Note: The views in this article express the opinion of the author, and do not necessarily represent the viewpoint of the New Hanover RLC, the North Carolina RLC, or the Republican Liberty Caucus.
This should have easy, right? Republicans have historically done well in mid-term elections during a Democratic presidency. In 1994, midway through Clinton's first term, Republicans had massive wins in both houses of Congress, and won unified control of Congress for the first time since 1942. In 1998, midway through Clinton's second term, Democrats made some surprising, but modest, gains in the US House, but Republicans held on to the majority in both houses of Congress. But, the normal trend continued in 2010 and 2014, when Republicans took back the House during Obama's first term, and took back the Senate during Obama's second term.
Given the historical trends, and the fact that the economy is in a dumpster fire that America has not seen since the Great Depression, the rank and file members of our party naturally assumed a giant Red Wave was coming. As the results stand now, Republicans will not gain even one seat in the US Senate, and may even lose a seat depending on what happens in the Georgia runoff election on December 6th. In the House, Republicans may be able to get the majority back, but the margin will be extremely thin compared to what was anticipated. In short, the Red Wave has evaporated into the Red Fizzle. But why?
Historical Success Stories
To help determine the causes of the fizzle it might help a lot to look at what went into Republican success stories, past and present. As I mentioned before, the GOP had historic mid-term success in 1994. As House Speaker, Newt Gingrich, was able to rally almost all House Republicans, and with the help of Bob Dole in the Senate, was able to form a unified and nationwide conservative platform in the "Contract for America." The Contract, whether you liked it or not, contained 8 specific policy promises that Congress would attempt to pass if the electorate voted in a Republican majority to Congress. Included, were speciifc promises that would require that:
- all laws that apply to the rest of the country also apply to Congress
- a major, independent auditing firm would be selected to conduct a comprehensive audit of Congress for waste, fraud or abuse
- they cut the number of House committees, and cut committee staff by one-third
- they limit the terms of all committee chairs
- a ban on the casting of proxy votes in committee would be imposed
- committee meetings be open to the public
- a 3/5 majority be obtained for any raise in taxes
- an honest accounting of the Federal Budget be implmented by utilizing zero base-line budgeting
All of these reflected traditional conservative values of limited and fiscally responsible government that is the backbone of the GOP. And although not all of these measures were ultimately passed, it was bold messagung that hit home with voters who were tired of big and inflated government. The result was overwhelming. Republicans gained 54 seats in the US House, 9 seats in the US Senate, and took full control of Congress for the first time in decades.
By 2006, small government Republicans in Congress had lost their power. Due to the big government policies of President GW Bush and the "War on Terror" that dominated our politics in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, there simply was little difference between your average Republican and Democrat in Congress. And with our economy in shambles after the 2008 recession, President Obama became President, and Democrats were in full control of our federal government. But leading into the 2010 mid-terms, hope returned. Not from the establishment, but from the grassroots, in the form of the Tea Party revolution.
As a grassroots effort, the Tea Party Revolution didn't enjoy the same benefit of completely unified messaging. Some factions stressed gun rights. Others stressed reducing taxes. While numerous other groups were concerned about reducing America's involvement in needless foreign military engagements. But of the various factions, numerous patriot citizen statesman, like Rand Paul, Sarah Palin, Michelle Bachmann, Ted Cruz, Justin Amash, Thomas Massie, and Tim Scott (SC) rode the Tea Party wave into Congress. Common among all these factions was a mistrust of big government institutions, and a longing for a return to limited government, individual freedom. and fiscally conservative policies. By 2014, this Red Wave controlled both houses of Congress, and vowed to "Repeal, and Replace Obamacare" as well as reduce the size of the federal government's footprint on our lives. This overall messaging was very effective and resonated with the growing number of Independent voters in the Country.
Current Success Stories
While the overall performance of the Republican Party was mediocre last Tuesday, there were a number of Republican candidates that did extremely well. Let's take a look at a few examples from federal, state, and local races. Perhaps no other Republican politician is hated by the Republican Party Establishment more than Rand Paul is. He has often been the thorn in Mitch McConnell's side when it comes to opposing big government spending bills, renewal of the Patriot Act, keeping our civil liberties intact and our businesses open despite the COVID crisis, unnecessary foreign military intervention, as well as being dedicated to strict adherence to our Constitution. While Kentucky has marginally more registered Republicans than registered Democrats, Rand Paul stood by his record during his 2022 campaign and promised 6 more years of the same. Rand Paul not only won his election last Tuesday, but won re-election by almost a 2-1 margin. He did not accomplsh this feat by "pivoting to the center" or by meaningless slogan campaigning. Rather, he took firm, principled, and constitutionally conservative positions, and the voters respected the integrity it takes to do that. The voters of Kentucky might disgaree with Senator Paul on some of the issues, but the messaging was bold, specific, and convincing.
One can argue on whether Ron DeSantis should be our presidential nominee in 2024, but there is simply no dispute that he had a fantastic Election Day in 2022. Not only was he reelected as Governor of Florida, but he beat former Governor Charlie Crist by a whopping 19 points! Furthermore, his support was instrumental in the GOP taking super-majorities in both houses of the Florida legislature. Given that there were many GOP wins in such historically Democratic strongholds, like Miami and Dade counties, one would never have guessed that Florida that has historically been a purple/swing state.
Again, Republican success in Florida can be largely attributed to effective and specific messaging on small government Republican solutions that appeal to the vast majority of independent voters who are skeptical of big government and career politicians. The "DeSantis Playbook" included a "Freedom Agenda" which promoted:
- Putting Kids First and Protecting Parents’ Rights
- Florida’s Economy is Outpacing the Nation
- Keeping Our Communities Safe
- The Environment: Keeping Florida Beautiful
- Protecting the Integrity of Our Elections
- Standing Up for Moms and Florida Families
- Florida: The Most Veteran-Friendly and Pro-Military State
- Fighting Special Interests
Inside each of these planks, DeSantis provides speciifc examples of how he has worked to promote them, along with legislative proposals to improve those goals further.
Here in New Hanover County there were 4 spots being contested this year on the New Hanover County Board of Education. The Republican slate of candidates included: Pete Wildeboar, Josie Barnhart, Melissa Mason, and Pat Bradford. The Democratic field included two incumbents, and Democrats had held 5-2 majority on the Board (6-1 really, because RINO Stephanie Kraybill most often voted with the Democrats). Despite the fact that New Hanover County is fairly "purple", these 4 candidates exceeded all expectations and took all 4 seats!
Undoubtedly, the school board has been dysfunctional for quite some time. It might be understandable why voters removed the 2 Democratic incumbents. But Republican incumbent Pete Wildeboar won, and the other 2 Democrats on the ballot were not incumbents, but still lost. How did this happen? Each of the Republican candidates emphasized different areas of concern to the voters. Some were more concerned with CRT, others with the quality of education, and still others with school safety. But, a common theme among them all was an emphasis on parental rights. For too long the school system has displayed an elitist attitude that exuded the message that the school system simply knew what was best for children, despite the wishes of parents. Each of the candidates presented policy intiatives to promote more parental involvement in how the school system operates, and to allow parents far more choice when it comes to their children's education. Again, the success of these candidates proves that clear messaging on behalf of freedom and small government is an effective tool in gaining political victory.
Let's start with a local failure: Ted Davis' re-election to the NC House in District 20. One can legitimately question why I label this is an Establishment failure when Rep. Davis actually won. However, the fact is that this race was much closer than it should have been. Rep. Davis only won by less than 2 points to a completely new and unknown candidate in Amy Block DeLoach. DeLoach ran on the standard Democratic talking points, and had no exceptional or unique policy ideas. This should have been a runaway victory for Ted Davis, but was not. The problem is that he he didn't offer any unique policy ideas either. He simply ran on his experience, and as the Establishment often does, pivoted to the center on most of the controversial issues such as abortion. Had the Democrats put up a more seasoned candidate who had at least some local notoriety and experience in government, they very well might have won this race. Independent voters, who are the key to winning elections, appreciate experience, but also are skeptical of it at the same time.
In Kansas, Republican Derek Schmidt lost his race for Governor to Democrat Laura Kelly. Although, Kelly was the incumbent, Kansas is usually considered a fairly solid Red State. A solid Conservative Republican should have been able to win. Like Ted Davis, Derek Schmidt mostly pivoted to the center on the issues, which made him virtually indistinguishable from moderate Democrat Kelly. However, he added in a lot of rhetoric about fighting the extremism of the left, and tried to lump her in with Marxists and far-left liberals like AOC. This type of scare tactic might work to score you some red meat points with the Republican base, but they did nothing to influence the Independent voters of Kansas. These voters became independent for a reason - they don't trust either party. If you want their vote you are going to have to prove that you have unique and specific policy ideas, and that you have substance instead of plain rhetoric.
Finally, there is the tale of the ultimate in Establishment politicians - Mitch McConnell. Republicans had a number of great US Senate candidates running this year. With the economy the way it is, Republicans should have easily been able to gain at least 1 US Senator and take back the majority. GOP Senate candidates like Don Bolduc (NH), Blake Masters (AZ), and Adam Laxalt (NV) all had strong conservative messaging and should have won their races if they have received the funds necesary to win. They all lost. Why? All of these candidates were backed by Donald Trump, opposed to Mitch McConnell as Senate Majority Leader, and ready to serve. Unfortunately, McConnell was able to withhold Republican Senate Victory funds from these candidates' campaigns and divert them to the campaigns of other more moderate candidates who liked him. Mitch decided that it was more important for him to be in charge of Senate Republicans then actually gaining a Republican Senate majority. Unfortunately, money is necessary to promoting even the finest and clearest messaging to the voters. Conservatives and grassroots campaigns within the party need to come to the realization that they need to raise their own money, and not depend on the crooked Republican Establishment to fully support the party's nominee in a general election.
There are many takeaways or "lessons learned" that can be learned from the 2022 Mid-Term Elections. Here are a few of them:
- The United States, more than any other country in the world, has always had a population that has been generally skeptical of big government and career politicians. We value independence and freedom like no other people in the world.
- The number of Independent voters has grown exponentially in the last few decades. In many states, such as North Carolina, Independent voters greatly outnumber registered Republicans or Democrats. Winning the Independent vote is clearly a necessity to winning general elections.
- While Independent voters clearly have diverse viewpoints, they share, like George Washington did, a skepticism of political parties. They seek independent and principled leaders who aren't afraid to buck the party line, and do what they think is right.
- Simply demonizing Democrats will not appeal to the vast majority of Independent voters, as they don't think much of Republicans either!
- Big government Republicans are hardly distinguishable from the majority of their Democratic opponents. And otherwise principled small government Republicans are making a grave error by pivoting their campaigns to the center. Independent voters aren't oblivious to the fact they are being manipulated.
- The best tactic for Republican candidates is to be clear about their principles and promote specific policy messaging that is appealing. Independent voters know our government is broken and are looking for solutions and not slogans!
- The GOP Establishment has failed us yet again; in its messaging and in its desire to handpick loyal "Yes Man" candidates. Real success for the GOP will come from the grassroots, and is dependent on sticking to our platform of limited government and freedom, and fully funding our candidates who are loyal to those principles.
While I am sure that there will be some who disagree with my analysis, I would hope that it would least open up a discussion on the conclusions it has reached.