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Midterm Failure

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By: The Editorial Board – wsj.com – November 9, 2022

Though the results are split, Republicans are dismayed, and they should be—at themselves. Some 70% of voters Tuesday said they’re unhappy with the state of the nation. With an unpopular President, 8% inflation, falling real incomes, rising crime, and chaos at the border, the GOP should have coasted at least to a normal midterm victory.

Instead they failed to win most of the toss-up House races, especially in the many suburban seats they lost in 2018. Their majority, if they get it, will be so narrow that Democrats could easily take it back in 2024. They lost winnable races for Governor across the Upper Midwest against weak incumbents.

The GOP’s failure owes in part to the deep partisanship that makes large swings more difficult. But it also owes to the party’s mistakes. Republicans only broke even among independents, according to the exit poll, which means millions of these voters found GOP candidates too extreme. Americans are unhappy with Democratic governance, but they aren’t sold on the GOP as an alternative.

Abortion hurt the GOP in some states, notably Michigan where the Legislature failed to modify a 1931 law. Many anti-abortion candidates won, but Republicans need to explain to voters what they believe and why. In most states they will also need to back away from a total ban in favor of restrictions favored by most voters.

The larger failure was that the GOP nominated too many lousy candidates who courted Donald Trump more than they did voters. They fed his ego about the “stolen” 2020 election but then were vulnerable to Democratic attacks (however exaggerated) that Republicans threatened democracy. The Democratic strategy of spending money to help MAGA candidates win primaries was cynical, but it worked. Every one of those candidates lost.

Doug Mastriano was a catastrophe in Pennsylvania and hurt GOP candidates up and down the ballot. Lauren Boebert, the Colorado MAGA star in a GOP-leaning district, may lose. We offer more examples nearby. The pre-election triumphalism of the MAGA media would seem to call for some rethinking, not that anyone should expect it. There’s money to be made, if not political success, in niche tribalism.

The GOP exceptions Tuesday were Republican Governors running for re-election with a record of competent conservatism. Brian Kemp in Georgia, Kim Reynolds in Iowa, Greg Abbott in Texas, Mike DeWine in Ohio, and Chris Sununuin New Hampshire all won easily.

Gov. Ron DeSantis’s 20-point re-election victory in Florida makes him the night’s biggest winner. His combination of a conservative reform populism with managerial competence offers a model of how to build a majority party in a once-swing state.

The risk for Democrats, as they celebrate, is that they’ll ignore voter unhappiness with their policies. Inflation helped Republicans, as did crime and a concern about progressive excess. In the exit poll, voters had similarly unfavorable views of both parties.

But progressives will argue that the election results aren’t a broad repudiation of their policies. They will continue to press Mr. Biden to skew to the left, as he has for two years, if he wants their support to run for re-election with the party behind him. Two-thirds of voters in exit polls said he shouldn’t run for President again, including many Democrats. That still leaves him in a perilous position.

If Republicans do take the House in the end, Mr. Biden will have to deal with the reality that the progressive agenda is dead for at least two years. Doubly so if Mitch McConnell becomes Senate Majority Leader.

There may be compromises available with Republicans on defense spending, funding for Ukraine, energy production, taxes, immigration and more. Mr. Biden will want to avoid a recession in 2023, and he can help mitigate the damage from rising interest rates by extending the expiring tax provisions of the 2017 tax reform. He can also reduce business uncertainty by restraining his regulators.

But this would require Mr. Biden to stand up to his party’s left, and it is hard to see him doing so. Mr. Biden has always followed more than led his party. He also knows Mr. Trump is even more unpopular than he is, according to the exit poll, and he rightly believes he can beat him again with a united party motivated to deny a second Trump term.

All of this is a recipe for two years of gridlock in Washington, which certainly beats the progressive binge since January 2021. The country faces enormous challenges in slowing growth, political polarization, and foreign powers on the march.

A government that showed it can address those challenges would be welcome. Instead we have a government that defines success as passing out money for green subsidies and welfare entitlements. As gridlock sets in, the voters will be looking to see if new leaders can offer them a better vision.

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Source: The GOP’s Midterm Failure – WSJ

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