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Republicans appear lost, leaderless as Democrats hold the Senate

The door to a Republican majority in the Senate has slammed shut. The GOP really isn't handling it well.


There was a degree of symmetry to the circumstances. As The Nevada Independent’s Jon Ralston noted, it was in 1974 when Democrat Harry Reid faced Republican Paul Laxalt in a highly competitive Senate race in the Silver State, which Laxalt won by less than half a percentage point. Twelve years later, the GOP incumbent retired, and Reid won the seat he’d been denied two terms earlier.

Reid rose through the ranks, became Senate majority leader, and cultivated a political machine of sorts in Nevada, ultimately anointing Catherine Cortez Masto as his successor in 2016. This year, she faced off against Adam Laxalt, Paul Laxalt’s grandson.

And my MSNBC colleague Hayley Miller reported over the weekend, the Democratic incumbent narrowly prevailed in highly consequential fashion.

Nevada’s Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, a Democrat, has been re-elected to the U.S. Senate, NBC News projects. That means Democrats have won 50 seats, effectively keeping their edge in the Senate after a close midterm elections cycle and successfully fighting off Republican efforts to take control of the chamber. (Even if Republicans win the Georgia runoff on Dec. 6, giving them 50 Senate seats as well, Democrats have Vice President Kamala Harris to cast any potential tiebreaking votes.)

In the runup to Election Day 2022, Republicans were optimistic about retaking the upper chamber, and forecasts suggested it was the most likely outcome. The morning after voters headed to the polls, GOP officials realized their path to a majority had narrowed, but they held out hope that a couple of key contests — specifically the races in Arizona and Nevada — might yet fall their way.

They didn’t. On Friday night, Arizona’s race was called for incumbent Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly, and roughly 24 hours later, Nevada’s race was called for Cortez Masto. For Republicans, the ajar door slammed shut.

As the results came into focus, Christie Roberts, the executive director of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, told Politico, “We had no business being in the hunt to hold the majority in this environment.”

That’s true. Democrats won anyway.

To put it mildly, Republicans aren’t handling their disappointment well. Last week, when the writing was on the wall, intra-party recriminations flourished. Now that the possibility of a GOP majority has evaporated, the accusations and finger-pointing has reached a new level of intensity.

Indeed, Republicans know they’re angry, but there’s considerable disagreement as to who they should be angry with. Depending on which GOP contingent has the microphone at any given moment, Democrats’ unexpected successes should be blamed on Donald Trump. Or maybe Mitch McConnell. And Rick Scott. And quite possibly Lindsey Graham.

Soon after Nevada’s race was called, Republican Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri declared via Twitter, “The old party is dead. Time to bury it. Build something new.”

The resulting mosaic only looks good to Democrats: GOP officials don’t know why they came up short, don’t know what to do about it, don’t know how to deal with divisions, don’t know who their leaders should be, don’t know when to vote on their leadership teams, don’t agree on an agenda, don’t agree on whether to have an agenda, and don’t agree on whether to promote that agenda, should it exist.

But other than that, there’s certainly no cause for concern.

Parties inevitably stumble. They suffer setbacks, some of which defy expectations and historical patterns. In the wake of defeats, it’s sensible for partisans to pause, take stock, identify what went wrong, and plot a course for the near future.

These examinations can be unpleasant. Some constituencies inevitably howl. There are often lingering resentments. Some folks even lose their jobs. But responsible parties do the work anyway because, ideally, it creates a stronger and more competitive party going forward.

This is only effective, however, when serious officials approach these debates in a smart and mature way, steered by leaders who have a credible vision and know what they’re doing. There’s little to suggest Republicans are prepared for such a process.