Opinion | Bruce Butler: Making sense of the midterm election

Bruce Butler

It is time to reflect on what happened and what lessons should be learned from the 2022 midterm elections. After all the punditry, predictions, polls and attack ads, there was almost no change at all. Our country remains fundamentally divided, and it does not bode well for the future of our nation.

Thinking back to my preelection musings, observations and predictions, what was affirmed? 

1. Summit County is a deep-blue (Democratic Party) county in what is now a reliably blue state. You cannot win in Summit County or statewide in Colorado without a “D” after your name on the ballot.

2. Most U.S. House of Representative seats are uncompetitive because of how the districts are drawn demographically. It is hard to flip the party affiliation of these seats, making majority control of the U.S. House a fine numbers game.

3. Party trumps (traditional definition) person. There are no better examples of this than John Fetterman in Pennsylvania and Raphael Warnock and Herschel Walker in Georgia. All are terrible candidates (Mehmet Oz was a terrible candidate too), and the latter two will determine if the U.S. Senate remains status quo at 50-50.

4. The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision overturning Roe v. Wade really energized the Democrat voter base and helped sway many undecided voters.

5. Never underestimate the Republican Party’s ability to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Despite President Biden’s historically low job approval numbers, policy missteps that have stoked inflation, embarrassing foreign policy blunders, chaos on the southern border, high crime rates in major cities, and the addition of 87,000 IRS agents, the GOP failed to move the needle in any meaningful way, Florida excepted.

What worked? The Democrat strategy to fund Trump-backed candidates in primary elections appears to have worked more than it backfired, and the relentless attack on Republican candidates and voters as “extremists” and “threats to Democracy” neutralized any reciprocal movement to categorize the elections as a referendum on President Biden’s subpar job performance. The strategy placed former President Trump’s lingering personal unpopularity up against President Biden’s political unfavorability, and Democrats won.

In Florida, competent leadership, a distinguished record of accomplishment, low taxes, pro-business policies, low crime rates and a strong message affirming parental rights and individual freedom, solidified Gov. Ron DeSantis as a viable Republican presidential candidate in 2024. Nothing proves competent governance results in electoral success more than Republicans winning in Miami-Dade County — and former President Trump’s personal attack on Gov. DeSantis immediately following his 19-point margin of victory.

What are the lessons learned? 

1. It is not enough to rely on being the alternative to your opponent’s negatives. Successful parties and candidates must make a compelling case to voters that they offer better ideas and solutions. Personal character and “authenticity” are important deciding factors for younger voters especially. Many national pollsters failed to accurately predict younger, unaffiliated voter turnout. 

2. The old maxim of, “It’s the economy, stupid,” appears to have less and less impact on voter behavior. The economy was strong under President Trump and was rebounding post-COVID. President Biden has ushered in near record inflation, energy insecurity and what will likely be a double-dip recession in 2023, yet Democrats suffered historically low midterm losses despite historically high presidential disapproval numbers. 

3. Money counts. Democrats had a significant fundraising advantage, and it may have been the decisive factor in the election. 

4. Voters seem to be swayed by macro cultural issues even more than personal safety and economic concerns. The new ideological battleground is centralized governmental power and collectivist economics versus individual freedom and free-market economics.

So, we are right back where we started last Monday. Vote counting in certain states is an embarrassment. Erosion of public confidence in election results will only increase so long as it takes over a week to announce results. This week, Trump is expected to announce his candidacy for president in 2024 and very possibly cost the Georgia GOP a third U.S. Senate race. Govs. DeSantis and Jared Polis have taken significant steps to position themselves as strong presidential candidates for their respective parties in 2024. Finally, this past election may be the swan song for some longtime political gadflies: Beto O’Rourke, Stacey Abrams and Sarah Palin.

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