Puri | 2022 provided political lessons for all

Opinion by John Puri
Jan. 18, 2023, 10:06 p.m.

Now that the 2022 midterm elections have concluded, every corner of the political world has something to take away from the previous year. There were no shortage of misconceptions busted, theories invalidated and predictions refuted for observers to reflect upon in anticipation of the upcoming cycle, regardless of one’s political persuasion.

First, Democrats and Republicans alike learned that abortion matters to voters far more than anyone reckoned it did. Pollsters suggested that the summer’s reversal of Roe v. Wade would be of little concern compared to rapidly rising prices and economic worries, both of which favored the GOP’s prospects. In actuality, abortion registered as the second-most important issue to the midterm electorate behind inflation by a mere four percentage points and to the overwhelming benefit of Democrats. Even so, popular conservative governors who had enacted tighter abortion restrictions cruised to reelection. The proper takeaway for Republicans is to reject proposals to further nationalize the matter and allow abortion battles to occur exclusively at the state level, where they are less politically damaging.

Mainstream liberals learned that their standard-bearer, President Joe Biden, was not the electoral albatross many believed him to be. Certainly, Biden is unpopular with the American people, and a vast majority think that the country is on the wrong track under his leadership. Yet these sentiments scarcely showed up on election day. Democrats wildly exceeded expectations, just barely losing their House majority and maintaining the Senate when historical trends projected a wipeout.

The reason? While Joe Biden’s favorability may be lacking, his unpopularity is nothing compared to that of his predecessor, whose shadow looms large over a Republican Party remade in his image as he purges his detractors. The political capital that Biden acquired by avoiding a November bloodbath seems to be all he needs to launch his reelection bid, as he has once again demonstrated his ability to win a tough contest. Even ideological opposite Newt Gingrich had to admit that the president is a formidable adversary whom Republicans underestimate at their peril.

Speaking of Donald Trump, he and his acolytes were served the most glaring lesson of all: You. Cannot. Win. Not after the last two years of insanity. In all fairness, that’s not entirely true — they can still win primaries. Trump spent the spring and summer playing kingmaker, handpicking candidates and dispensing endorsements on the sole basis of one’s fealty to him and his baseless stolen election narrative. This is how we got Doctor Oz in Pennsylvania, Blake Masters in Arizona and Don Bolduc in New Hampshire, plus a bevy of repugnant gubernatorial and House candidates, almost all of whom won their primaries on Trump’s coattails and promptly flamed out in the general.

Trump’s bewildering Senate pick in Georgia, former college football star Herschel Walker, at least made it to a runoff against incumbent Raphael Warnock but also ultimately lost by three points. Walker was deeply flawed from the start and became increasingly objectionable as the race went on, as credible allegations of parental absenteeism, domestic violence and downright stupidity plagued his campaign. By contrast, in the very same election, every other Republican candidate for statewide office in Georgia won by at least five percentage points — no runoff required. It turns out, once again, that voters care about actual candidates and not merely the capital letters next to their names.

Simultaneously, the growing number of Republicans who wish to move away from Trump found a clear frontrunner to challenge his presidential bid early on election night. Around dinnertime, many spectators believed they were witnessing an epic red tsunami unfold that was destined to sweep the nation. Alas, they were only watching Florida’s results come in.

Governor Ron DeSantis cleaned up decisively, expanding his 0.4 percentage point upset from four years ago into a walloping 19.4 point landslide. His electoral strength also propelled Senator Marco Rubio to a similarly commanding triumph and helped add four House seats to his party’s caucus. DeSantis accomplished this feat by assembling a sturdy coalition of loyal Republicans, suburbanites and Latinos, just as Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin proved possible one year prior.

Both parties now have their respective assignments. For Democrats, they are to unite behind Joe Biden in 2024. Now that he has emerged from his midterm referendum unscathed, there is no excuse not to renominate the incumbent president for a second term. Progressives will always have their quibbles with the man, but even they must recognize that Biden is their party’s best electoral bet.

For Republicans, the burden is much heavier: they must stop Donald Trump from obtaining their party’s nomination through a contentious and bloody primary battle. The price of tearing apart their base in the process will be considerable, but the cost of a third straight presidential election with Trump on the ticket? Four more years of a Democrat in the White House and losses down the ballot, virtually guaranteed.

John R. Puri is an undergraduate Opinions staff writer studying Political Science with an emphasis in International Relations and Political Economy.

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