The Republican Party Must Learn from the 2022 Midterms and Adopt the Ron DeSantis Approach
To Win Polarized Elections, Republicans Need More Than Weak Opponents — They Need Strong Leaders
"Relying on Democrats’ failures is not enough to bridge the partisan divide, and the 2022 midterms proved it."
By: Margot Cleveland - The Federalist
November 9, 2022: Tuesday’s anticipated red wave broke — in the kiddie pool. Yes, Republicans appear poised to regain control of the House and may also wrestle the Senate from Chuck Schumer’s hands. And those victories should be appreciated. But conservatives cannot help but be disappointed that the expected red tsunami never hit.
Nor can Republicans chalk the lower-than-predicted pickups up to cognitive biases causing conservatives to overestimate their midterm fortunes. Democrats also forecasted a routing last night and must be ecstatic that not only did a massive red wave not hit, but the ripple, at first glance, barely upset the baby.
The Line of Thought
The rationale was simple. Joe Biden is an incredibly unpopular president, with only 39 percent of the public approving of his performance, according to a Monday poll from Reuters. And 72 percent of voters believe our country is on the wrong track. The economy, which voters cited as their No. 1 concern, is in shambles. Gas prices are still high, and with limited supply remaining in the strategic oil reserves, OPEC’s resurgence in light of Biden’s weakness, and the far-left’s unrealistic green demands, they will continue to increase over the coming months.
Skyrocketing interest rates and high inflation — which will only intensify as gas-price increases flow downstream — made kitchen-table issues a key concern heading into Tuesday’s vote. Parents’ anger over schools’ closures and continued efforts to indoctrinate students on trans ideology or critical race theory provided another sign that Democrats, responsible in the main for both, would face a reckoning.
In short, the landscape mirrored the scene in Virginia in November 2021 when Republicans shocked the country by sweeping the statewide elections and regaining control of the House of Delegates in upset victories up and down the ballot. Glenn Youngkin, Winsome Sears, and Jason Miyares all defeated their Democrat opponents in the races for governor, lieutenant governor, and attorney general, respectively, notwithstanding polls and pundits giving the Republicans little chance of winning.
After Virginia’s sweep, the political post-mortem on Democrats identified Biden’s unpopularity, the wrong-track numbers, the struggling economy, and parents’ fights with school boards over gender and CRT ideology as responsible for the Republican landslide. Since that time, Biden’s popularity decreased further, with more voters viewing the country as being on the wrong track. Economic conditions are worse, and parents are outraged over the harm inflicted on their children under the Covid excuse. Spiraling crime rates added a new concern for voters since the 2021 Virginia test run. And even without this bleak backdrop, the president’s party almost always loses midterms. The confluence of these factors gave Republicans and Democrats alike reason to believe Republicans would wash Democrats out of several governors’ houses, in addition to flipping dozens of House seats, and giving Republicans a two- or even three-seat majority in the Senate. While the Republicans will likely win back the House and still have a chance to regain control of the Senate, the spread of the former is nowhere near what political types expected, and the latter is in no way assured. Republicans also failed to regain the governors’ mansions in Wisconsin, Michigan, and New York, and lost two to Democrats in Maryland and Massachusetts.
Democrats would be right to rejoice in the fact that they aren’t as big of losers as they and everyone else thought. Retaking the House, however, remains a win for Republicans — assuming it materializes. Likewise winning the Senate seat in Ohio against a formidable Democrat candidate and without a strong red wave propelling J.D. Vance to victory represents an accomplishment.
A Pattern for Success
But while here and there a few Republican victories might merit celebrating, the only monumental achievement from Tuesday came with the quick calling of Florida for Sen. Marco Rubio and his fellow Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis. And it is those victories, particularly DeSantis’s win, that, when considered in conjunction with the phantom red wave and particularly Democrat John Fetterman’s win in Pennsylvania, expose the new American political reality: America’s politicized electorate will vote party over nearly everything other than clear, undeniable positive results.
That Pennsylvanians could elect Fetterman to the United States Senate in light of his obvious cognitive incompetence shows the “D” in front of his name mattered more than anything else. Likewise, that the electorate ignored the perfect storm of conditions that previously justified sweeping the in-control party out of office suggests the Democrat-Republican divide is more deeply entrenched than at any other time in our country’s recent history. But that both Rubio and DeSantis slaughtered their Democrat challengers in races that were polling much closer provides the blueprint for success in this new era of political polarity. Just four years ago, DeSantis squeaked out a victory in the contest for governor against Democrat Andrew Gillum, 49.6 percent to 49.2 percent. Tuesday night, DeSantis garnered nearly 60 percent of the votes compared to his Republican-turned-Democrat challenger Charlie Crist’s share of 40 percent. Rubio likewise had a decisive victory, 58 percent to 42 percent, over Democrat Val Demings.
As DeSantis said during his victory speech, the outcome of the election showed that he had earned the trust and confidence of many voters who had previously cast ballots for his Democrat opponent. In fact, so successful has DeSantis been, he has made Florida a go-to destination for Americans disgusted by their local governments.
That Republicans were mainly the ones fleeing the destruction wrought by Democrat-controlled states might explain part of the wide margin of victory on Tuesday, but DeSantis’s leadership, as most recently demonstrated in the aftermath of hurricane Ian, is indisputable. And DeSantis’s popularity likely propelled Rubio to a stronger finish too.
If wise, then, Republicans will not merely focus on Florida to uplift their spirits after Tuesday’s expected red wave never materialized. Rather, Republicans will see DeSantis and his leadership as the answer to the electorate’s polarity that helped get a candidate like Fetterman elected.
Verifiable success is the best way to bridge the partisan divide. Democrats’ own failures are not enough — midterms 2022 proved that.
Source: The Federalist
Margot Cleveland is The Federalist's senior legal correspondent. She is also a contributor to National Review Online, the Washington Examiner, Aleteia, and Townhall.com, and has been published in the Wall Street Journal and USA Today. Cleveland is a lawyer and a graduate of the Notre Dame Law School, where she earned the Hoynes Prize—the law school’s highest honor.