I couldn’t be happier that I was wrong about the midterm elections.
The polls suggested a Republican red wave, if not a tsunami. I feared they were right.
The wave was a trickle. Please pass the crow.
I live in the Jackson Purchase, where “ULTRA MAGA” and “TRUMP 2024” flags fly in more than a few front yards. More will probably appear now that Trump is running for president again.
I was scared stiff that we’d lose our democracy to election deniers, neo-Confederates, white supremacists, Christo-fascists, right-wing militia supporters, and QAnon fans running on the Republican ticket. A red wave would set the stage for 2024 and Trump’s triumphant return to the White House as a stateside version of his hero Viktor Orban. (Putinism might be a bridge too far for the Trump cult, at least for now.)
I’d like another slice of humble pie, thank you.
Polls said voters were most concerned about the economy, not a potential slide into what President Biden called “semi-fascism.” At the same time, the media churned out a slew of stories about how the voters would blame Democrats for high gas prices and vote in droves to punish the president’s party.
“Inflation Plagues Democrats in Polling. Will It Crush Them at the Ballot Box?” asked a New York Times story headline on election day. The story implied the Dems probably were doomed.
“Just hours after it was published, such a confident claim fell apart as the Democrats were most certainly not ‘crushed’ at the ballot box,” wrote radio-TV journalist Sonali Kohlhatkar in LA Progressive. “... Most U.S. newspapers have spent the past year banging the drum of inflation and exaggerating its impact. They have accepted the dogma that higher wages, lower unemployment, and government assistance are the source of rising prices rather than corporate greed.”
That’s ditto for the electronic media, and not just Trump TV.
Even so, Kentucky’s senior senator is still Minority Mitch. The House evidently will flip Republican, but not by much.
Murray State University historian Brian Clardy shared my relief that the polls got it wrong. (The public could have found the polls useful after all, had the pollsters published the results on soft, absorbent paper.)
Yet Clardy is still worried and so am I. “I don't think we’re out of the woods yet. I don’ think we should pop open the champagne bottles yet.” Me neither.
“Although the worst did not come to pass during the midterms, simply holding the line against a descent into fascism is not enough,” Kohlhatkar warned. “Republicans are wresting control of the nation’s steering wheel as hard as they can and forcing it as far right as possible. Their party has divested itself from democratic norms and thrown its weight behind Trump and his lies. They have invested in stripping people of their bodily autonomy and fashioning a dangerous world ruled by force and a riotous mob mentality. Much more is needed in the face of such hubris: Fascists need to be placed on the defensive, and a split Congress is not enough to do so."
Bloomberg’s Timothy J. O’Brien agrees that “a fuller reckoning around the future of democracy and Trumpism still awaits.” Writing before Trump tossed his hat in the ring again, O’Brien explained that Trump “grabbed power by simply playing upon many of his supporters’ fears and worst instincts, while offering elites and others in the GOP who knew better a hefty share of the political and financial pie for going along with him. And when he lost the 2020 election, he gave his party another masterclass: Refuse to concede, foment a coup and undermine public trust in the electoral process – all in the service of preserving a stranglehold on power.
“ ... None of this is going away even if Trump himself does. The GOP is scrambling to undermine electoral outcomes at the state level because Trump showed them that it was not only possible to win that way but that a big chunk of Republican voters was also fine with that. While the GOP didn’t enjoy the landslide victory in the midterms that they had hoped for, scores of Republicans who openly denied the results of the 2020 race won their elections.”
Attorney Marc Elias, founder of Democracy Docket, wrote that “combating the ‘Big Lie’ and protecting the future of free and fair elections seems to have been motivating for millions of voters nationwide. By the time polls closed on Nov. 8, 2022, a staggering 68% of voters believed that democracy in the United States was at risk in the election. An electorate worried about the erosion of democracy was not going to elect a Kari Lake or a Doug Mastriano, whose campaigns relied heavily on election denialism.
“In the end, if there is one outcome that is undeniable about the midterm elections, it is that election deniers lost. But what about next time? Was 2022 the high-water mark for election denier candidates or just a setback for a renewed attack on democracy in 2024?”
Cautioned Elias: “While we should savor the victories, there is reason to be concerned about the future. Despite setbacks for the highest profile election denier candidates, some did prevail. Candidates who won, like the new Wyoming Secretary of State-elect Chuck Gray and South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson, still represent an erosion of democracy in those states.”
In “states where Republicans have actually imposed ... [Trumpism] over the past two years, GOP governors cruised to reelection without any discernible backlash,” Ronald Brownstein wrote for CNN. “That sharp contrast underscored the depth of the divide between red and blue America and points toward the further partitioning of the nation into divergent, and increasingly hostile, blocs living under fundamentally different rules for civil rights and liberties. Last week’s results could simultaneously embolden red state Republicans to continue advancing the militantly conservative social agenda they have pursued since 2021 on abortion and other issues like voting and book bans-while also making clear that such an agenda is electorally untenable outside of those core GOP states."
In Kentucky, one of those core states, the Democrats wound up with a net loss of one seat in the Senate and five seats in the House. (The GOP bulge is 31-7 in the upper chamber and 80-20 in the lower.) At the same time, Sen. Rand Paul and all five Republican congressmen cruised to additional terms.
Yet there were bright spots here and there for Team Blue. State Senate Minority Leader Morgan McGarvey will succeed Congressman John Yarmuth, his fellow Louisvillian, as Kentucky’s lone Democratic lawmaker in Washington. He won handily.
Too, voters turned thumbs down on a pair of GOP-pushed constitutional amendments. Amendment 1 would have empowered the legislature to call itself into session. Amendment 2 would have changed the state charter to say it didn't include the right to an abortion.
But nationwide, voters figured out – just in time – that Trumpism really does threaten our democracy, according to Clardy. “I think Van Jones called it right – Americans got scared at the prospect of losing our democracy, and Democrats, Republicans, liberals, conservatives, and centrists said ‘You know what? What we have in this country is too precious to lose.’ And I think that’s what turned the tide.”
Before the polls closed, the host of the Van Jones Show on CNN tweeted: “Dem candidates may not be the most exciting – but at least they’re not out of their minds. GOP candidates are scaring people. Not believing in the election. Not believing in the constitution. When even McConnell says you have ‘candidate quality problems,’ you do.”
Just as clocks ticked toward midnight eastern time, Jones tweeted: “A lot of people were underestimating Democrats. Something happened as we got closer to Election Day where the polls were telling us one thing – but the PEOPLE were feeling something different.”
Said Clardy: “We need a functioning two party system in this country. Even though I’m a liberal Democrat, we do need a conservative alternative. But what we have seen over the last seven years [the Trump era] is not conservatism. We have seen fascism. I think that’s what Americans have rejected.”
He said that for years he had been teaching that most Americans had shunned far-right and far-left politics historically. “I had feared that over the past seven years that paradigm was wrong. I feel better now. We’re not out of the woods yet. But I feel like America showed up [for the midterms].”
He was especially rooting for Senate Democratic hopefuls Charles Booker in Kentucky and Tim Ryan in Ohio. Incumbent Republican Rand Paul, a Trump ally, beat Booker. Ryan lost to J.D. Vance, the Trump-endorsed Republican.
Unlike Trump, who still claims — falsely — that Biden stole the 2020 election from him, Ryan conceded to Vance. (Booker conceded to Paul, too.) “I got very teared up when I heard Ryan’s concession speech on TV,” Clardy said. “He gave us a clinic on what it’s like to concede a race.”
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