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Not All Trump’s Fault: 5 Reasons the ‘Red Wave’ Fizzled Out

Donald Trump
Former U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during a rally to boost Ohio Republican candidates ahead of their May 3 primary election, at the county fairgrounds in Delaware, Ohio, U.S. April 23, 2022. REUTERS/Gaelen Morse/File Photo/File Photo

What the heck happened, and whose fault is it? Where did that so-called Red Wave go?

Ronna McDaniel, chairwoman of the Republican National Committee, tried to spin the disappointing night as a win. But this was no Red Wave – not even close.

“There was a wave that happened last night and we’re waving goodbye to Speaker [Nancy] Pelosi and we are going to have a Republican majority in the House,” McDaniel said.

That’s a nice try, but unconvincing.

The Red Wave that Never Was?

Republicans will—most likely—control the House of Representatives in January. But the fact that “most likely” is in the discussion days after an election is the problem. By 10 p.m. last Tuesday, most pollsters and pundits thought a red wave—maybe even a red tsunami—would be evident. Instead, it’s a red mild precipitation, red sprinkle, red drizzle…

A GOP-controlled House was sort of the floor of expectations, given both the political and economic environment as well as historical trends. The new GOP House majority might even be smaller than what Pelosi has now.

So why?

The desire is to make it simple and blame Donald Trump, or the Republican establishment, or that astonishingly the public really loves abortion above all else. The fact is an election is rarely so simple as to blame one thing or one person.

There are probably other reasons at play, but here are a few definite ones on why that Red Wave never occurred.

1. Donald Trump and ‘Candidate Quality’

Counterfactuals could play out all day about whether the non-Trump backed candidates would have beaten Senator-elect John Fetterman, Sen. Mark Kelly, or ousted Sen. Rafael Warnock without a runoff. Let’s note for fairness that a Georgia sports icon like Herschel Walker might have won the GOP Senate nomination without Trump. But Dr. Mehmet Oz entirely owes his nomination to Trump.

That’s speculative if the results would have been different.

But the 45th president certainly had a role in the campaign. He was a kingmaker in primaries. And the bulk of candidates he endorsed in competitive contests lost what seemingly could have been GOP pickups. What Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell said about “candidate quality” is certainly not without merit.

McConnell is not blameless, mind you. He shifted resources from his Senate Leadership Fund to Alaska to help defend the seat of Sen. Lisa Murkowski who was running against another Republican under the odd Alaska rules. That’s money that could have been used more effectively elsewhere rather than defending a seat that would be a GOP hold no matter what. But, if we are talking about money, Trump’s Save America PAC sat on about $100 million and did very little to help Republican candidates in the general election.

Trump not only didn’t always endorse the strongest candidates in primaries, but he made his endorsement contingent on accepting his narrative that the 2020 election was stolen. This gave Democrats a general election weapon of shouting “election denier.”

It should have also been a dead giveaway that the Democratic National Committee and other party-aligned groups spent tens of millions to help nominate some of the same candidates that Trump endorsed, presuming it would be an easier win in the general election. For the most part, Democrats were right.

Worst of all, this came just before Trump was set to announce (we think) another White House bid. In such a speech, he almost certainly intended to take credit for a red wave. If that’s the case, he has to share some of the blame.

It’s not 100% Trump’s fault. But his presence in the race was enough to galvanize just enough Democrats to vote that might have otherwise sat out a midterm.

2. Lack of a Bold Vision Means No Red Wave

It’s safe to say that Bill Clinton, and even Barack Obama, were better presidents than Joe Biden. So why is Biden the Democratic president that slid by with the best midterm performance of any Democratic president in a generation?

Well, in 1994, House Republicans unveiled the bold “Contract with America,” as a set of widely popular proposals that appealed to voters beyond typical GOP constituencies. It was enough to sweep Republicans to a Senate majority too.

In 2010, a grassroots Tea Party movement swept Republicans into a House majority.

Republicans have typically been better about the vision thing than Democrats in midterm elections. Democrats won in 2006 and 2018 based on convincing voters that George W. Bush and Trump needed a check on their power.

So, where was the GOP vision here?

Seemingly in the 11th hour, House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy presented the “Commitment to America” plan. It had a few strong proposals for a stronger economy and safer and freer nation. But Republicans didn’t really talk much about it after unveiling the plan. And candidates gave it little oxygen on the campaign trail.

Earlier in the year, Sen. Rick Scott, chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, presented a “Plan for America,” as a platform for Republican candidates to rally around. However, McConnell outright dismissed it, and said Republicans should just relax and let the Biden presidency collapse.

If McConnell didn’t like Scott’s plan, that’s one thing. To suggest sitting around and beating something with nothing is sufficient is bad politics no matter what a trainwreck the Biden presidency has been.

3. Abortion on the Ballot

It’s safe to say that Democrats doubled down on the culture war and apparently a significant number of voters really did care more about abortion than the economy or inflation. That’s not likely the case for swing voters.

The abortion lobby won on ballot initiatives in five states, which clearly helped turnout the vote for the far left.

When Roe v. Wade was in place, pro-life voters were consistently more likely to be single-issue voters. After the Dobbs decision, the pro-life community was first jubilant but perhaps later a bit complacent. The single-issue momentum could be on the left now.

Democrats—at least the consultants of the party—were salivating for a ruling to overturn Roe. It offered redemption in what appeared to be a red wave year. For better or worse, abortion is a holy sacrament among the Democrat Party faithful. While the issue seemed to die down closer to the election, it’s clear there is virtually nothing else that could have driven out the hard left more than the abortion issue.

It didn’t—or doesn’t seem to have—saved the House majority. It might have salvaged a Senate majority. But an adoration for abortion might have been at least on par with hatred for Trump in keeping Democrats active for 2022.

The upside is that many perceived the Dobbs decision as a national ban on abortion—when it only democratized the issue. The election made that abundantly clear and might quell some of the hysteria.

4. Biden’s Ultra-Secretive Executive Order

One sleeper item that cannot be ignored is President Joe Biden’s March 2021 executive order, which was mostly written by the liberal advocacy group Demos. The order calls for an “all of government” effort to increase voter registration and voter participation.

This means taxpayer dollars going for what amounts to a get-out-the-vote effort. It seems fairly unlikely that an administration will play it down the middle. That’s particularly the case if Biden actually believed his own rhetoric that democracy itself was on the ballot.

The federal agencies have not responded to information requests from more than 50 Republican members of Congress about how the executive order is being implemented, and in most cases have been non-responsive to various Freedom of Information Act requests from news media and government watchdog groups. Biden’s Department of Justice even filed a motion in federal court to block the public release of much of the information on how the order was being implemented until sometime after the election.

To what degree this made a difference, we won’t know for a while. But it certainly didn’t help Republicans. And now that these GOP members are likely to control House committees, they can subpoena information, rather than just politely ask.

5. Balkanization and a Future of Nudge Elections

Before looking at the 2022 elections in isolation, it’s worth looking at the 2020 election.

There was no wave for either side in the last election cycle either. The Senate split 50-50. Voters strategically removed Trump from the White House, but rewarded House Republicans with additional seats.

Even in 2018, where Democrats picked up about 40 House seats, it was less pronounced than the 63 seats Republicans won in 2010. Moreover, Democrats got a thumping in Senate races that year. Sure, it was a favorable Senate map, but it was the same map as 2012 when the GOP didn’t do nearly as well.

It could be wave elections are so 2010—or before.

I usually tire of all the fretting over polarization. Compared to when? The 1960s? The 1860s? The early 1800s when a sitting vice president of one party gunned down a former Treasury Secretary of another?

That said, matters seem to have gotten worse now than just a decade ago. The two parties have always cast the other side as evil, but now rank and file voters seem less skeptical of such claims. And of course, there is the problem with the consent of losers being key to a functional democracy. The last two losing presidential nominees—Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton—both insisted the election was stolen from them.

The point is that maybe people are so dug into their tribalism and wedded to various partisan narratives that we won’t see wave elections for a while—just nudge elections—a nudge to the right and a nudge to the left—depending on which party controls the White House.

Fred Lucas, the author of The Myth of Voter Suppression, is the manager of the Investigative Reporting Project at The Daily Signal.

Written By

Fred Lucas is chief national affairs correspondent for The Daily Signal and co-host of "The Right Side of History" podcast. Lucas is also the author of "Abuse of Power: Inside The Three-Year Campaign to Impeach Donald Trump."



  1. GhostTomahawk

    November 11, 2022 at 5:38 pm

    Why was there no wave? Media coverage. In 94 the media wasn’t swinging from the sack of the DNC. They were impartial and the GOP message got out there fairly.

    Fast forward and the corporate media is a biased political apparatus of the Democrat party. So the GOP message only reached GOP voters.

    The message was there but the delivery wasn’t. That’s not their fault. It’s America’s fault for letting our media be little more than the propaganda arm of the DNC. We deserve better. These media conglomerates need to be dissolved and that includes our “entertainment” groups.

  2. GhostTomahawk

    November 11, 2022 at 5:43 pm

    Or how our politicians on both sides misconstrue information and then spin it to scare people. The GOP wasn’t going to cut Medicare or social security. They were going to means test it. Multi millionaires shouldn’t be getting these services regardless of they paid or not. This is what democrats want anyways… the rich to cover the tab… just when it’s their idea.

    But the media lied and covered the DNCs lie and the Americans didn’t know the difference

  3. A real 'stable genius'

    November 11, 2022 at 8:11 pm

    The orange turd blamed Melania for backing Oz. Why is nothing ever his fault?

  4. TheDon

    November 11, 2022 at 10:48 pm

    Trump lost because, like myself, most U.S. citizens are embarrassed by the continual name calling of foriegn and domestic leaders, and self greatness and inability to work with anyone.
    Its sad.
    I voted 1st term Trump but never again, especially during the Ukraine war.
    Trump has some good insticts for business with poor sales techniques.
    He probably will go down in history implementing a team which provided a MRNA vaccine, respirators; and safety viral equipment in under a year. His contribution will result in the future of vaccines being low cost MRNA.
    Biden however will go down in history of breaking the Russian superpower without US involvement. Hopefully diplomacy will result in Putins overthrown and improved US and EU relations.
    Im voting anti Trump again.
    I want to maintain same pressure on Russia without our troops. Its what we wanted in viet-nam, iraq, afganistan.
    The Ukrainians are providing a model for the world with Bidens support.
    Trump would implement a Trump strategy, the same thing Putin did to get into this predicament, and blame everyone for failue except himself, Don the great and smartest.

  5. Statsjockey

    November 11, 2022 at 11:06 pm

    We constantly hear about the so-called liberal media, but I’m not buying it. Fox News is the most watched network news, and they are not what anyone outside of Mississippi would call liberal.

    Instead, almost all of the media in the US are owned by corporate interests, who care less about the content of their messaging than they do about their balance sheets.

    The death of balanced reporting was born on the day that 24-hour cable news came of age. Rather than having content being driven from career journalists, it got usurped by corporate bean counters interested in keeping as many eyeballs as possible on their channels. This created a confluence of news, entertainment and marketing where the formula for drawing viewers is to pander to specific demographic groups through stoking their fear and anger.

    Long gone are the Cronkites and Brinkleys who upheld journalistic tenets of verifying facts and presenting balanced viewpoints. Now you get a long line of news personalities like Anderson Cooper on the left and Tucker Carlson on the right, whose jobs are to scare you or piss you off about a supposed bogey man on the other side of the aisle.

    This process has accelerated exponentially with the advent of social media, where algorithms are trained on your preferences in order to feed you more of what you fear and hate regardless of any basis in reality.

    The end result is that tech titans and media conglomerates get rich, while the quality of public discourse degrades into endless mudslinging and hatred.

    The media are not liberal or conservative…they are corporate. As such, they care only about profit maximization, even at the expense of national unity.

    The next time you see a story about how you should hate or fear someone because of the nationality, race, religion or political persuasion, just ask yourself who is profiting.

  6. Charles Ware

    November 11, 2022 at 11:08 pm

    Wow it’s so much baloney there is no way to refute it in anything less than a book. Im not even going to try.
    I will say that maybe the voters couldn’t vote for politicians that pretended to believe the election was rigged as a reason Trump lost. They all know the truth but put forth a lie.
    Liz Cheney said it best. It was a good night for normal. Hillary didn’t claim that the election was stolen from her. Others pointed out that she got 3 million more votes but electoral college made Trump the winner. She took the loss with grace just like Al Gore did even though he won the election.
    These are not unknown facts I don’t have the time to cover all the bullshit contained in the opinion piece

  7. aldol11

    November 12, 2022 at 6:11 am

    for as long as the GOP has leaders like McCarthy and McConnell they will be ineffective about:
    creating victorious messages and programs

    selecting candidates

    funding candidates

    inspiring confidence in the electorate

    they are the epithomy of losers

  8. phil stacy

    November 12, 2022 at 12:27 pm

    Trump always takes flak because he is always over the target. China bought Biden.

  9. Don sucks

    November 12, 2022 at 9:04 pm

    The fat guy called Rona threatening because a candidate didn’t say he was ‘the greatest president’. Within an hour she released his effusive praise satisfying his enormous ego. He is a worthless, self-possessed buffoon that attacks anyone who doesn’t praise him. Presidential material?

    You didn’t need to be a good candidate if you kissed his ass loudly enough. Herschel Walker comes to mind.

    Trump measures his own success by the number of hickeys on his ass and how much money he can grift.

  10. ljg

    November 15, 2022 at 6:04 am

    5 Reasons? Easy, Democrat cheating, Democrat cheating, Democrat cheating, Democrat cheating, and Democrat cheating.

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