A few weeks ago, National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman Rick Scott thought it’d be a good idea to raise midterm election expectations to a new level. The Floridian was not only confident that the GOP would take control of the upper chamber, Scott boasted that his party had a path to a 55-seat majority.
He had plenty of company. This past weekend, The New Yorker published a widely circulated report, highlighting the “consensus” among Republican pollsters and operatives that the party was headed for “a clean sweep” in the midterms. The article added, “The word that kept coming up in these conversations was ‘bloodbath.’”
They were wrong. NBC News reported overnight:
An election that Republicans hyped as a red wave is turning out to be anything but, with Democrats over-performing the expectations of many in House and Senate races.
It’s important to emphasize that there are still a lot of votes to count and races to be called. As of this moment, it’s difficult to say with confidence which party will control either chamber, and what their margins might be in the next Congress.
But it’s not too early to acknowledge, as the NBC News report put it, “expectations of widespread GOP gains have not been realized.”
Some in the party have been willing to admit it. “Definitely not a Republican wave, that’s for darn sure,” Sen. Lindsey Graham conceded during an on-air interview with Lester Holt and Savannah Guthrie last night.
Consider some historical perspective. Since World War II, Democratic presidents in their first midterms have seen their party lose an average of 40 House seats and 5 Senate seats. Since Watergate, the results have looked even worse for the party: Democratic presidents in their first midterms have seen their party lose an average of 44 House seats and 6 Senate seats.
Given all of this, the midterms’ outcome seemed practically predetermined before a single ballot was cast. Heading into yesterday’s contests, House Republicans were already so close to a majority that you could literally count on one hand the number of seats they needed to take control: A net gain of just five seats would move Kevin McCarthy from the minority leader’s office to the speaker’s office.
Senate Republicans were already so close to a majority that you could literally count on one finger the number of seats they needed to take control: A net gain of just one seat would flip the chamber from “blue” to “red.”
The combination of existing circumstances — President Joe Biden’s underwhelming approval rating, high inflation, thermostatic public attitudes, and the narrow margins on Capitol Hill — positioned the GOP for success. Once we add recent public opinion polling to the mix, the pieces were in place for substantial Republican gains.
And yet, voters had other ideas.
A year ago this week, Kevin McCarthy looked at the election cycle and said Republicans could flip as many as 60 seats. I wonder what he'll tell his members now.