The Political Winners and Losers of 2022
The 2022 midterms vindicated pollsters who had been under scrutiny ever since they wrongly predicted Hillary Clinton would win against Donald Trump in 2016. Despite anticipations of a “red wave,” nonpartisan polls like Siena College/New York Times and FiveThirtyEight found that the Senate race would be far more competitive than people expected — and they were ultimately right. Democrats celebrated a surprising win, maintaining control of the Senate and losing far fewer House seats than expected. Pollsters like Simon Rosenberg who were mocked for claiming the red wave was a mirage now claim the right to say “I told you so” and tout that polling is, in fact, not dead yet.
Pundits were supposed to learn their lesson after 2016 — to get a grip on what America outside of the Beltway was actually thinking and avoid confirmation bias happening inside newsrooms and Hill offices. They might have swung too far the other way in 2022, pushing a narrative of “real America” that didn’t actually exist. To wit: They doubted abortion would drive people to the polls, but voters showed up in droves to vote for women’s rights. They pushed the narrative of a red wave driven by inflation, crime and immigration, but Democrats instead had a historically good election night. It shows that despite their soul-searching journey since the last election cycle, pundits have yet to emerge fully from a Washington echo chamber that often reinforces their analysis.
The shadow of 2020’s election denialism loomed large over the midterm as Republican candidates like Kari Lake and Doug Mastriano won their primaries, even after stumping on unfounded claims of election fraud. And yet, at the end of the day, elections — and trust in the system — prevailed. There was no violence at the polls nor widespread claims of election fraud. Many of the election deniers that were seeking top election official positions in battleground states lost. And even more impressively, those candidates accepted their defeat, acknowledging that their opponents won fair and square. Nov. 8, 2022 felt like a normal Election Day — and that in itself is a win.
Americans’ trust in institutions is at a record low and who’s to blame? Families have had to tighten their belts due to high inflation. The Supreme Court overturned a precedent that a majority of people wanted to keep in place. Violent crime is rising in major cities. And the pandemic still looms in the background of daily life. It’s no surprise that people’s confidence in the three branches of government is particularly low: the Supreme Court is at 25 percent, the presidency at 23 percent and Congress at 7 percent, according to a Gallup poll. Sadly, confidence in the media’s ability to document major current events is also dropping.
The Spirit of George Marshall
Trans-Atlantic relations took a hit during the Trump years when the former president threatened privately and repeatedly to withdraw from NATO. Joe Biden is a true believer in the treaty and its obligations, but his administration also lost some standing with allies after the hasty Afghanistan withdrawal. What a difference an actual war in Europe can make when it comes to restoring the bonds of mutual defense that have guided the members since post-World War II. That’s when Gen. George Marshall, who became secretary of State, conceived the eponymous plan to put the continent back together again and kept it peaceful and prosperous. Russian President Vladimir Putin has long hoped to drive a wedge between the members, but NATO has stood strong in the face of Russian aggression against Ukraine — the opposite of what he wanted.
The Ghost of Catherine the Great
Before launching his ill-considered invasion of Ukraine, Putin issued a twisted history essay that essentially dressed up his aggression as an attempt to restore a version of a Russian Empire that dated back to Catherine the Great. Catherine, originally a Prussian princess, denied that Ukraine existed, dubbing it “Little Russia” as she subsumed the region and its peoples into her overextended empire in the 18th century. In the 21st century, Ukraine made clear it wasn’t going to let Putin get away with the same trick. Even if the war is far from over, Ukraine’s vigorous defense of its territory has made it very clear — to Putin and to the rest of the world — that it most assuredly does exist.
In November, two Democrats won election to the House in red districts by talking about … fish. Alaska Democrat Mary Peltola prevailed in a ranked-choice-voting election, leaning into her background supporting Alaska’s fishermen. The first sentence of her “story” on her website reads: “I’m a Yup’ik Alaska Native, salmon advocate, and Democrat.” Note her partisan affiliation comes after her fishing policy. In Maine’s 2nd District, Jared Golden won his own RCV election by boldly challenging Joe Biden on his promises to Maine’s fishermen. “You cannot espouse being a president for working people while simultaneously overseeing the destruction of an entire blue-collar fishery,” he wrote to the president in October. Immigration and crime might have dominated the national discussion but these races reminded us how much local issues — especially economic ones — still matter to voters.
New York Mayor Eric Adams has taken a bath on his gambit to take his first three paychecks in crypto. Miami Mayor Francis Suarez, who called his city the “capital of crypto,” is presiding over the capital of the crash. Blake Masters promoted crypto during his doomed run for Arizona Senate, while Andrew Yang wants to make his dead-on-arrival Forward Party “the crypto party.” In the wake of the FTX crash that lost an estimated $8 billion of its customers’ assets, Congress is finally seriously talking about regulation in the sector. As the industry falters, so do the politicians who are its leading evangelists.
A generation of voters 25-and-under left their mark on 2022. Midterm exit polls suggest that Gen-Z was the only generation to overwhelmingly support Democrats in the midterms, and they managed to turn out in numbers large enough that they staved off a red wave and made the difference for Democrats in close Senate races in Pennsylvania, Georgia and Nevada. Gen-Z is also sending one of its own to Congress for the first time, in Maxwell Frost, the political neophyte from Florida who was still driving for Uber during his campaign to make ends meet. The youngest voting generation now has some political might within the Democratic Party. We’ll see what they can do with it.
After decades in power and a rash of unflattering coverage about the age of America’s political leaders, some of them are being shown the door. The triumvirate of House Democratic leadership in Reps. Nancy Pelosi (82), Steny Hoyer (83) and Jim Clyburn (82) are all stepping aside for fresher faces. And the jockeying is already beginning to replace Sen. Dianne Feinstein (89), who has faced multiple news reports about her deteriorating cognitive abilities, when her term is up. On the Republican side, their most famous gerontocrat, Donald Trump (76), looks weakened after poor midterm results, but Sen. Chuck Grassley (89) just won another term and will become the Senate’s longest-serving member after the retirement of Patrick Leahy (82) at the end of the year. The big remaining question: Will the gerontocrat in the White House (80) seek another term himself?
Historically, governors have been more successful at winning presidential nominations than other elected officials, but since 2004, no governor has made it out of the primary in a presidential election. Now, after a deadly pandemic revealed the importance of state-level management, governors are back. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is the only potential 2024 candidate getting close to Donald Trump in polls. A handful of Democratic governors fared well in the midterms, too. Gavin Newsom of California beat back a recall attempt in 2021 and won reelection in 2022 with 59.2 percent of the vote. Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer won by double digits in a swing state. Gov. Jared Polis won by almost 20 points in Colorado. If President Joe Biden chooses not to run (a big if, for sure), 2024 could be the year that two governors emerge from the primaries, with one of them ultimately landing in the White House.
After surges in population and tax revenues that seemed unstoppable throughout the early 2000s and 2010s, cities are faltering as the consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic reshape the country. Remote work has driven down commercial real estate values and tax bases. Homelessness, crime and — yes — rats have surged. Mayors, especially in the deep-blue megalopolises on the coasts, are struggling. By June, New York Mayor Eric Adams saw his approval rating slide to 29 percent. In October, San Francisco Mayor London Breed had an approval rating of 36 percent. The problems in cities don’t seem to be abating. In December, new Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass, in her inaugural speech, announced her first priority would be to declare a state of emergency to tackle homelessness.
Once derided as too weird to gain wide acceptance, RCV’s much-touted ability to tamp down partisanship and reward centrists got a boost in Alaska when it helped knock out former Republican Gov. Sarah Palin in the House race and kept Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski in office. Notably, Murkowski was one of the only Republicans who supported Donald Trump’s impeachment to survive the primary and general election cycle. Alaska is one of two states (the other is Maine) that use RCV. Twenty-five states have RCV legislation under consideration. Throw a host of open primary states into the discussion and a definite trend emerges that shows voters are looking for ways out of the two-party primary trap that so often incentivizes extremists.
Culture War Ads
The Stephen Miller-run group America First Legal pumped tens of millions of dollars into anti-transgender ad campaigns during the midterms. “The Biden administration is pushing radical gender experiments on children,” the narrator says in one radio spot. “Tell Joe Biden and left-wing leaders across America, ‘Hands off our kids.’” Voters’ response was a resounding “Hands off our elections.” In Michigan, one of the states that endured the most relentless ad barrage, Democrats won the governor’s race, the attorney general’s race and flipped — albeit narrowly — the state Legislature for the first time in decades. One of those state…
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