Send Out the Clowns! Analyzing the Underperformance of the GOP and My Own Predictions

Today’s post will also show up in mikeholme.substack.com, as had my prediction post. This election was a bit surprising, to say the least. I made a fundamental assumption about the nature of polling in this election that was wrong…that Democrats would for the fifth time in a row be overrepresented in polls. The opposite was true for the first time since 2012. My worst predictions were on gubernatorial races, in which I thought the wave might carry some of the Trumpy gubernatorial candidates to office in close races. No dice there. The 2022 midterms overall did not match the hype that was behind them by numerous Republican media sources. So far, Republicans in the Senate at best have an opportunity to keep their numbers at 50. The Democrat who took an open Republican seat, John Fetterman, was disabled from a stroke of which his campaign had covered up the true impact up until the Fetterman-Oz debate. The House is a rosier picture, as the GOP won a small majority. The Republicans are ahead in the remaining four races that have yet to be called, resulting, if no leads change, in a 222-213 Republican House. Republicans also lost a net of two governor races, with open seats being lost in Arizona, Maryland, and Massachusetts while they picked up one in Nevada. Very few incumbents lost in this election, and some of those were due to unfavorable redistricting (Tom O’Halleran in AZ-2, Steve Chabot in OH-1 for instance). I am going to go over the sources of blame, what I think are the foremost sources of blame and what are secondary. Only one governor and eight representatives lost reelection this year (so far, David Valadao of California is ahead but could still possibly lose).


Before I go through my blame list, a few observations about this election:

. How governors reacted to COVID has made almost no difference as to the outcome of elections. The only race in which it seemed to have impact was in Nevada.

. Republican challengers to Democratic incumbents pushed by former President Trump crashed and burned in state races.

. This was an amazingly good year to be an incumbent. So far, none have lost in the Senate, only Steve Sisolak of Nevada lost among governors, and in the House only eight incumbents so far have lost, with at least half being a great deal attributable to unfavorable redistricting.

Sources of Blame:

Donald Trump

I know there are some Republicans who will protest that Trump wasn’t on the ballot and that this is the MSM narrative. To those objections I say for the first that he didn’t need to be, and second, this time the narrative is backed by a load of evidence. He made himself an issue of the election as he cannot stand to be out of the limelight. Majorities of Republican primary voters across the nation made his word the deciding factor on their primary vote, and he used his influence to defeat primary campaigns of anyone who wouldn’t repeat his claim that the election was stolen from him and made this a litmus test for his endorsement. This is inexcusable and political malpractice. As Doug Heye, a GOP strategist said on the matter, “Candidates want the Trump endorsement. But if they can’t get that, they just want to have Trump not set their sights on them. The best way to do that is to be beholden to Trump. And the best way to do that is to say that he never lost” (Guest). Indeed, Trump was able to put the fear of God into many given that of the ten House Republicans who voted to impeach him over 1/6, only one has been reelected and another, as of 11/19, may have been reelected. Primaried were Peter Meijer of Michigan, Tom Rice of South Carolina, Jaime Herrera Beutler of Washington, and Liz Cheney of Wyoming. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois opted not to run again due to both unpopularity among the base and a partisan redistricting. Beutler’s district, WA-3, had reelected her by 13 points and the hyper-MAGA Republican who defeated her in the primary, Joe Kent, lost in 2022 by 1 point. This is a 14-point swing to Democrats in a Republican leaning district.

This Trumpian approach left opportunities open for Democrats to engage in a practice that was pioneered by Nixon’s dirty tricks people, a practice artfully called “ratfucking”, in which one party through messaging and funds promotes the candidate in the other party’s primary who is least likely to win a general election. The following Republican candidates who won their primaries because of this practice all claimed that Trump was the legitimate winner of the 2020 election and then went on to defeat in the general were:

Don Bolduc, New Hampshire Senate
Karoline Leavitt, NH-1
Robert Burns, NH-2
Doug Mastriano, Pennsylvania Governor
Tudor Dixon, Michigan Governor
Dan Cox, Maryland Governor
Darrell Bailey, Illinois Governor
John Gibbs, MI-3

The lesson for GOP primary voters? Don’t take the Democratic bait! Trump also promoted the candidacies of the following people in key races who repeated his stolen election claims and then went down to defeat:

Governor

Kari Lake, Arizona – No, Arizona is not conservative enough to elect another Evan Mecham. She has continued to contest the election after the race was called for Democrat Katie Hobbs. Maybe given Trump’s announcement for a 2024 run, he can pick her as his running mate. I can see it now: “Trump/Lake ’24: We can’t lose cos we never lose!”

Dan Cox, Maryland

Tudor Dixon, Michigan

Doug Mastriano, Pennsylvania

Tim Michels, Wisconsin

Secretary of State

Mark Finchem, Arizona

Kristina Karamo, Michigan

Kim Crockett, Minnesota

Jim Marchant, Nevada

Audrey Trujillo, New Mexico

Senate

Blake Masters, Arizona – Someone else deserves more blame for him than Trump, who I will bring up later, but he did endorse him.

Don Bolduc, New Hampshire – Bolduc made a show of claiming that Trump was the rightful winner of the election, only to immediately drop it after winning the primary. This strategy didn’t work.

Adam Laxalt, Nevada (to be fair, other Republicans supported him in equal measure and has run for office since before Trump)

Dr. Mehmet Oz, Pennsylvania – Trump stepped in to endorse him, and this narrowly put him over Dave McCormick. Although Oz had a terrible start, perhaps he could have made up the difference had it not been for Mastriano at the head of the ticket. McCormick though was a normal Republican and up against a compromised Fetterman, he had a much better chance of victory.

It is also not lost on me that the only Republican to defeat a Democratic governor was Joe Lombardo in Nevada, who dodged when asked about Trump’s claims and was even threatened with a loss of endorsement for not calling him a “great President” in a debate (Dorman). Adam Laxalt, on the other hand, narrowly lost his Senate race and had strongly backed Trump on his claims right up to 1/6. In Arizona, Lake and Masters lost, but in all Arizona swing Congressional districts Republicans won. Another thing I’ve noticed, incidentally, is that most candidates who went along with Trump’s claims had no problems conceding their own losses, with Kari Lake being a notable exception. This tells me that this phenomenon mostly goes away when Trump does.

Another source of blame on Trump is that he went around delivering campaign speeches for others in which he mostly talked about himself. He also contributed far less money to his candidates through the MAGA super PAC to the tune of $14.8 million when he raised a total of $161 million than McConnell’s super PACs, which contributed $238 million into Senate races. J.D. Vance received $32 million from McConnell’s committees while Trump gave only $2.3 million, while Vance himself raised $7 million (Skinner).

Some wish to blame Mitch McConnell for the result (the usual suspects who wish to blame McConnell for things) and will point to spending in the Alaska Senate race as well as his pulling funds for Blake Masters in Arizona. For the Alaska race, McConnell contributed $6 million to Lisa Murkowski, a mere pittance compared to his levels of spending for Republican candidates including ones majorly pushed by Trump, but I suppose for his critics it’s a lot given that it is over 40% of what Trump’s PAC spent altogether for Republican candidates. For some candidates, there is no amount of money to be spent that can put them over the top if they have a popularity deficit. If this were true, Jeb Bush would have won the 2016 Republican primary and the elected president would have been him or Hillary Clinton.

Rick Scott

As head of the National Republican Senate Committee, Rick Scott badly mismanaged the organization’s efforts. There are several problems with Scott’s approach this to this election. The first was having the NRSC not endorse anyone in Republican primaries. This is not a customary practice and had the effect of making Trump the kingmaker in primary races across the country. It is my educated guess that the rationale for this approach was that polls among Republicans showed that Trump was more popular among them than the Republican organization and that if Trump were to endorse someone else than the NRSC, there would be a fight that the NRSC would probably be on the losing end. Looking at the results of the Senate races, in retrospect, it was worth the risk. Kevin McCarthy, by contrast, explicitly advised Trump not to involve himself in two key House races: Jen Kiggans in VA-2 and Juan Ciscomani in AZ-6 and got him to heed this advice; both candidates won their races (Weingart).

Rick Scott also trotted out an agenda for Republicans in the next Congress without first securing the agreement of other Republicans. To be fair, I really liked the idea of sunsetting all federal legislation every five years as a good way to check the power of the de facto fourth branch of government (the federal bureaucracy) and to provide more budget flexibility, but this was the wrong time to bring it up. And Scott had the gall to make a run for leadership afterwards. His approach in more than one way put the cart before the horse.

The second problem was that he blew funds on long-shot races in Colorado and Washington when he could have allocated more to closer races. He was overconfident and ran the campaign arm as a way to try and secure some senators who would support him in challenging Mitch McConnell for Senate leader (like Bolduc and Masters) and thereby pleasing Trump. Although Rick Scott’s actions as NRSC chair are certainly on him, Trump once again figures in the conversation. Rick Scott has tried to shift blame by pointing the finger at McConnell, but I’m not convinced. He should either be satisfied serving the people of Florida or go back to the private sector in 2024. You might be a McConnell critic, but this election has rendered Scott a most unconvincing replacement for him.

The Dobbs Decision and Lindsey Graham

This one pains me a bit to put on here as I agree with the Dobbs decision as I never thought Roe v. Wade (1973) was a Constitutionally sound decision, rather a decision justified by no more than good-looking politics. I don’t think that rationale is good enough to keep a precedent, no matter how popular. I must admit, however, that it contributed to the cross-wave for Democrats, especially with single women, and a lot of pro-life positions didn’t fare well in state elections. I don’t think this alone would have cost the GOP the Senate, but it contributed.

I suppose most Republicans share blame in this one and can assess for themselves how worth it Dobbs was, but Senator Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) made the situation worse by proposing a national abortion restriction bill in September, running contrary to the whole idea that abortion should have been reverted to the states. The man, like Donald Trump and Rick Scott, self-promoted to the detriment of the party.

Peter Thiel

Peter Thiel should stay out of Republican primaries as he was a pusher of J.D. Vance and Blake Masters. Wait, you say! Vance won, right? Yes, and he may even turn out to be a good senator if he doesn’t keep kissing Trump’s backside in office, but he had to get a bailout from McConnell’s PACs over his campaign going broke and won with help from Governor DeWine…in what is now a red state. That money could have gone elsewhere, to Laxalt in Nevada, Walker in Georgia, or Oz in Pennsylvania. For those who blame McConnell for Blake Masters’ loss I say this: there’s no amount of money that will cure the fact that when he was put before a focus group he, per McConnell to Thiel, “scored the worst focus group results of any candidate he had ever seen” (Faria).
McConnell realized this and pulled funds from a candidate who was foisted upon the Republicans by Peter Thiel. Thiel himself was reluctant to fund the race as well.

Some will want to blame Trump for backing Masters, but he’s more Thiel’s fault. If money was the cure-all for unpopular candidates, Jeb Bush or Hillary Clinton would right now be serving a second term as president. And for those continue to point the finger at McConnell: why should more funds be put for terrible candidates? Candidates like Republican candidate for Ohio’s 9th district, J.R. Majewski in Ohio, who misrepresented his military service and then has the gall to publicly complain about his campaign being abandoned? Why should more funds be put for candidates like Blake Masters, whose test focus group results were garbage? Sorry, voters are not going to go for someone who gets caught misrepresenting their military service, not in a competitive race. Why the voters of Connecticut vote for Richard Blumenthal other than him being a Democrat I must admit remains a mystery for the ages.

The GOP Base

No politician wants to blame the voters for anything, but I’m not a politician and honestly…the politicians took your lead this year. They decided to take your lead in Senate races this year due to RNSC chair Rick Scott’s decision not to endorse anyone, which translated to majorities taking Trump’s lead. They followed his endorsements of subpar and terrible candidates. They let themselves in multiple races fall for a practice the Nixon people pioneered in 1972 artfully called “ratfucking” by the Democrats because of their wish to take things to extremes and “send a message to Washington”. For the base, I say this: it would serve you to pay attention to more than just what you want to hear next time and not only heeding what Tucker Carlson, Mark Levin, and other conservative infotainment tells you. Failure to learn means you lose. If the litmus test for your vote is candidates saying the 2020 election was stolen, then take off the tin foil hat before you vote. Seriously. You are a liability to the conservative cause and helping the left.

Mail-In Voting: Republicans Must Curb It or Adapt to It

Democrats like to make changes to how elections are run that they think will benefit them. This isn’t news to anyone, but what it seems to do is only grant them a benefit for the next election rather than subsequent elections as Republicans adapt to changes. Republicans have reasons to object to mail-in balloting beyond that the numbers tend to favor Democrats, and one is that it increases opportunities for voter fraud. This isn’t a position, by the way, only expressed by conservatives. ProPublica, hardly a conservative investigative journalistic organization, in 2020 wrote that among the issues with mail-in balloting was that it increased risks for fraud (Huseman). This isn’t me saying that widespread voter fraud happened, but that more opportunities exist for voting fraud.

Republicans could restrict mail-in balloting to those who have certain distinct reasons for doing so (mobility disability for instance) and in exchange open more polling locations to avoid super long lines at the polls. If they cannot do this, then they simply need to adapt to the situation and get more of their voters to vote by mail.

In summation…send out the clowns! The American people are sick of the antics, sick of the performance art, sick of crazy from the Republican side. If the Democrats are being crazy…let them! The Squad’s politics are not popular and if the Democrats are identified with that brand they’ll pay for it outside of strongholds (which every member of that group represents). No need to reciprocate! A significant contributing factor to Democrats losing their House majority was, incidentally, because of their cashless bail policy in New York, a policy I would certainly think of as radical, and which has many voters seeing people just going in and out of custody to commit more crimes.

Self-Accountability

I have taken a lot of time holding others accountable for the election outcome. I must now take a little time to hold myself accountable for my predictions, accurate and mistaken.

It turns out my observation about RCP Senate upsets was a good one and I should have stuck to it. I failed to call the defeats of Laxalt in Nevada and Oz in Pennsylvania and I may prove to have failed to call Georgia as well. At least I did not go bullish with guessing that Bolduc or any of the other long-shot Republicans would win. I properly predicted Kelly in Arizona, Bennet in Colorado, Rubio in Florida, Hassan in New Hampshire, Budd in North Carolina, Vance in Ohio, Murray in Washington, and Johnson in Wisconsin. I blew it in predicting that Lake in Arizona, Schmidt in Kansas, Dixon in Michigan, and Michels in Wisconsin would win their gubernatorial races. I called properly DeSantis in Florida, Kemp in Georgia, Mills in Maine, Walz in Minnesota, Lombardo in Nevada, Lujan Grisham in New Mexico, Hochul in New York, Stitt in Oklahoma, Kotek in Oregon, Shapiro in Pennsylvania, and Abbott in Texas.

I think that to a certain extent I failed in preventing my biases from getting in the way, but I think I did better than numerous Republican boosters who were hyping Bolduc and a few others. I could have done better in not falling for the Republican hype myself.

References

Dorman, J.L. (2022, November 13). Trump threatened to withdraw his endorsement of Nevada Republican Joe Lombardo after the then-candidate chose not to call him a ‘great’ president at an October debate: NYT. Yahoo! News.

Retrieved from

https://news.yahoo.com/trump-threatened-withdraw-endorsement-nevada-190855029.html

Guest, C. (2022, May 22). Republican candidates feel the pressure of ‘the Big Lie’ in the 2022 midterm elections. USC Annenberg
Media
.

Retrieved from

https://www.uscannenbergmedia.com/2022/05/19/republican-candidates-feel-the-pressure-of-the-big-lie-in-the-2022-midterm-elections/

Huseman, J. (2020, March 24). Voting by Mail Would Reduce Coronavirus Transmission but It Has Other Risks. ProPublica.

Retrieved from

https://www.propublica.org/article/voting-by-mail-would-reduce-coronavirus-transmission-but-it-has-other-risks

Republicans won in Arizona while Masters flopped and Lake flounders. (2022, November 14). Washington Examiner.

Retrieved from

https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/opinion/republicans-won-in-arizona-while-masters-flopped-and-lake-flounders

Skinner, A. (2022, November 4). McConnell Spending More Than Trump on MAGA Candidates. Newsweek.

Retrieved from

https://www.newsweek.com/mcconnell-spending-more-trump-maga-candidates-1757128

Sullivan, A. (2022, November 9). Democrats’ risky midterm strategy to elevate election deniers appears to pay off. Reuters.

Retrieved from

https://www.reuters.com/world/us/democrats-risky-midterm-strategy-elevate-election-deniers-appears-pay-off-2022-11-09/

One thought on “Send Out the Clowns! Analyzing the Underperformance of the GOP and My Own Predictions

  1. Appreciate The Analysis & Your Candor. Still Working On An Appropriate Response! You Have Given US Much Food For Thought. Disappointing As This Election WAS. Many Opportunities Wasted, My Friend. Have A Nice Day. Dave IN TEXAS.

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