 election fared well in their respective elections.
Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and Govs. Ron DeSantis (FL), Brian Kemp (GA), Mike DeWine (OH), Chris Sununu (NH), and Phil Scott (VT) all cruised to re-election. With the exception of Mr. Kemp, who won by 7.5 points, every other elected official won their re-election bids by over 15 points. Mr. Scott in deep blue Vermont even won by over 47 points. Additionally, these individuals greatly outperformed Mr. Trump, and Mr. Sununu and Mr. Kemp outperformed their Trump-backed senate counterparts by 12.7 points and five points, respectively.
Those who say that Mr. Trump and his flawed candidates are not to blame for Republican underperformance often cite the victory of Ohio Senate candidate J.D. Vance, a Trump-backed outsider without political experience. However, since 2016, Ohio has become a solid red state, and Mr. Vance won practically the exact same vote percentage as Mr. Trump in 2020. All the while, Mr. DeWine, a moderate who refrained from adopting Mr. Trump’s outlandish political tactics, outperformed both Mr. Trump and Mr. Vance by nearly 10 points.
The poor performances of Mr. Trump’s endorsed candidates in crucial swing races perfectly demonstrate the average voter’s disapproval of him and his radical political approaches. Likewise, the excellent performances of less Trumpian candidates who refrained from election denialism demonstrate how well the GOP could have performed overall if certain Republicans modeled their candidacies off of their more reasonable counterparts.
Rather than selecting candidates that he knew would remain loyal to him and advance his interests, Mr. Trump should have endorsed the far more electable candidates in each of the primary elections for crucial swing states, such as David McCormick in Pennsylvania, Jim Lamon and Karrin Taylor Robson in Arizona, and Hogan-backed Kelly M. Schulz in Maryland, among others. The fact that he did not demonstrates that his primary goal is not to maximize Republican representation in Congress, but to maximize his own power.
It is clear that Mr. Trump cares more about his own power and self-interest than his party or even the American electorate. Similarly, it is obvious that candidates who espoused election denialism and tied themselves to Mr. Trump cost Republicans both the Senate and a larger House majority. If Republicans want any sort of success in the future, the first step they must take is to dump Trump.
Mr. Oppenheim is a junior at Chapman University. He is majoring in political science and philosophy and minoring in film music and history.
Editor’s note: Click here to read an opposing viewpoint by Kate Robinson. Let us know who you agree with in the comments section.