The GOP in disarray: disappointing result for Republicans in US midterms spells trouble for the GOP 2024 presidential campaign
by Fraser Cadman
What next for the Republican Party? After a set of underwhelming results, GOP members have begun pointing the finger at who is to blame for their failure to take full control of Congress all while looking for their 2024 presidential candidate.
As the dust settles from the 2022 US Midterms and the last few congressional races are called over the next few days, it seems highly likely that the GOP is going to retake the House of Representatives by a perilously thin margin whilst failing to win back the Senate altogether. This represents a stunning comeback for the Democrats who were predicted to suffer heavy losses in both houses to a so-called ‘Red Wave’ of Republican gains.
The Midterm elections occur every two years and are seen as a critical benchmark for judging the success of the president and their party, as well as the government’s prospects for re-election. On 8 November, the US Midterms saw the House of Representative, 1/3 of seats in the Senate, and a slate of state Governors going up for election. Many smaller state-wide elections were taking place concurrently. Though the Republican Party anticipated a wipe-out, such a landslide largely failed to materialise.
Though the Republicans will now be able to delay and dilute much of President Biden’s agenda, the so-called ‘Pink Ripple’ falls short of the ‘Red Wave’ the party had hoped for. Apart from moderate gains in Florida and New York, Republicans failed to unseat key targets in swing states, even losing in a handful of their own long-held districts across the country. Democrats, on the other hand, managed to narrowly hold the Senate, beating Republican challengers in Nevada and Arizona whilst gaining the formerly Republican Pennsylvanian senate seat with eccentric hoodie-wearing progressive John Fetterman.
The Democratic performance in these elections has been the best of any party of the incumbent president in the Midterms since 2002, and the buoyant Democratic Party looks likely to ride this momentum into winning the runoff election in Georgia later this year. This could potentially give them 51 total seats in the Senate, gaining a seat from their 2020 result, a huge reversal of fortunes from the wipeout many expected.
The state-wide governor elections have also seen Democrats gain overall, with only their incumbent candidate in Nevada losing, whilst winning Massachusetts and Maryland. Although races for governorships are often overlooked outside of local politics, they are of immense importance as governors have a great degree of influence over certifying local election results. Were the Democrats to win the presidential election in 2024, Republican governors in swing states could refuse to certify results. This is what Trump did in 2020 when he urged Georgia Governor Brian Kemp not to certify the election results in Georgia. The failure of the GOP to capture the governorships of Arizona, Pennsylvania, or Michigan in this cycle may prove essential to the process of guaranteeing certification in two years’ time were the election to be contested again.
Republicans have been left in disarray by these results and the disappointment within the party has quickly turned into a bitter war of recrimination between the establishment leadership, and the ‘insurgent’ right of the party.
Although the incumbent House and Senate GOP leaders Kevin McCarthy and Mitch McConnell both won renomination despite a noticeable opposition, neither can truly claim to have a cast-iron grip on party discipline. McCarthy might have won the overall renomination from Republican members, but he still needs a majority in the House of Representatives to become Speaker of the House. Many Republicans who opposed his nomination are vowing to abstain in the final vote, potentially plunging Republican control over the House into chaos.
Even if the presumptive Speaker is elected Speaker of the House, McCarthy is likely to have a difficult time over the next congressional sessions keeping an increasingly unruly fringe of far-right representatives in line with a Republican majority in the single digits.
Notable Georgia Representative and far-right conspiracy theorist Marjorie Taylor Greene demanded that McCarthy: “give [her] a lot of power and a lot of leeway” or face a leadership challenge from the right of the party. This was echoed by fellow far-right lawmakers, with election denier Representative Paul Gosar and alleged sex trafficker Representative Matt Gaetz calling for McCarthy’s resignation unless he gave ground to the false accusations that Democrats stole the 2020 presidential election.
The potential chaos in the House GOP is further exacerbated by another elephant in the room that seems likely to prevent any reconciliation between the embattled Republican factions: the eternal question of Donald Trump. The emerging discord between the pro and anti-Trump wings of the party will mostly continue to dominate the discussions within the Republican party, at least until the next presidential election in 2024.
Trump, who announced his candidacy for President on 16 November, has not shied away from the limelight during this year’s Midterm campaign. Trump personally picked and endorsed congressional candidates in crucial seats, most of whom lost to Democrat challengers, with only Ohio voting for a Trump-backed senatorial candidate.
The kiss of death from Trump contrasts sharply with the success of rising star and potential challenger Ron DeSantis, who was comfortably re-elected as Governor of Florida and presided over a huge swing in the state that saw Democrats routed from traditional strongholds around Miami-Dade County. Donald Trump has not honeyed his words in taking swipes at DeSantis, widely seen as the only current challenger to his re-nomination as the Republican presidential candidate in 2024. Trump has hit out at his former ally, attacking him in the classically blunt Trump style as “Ron DeSanctimonious”, claiming that the Governor would have lost his narrow 2018 election bid had Trump not “stopped his Election from being stolen” as President. DeSantis in response told detractors to “go check out the scoreboard from last Tuesday night”.
This burgeoning civil war within the GOP has cast doubts on the consensus that Trump would comfortably sweep to victory in the party primary for 2024. Post-midterm polls show him haemorrhaging support to DeSantis in a handful of critical primary states like Iowa and New Hampshire.
DeSantis, Trump’s main adversary, has echoed many of his potential opponent’s talking points regarding election denial and culture wars. As Governor of Florida DeSantis signed into law the highly controversial ‘Don’t Say Gay’ Bill earlier this year, throttling any mention of LGBTQIA+ sexual orientation and gender identity in schools. Meanwhile, the choice for ‘moderates’ within the Republican Party seems non-existent as hard-right conservatism and election denialism appears to harden within the party.
The divides between pro- versus anti-Trump, between the GOP establishment versus the insurgent far right, and between election denialism versus election acceptance, look likely to consume the Republican party for the foreseeable future.
It is still very early in the primary campaign to make any prediction, but the plain sailing Trump may have hoped for in his renomination bid died on 8th November, along with any pretence of party unity within the GOP. Trump still maintains huge notoriety with the public, but as some Republicans have noted after this month’s disappointing results, he may yet turn out to be a spent force.