Many midterm races from last night remain uncalled, but the Republican Party did not deliver the midterm death blow to the Biden administration that some analysts and pundits expected. Republican gains in both houses of Congress look marginal at best, with candidates supported by former President Donald Trump underperforming severely.
No Red Wave: Election Results
Much remains uncertain about the outcome of the 2022 midterm elections. The GOP may yet gain a slim advantage in both the Senate and the House. It is mildly favored in the latter, while the Democrats are slightly favored to retain control of the former.
Several races have many as yet uncounted ballots, and some in both the Senate and the House may face recounts. It also seems likely that the Georgia Senate race between Herschel Walker and Raphael Warnock will go to a December runoff which could well dictate control of the chamber.
Flipping either or both houses of Congress represents a consequential win for the Republicans. However, measured against the expectations of a major GOP victory that had developed over the last week, as well as more general expectations about the performance of the opposition party in midterm elections, the results look very nearly disastrous. Despite running against a relatively unpopular incumbent President during high inflation, rising crime, and international disorder, the GOP failed to make substantial gains.
Trump and the GOP’s Foreign Policy Divide
The election did not deliver a stunning blow to the Biden administration’s foreign policy.
The Ukraine-Russia War does not appear to have had an impact anywhere but on the margins. Mainstream Republicans tended to perform better than candidates who espoused former President Trump’s views on foreign policy, suggesting that even the GOP will be flexible on Ukraine aid.
The exception is JD Vance, who managed to hold a GOP Senate seat in Ohio and who, on the campaign trail, was one of the strongest critics of the Biden administration’s engagement with Ukraine.
However, even Vance significantly underperformed expectations in a state that has increasingly shifted red. Other candidates hand-picked or heavily supported by Trump, including Dr. Mehmet Oz in Pennsylvania, went down to defeat in winnable races.
Florida: The Real Red Wave
One area in which the GOP performed very strongly was the state of Florida.
Governor Ron Desantis, Senator Marco Rubio, and others performed well ahead of Trump’s 2020 benchmark, suggesting that the state is trending heavily in the red direction.
This is undoubtedly good for the GOP, but it could have unpredictable effects on foreign policy. Democratic policy towards Latin America has been hamstrung for decades by the need to appeal to voters in the Cuban and, more recently, Venezuelan disaporas. If Florida is out of reach for the Democrats, the Biden administration could gain more space for negotiating a way out of Washington’s long-term confrontations with Havana and Caracas. The latter is particularly important given tight energy markets worldwide, and a handshake between President Nicolas Maduro and former Secretary of State John Kerry at a climate conference in Egypt.
Reducing Florida’s leverage could also have an impact on Middle East policy, as Florida is home to a concentration of older, conservative Jewish and Evangelical voters who have tended to strongly support Israel.
What Happens Now?
The election could have gone better for the Dems, but it could have gone much better for the Republicans.
There is no question that the GOP underperformed relative to what we would have expected of the opposition party during a midterm election, especially in the context of President Biden’s low approval ratings.
Given that the unanimous voice of the punditry insisted that an impending “red wave” would force the Democrats into an introspective spiral, it is perhaps worth wondering what the Republicans did to earn such a disastrous showing.
The first and biggest answer may be “Donald Trump,” although whether a candidate such as Florida Governor Ron Desantis can take advantage of any perceptions of vulnerability remains unclear. It does not appear that Republican messaging on inflation, crime, or immigration allowed the GOP to capture much momentum.
The overruling of Roe vs. Wade, followed by months of incoherent Republican messaging on abortion may also have played a role, and it’s possible that many moderate voters simply don’t trust the GOP after the January 6 insurrection.
Still, the importance of the final determination over control of the House and Senate cannot be overemphasized, regardless of who won the expectations game. A world in which the GOP controls one or both houses is much different than a world in which the Democrats continue to hold the House-Senate-Presidency trifecta.
A 19FortyFive Contributing Editor, Dr. Robert Farley has taught security and diplomacy courses at the Patterson School since 2005. He received his BS from the University of Oregon in 1997, and his Ph. D. from the University of Washington in 2004. Dr. Farley is the author of Grounded: The Case for Abolishing the United States Air Force (University Press of Kentucky, 2014), the Battleship Book (Wildside, 2016), and Patents for Power: Intellectual Property Law and the Diffusion of Military Technology (University of Chicago, 2020). He has contributed extensively to a number of journals and magazines, including the National Interest, the Diplomat: APAC, World Politics Review, and the American Prospect. Dr. Farley is also a founder and senior editor of Lawyers, Guns, and Money.
UPDATE: We fixed two small typos – thanks to a loyal reader for pointing them out.
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