While it’s not yet clear which party will control Congress, the 2022 midterm elections yielded substantive losses for some of the more extreme candidates served up to voters by the MAGA movement.
In Pennsylvania, Doug Mastriano was delivered a thumping defeat by voters angered at his presence in the January 6 mob and by his far right positions on everything from abortion to the role of religion in public life. And U.S. Senate candidate Mehmet Oz, who was endorsed by Donald Trump, conceded the Pennsylvania Senate race to John Fetterman Wednesday morning.
In Michigan, election-denying gubernatorial candidate Tudor Dixen lost to incumbent Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, as did the GOP candidate for secretary of state.
The message was more mixed in Arizona. Early results suggested that it was entirely possible that the extremist candidates for all the high offices — Blake Masters for the Senate, Kari Lake for governor, Abe Hamadeh for attorney general and Mark Finchem for secretary of state — could be defeated, despite polling showing they entered the election in strong positions to win. As more on-the-day ballots have been counted, however, those margins have tightened. Mark Kelly will likely triumph in his Senate race, but it’s unclear at this point about the other three races.
Similarly as more votes have been counted in Nevada, it looks possible that Jim Marchant — arguably the most extreme election-denying secretary of state candidate in the country — could eke out a win, riding the coattails of the GOP gubernatorial and Senate candidates.
But Arizona and Nevada are rare spots where the extremist wing of the GOP could get to crow. At the congressional level, Democrats bucked the odds and, despite likely losing control of the House, did make a number of pick-ups, notably in districts where particularly extreme, election-denying candidates had won through in the GOP primaries.
In Ohio’s 9th congressional district, the QAnon-supporting J.R. Majewski was defeated by a double-digit margin. In North Carolina, GOP candidate Bo Hines, who argued that survivors of rape and incest should be sujected to a “community-level review process” to determine their eligibility for abortion, was defeated. And in Colorado, the race between conspiracist Congressmember Lauren Boebert and Democrat Adam Frisch was too close to call, though it looks likely that Boebert will lose.
Of course, none of this means that far right extremism has been banished from the U.S. electoral landscape. Hundreds of election-denying Republicans were elected to state and federal offices. And many others, including conspiracy theory adherent and election denier Herschel Walker in Georgia, came frighteningly close to winning. (If neither candidate hits the 50 percent winning threshold, as looks likely, Walker will have a second shot in a runoff election against Warnock scheduled for December 6. It will, almost certainly, end up as the most expensive Senate race in U.S. history, and to stand any chance of winning Walker will have to mobilize the Trumpist GOP base to come out in huge numbers.)
Trump, prepping his entry into the 2024 presidential race, will try to claim credit for victories by candidates such as J.D. Vance, the newly elected senator from Ohio, as well as the narrow win by one of the ex-president’s chief apologists in the Senate, Ron Johnson of Wisconsin. And Trump will, in all likelihood, push nonsensical lies about voter fraud and miscounting of ballots.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott comfortably won reelection, putting the Lone Star State in a prime position to continue pushing far right policies on everything from immigration to gun laws, from anti-trans policies to education curricula into the national political discourse. And Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who emerged from Tuesday night’s election as the GOP figure of the moment, has, over the past few years, pushed his own brand of extremist culture war politics that is, if anything, even more ominously effective than that cultivated by Trump.
Yet, however the MAGA movement tries to spin this, in reality this midterm election wasn’t the across-the-board victory for extremism, or across-the-board defeat for pro-democracy forces, that polls over the past few weeks had suggested was all too possible.
Trump is scheduled to announce his 2024 candidacy for president on November 14. Given the mediocre electoral performances of Trump’s hand-picked candidates and the drag that his presence on the campaign trail clearly caused to Republican candidates in swing states and districts, the expected announcement seems certain to cause intense political clashes within the GOP and its donor base.
At the end of the day, Kevin McCarthy may well end up the next speaker of the House; though the final outcome of the race for control of the House might, if swing seats results are as close as they appear to be, not be known for a few more days yet. But if the Republican Party does take control, it could well be a pyrrhic victory. The extremism of so many of the GOP candidates and congressional representatives — and the erasure of moderate GOP candidates during a primary season in which Trump carefully picked off any of his party’s representatives who opposed his ongoing dominance over the party — has limited how many seats the GOP picked up. And the ongoing extremism of so many members of the GOP’s House caucus makes it likely that the party won’t be able to pass popular legislation, to consolidate its power or expand its voter base going into the 2024 elections.
Trump was banking on seeding the political system with so many MAGA loyalists, at so many critical leverage points, that they could essentially hold voting processes hostage come 2024. Tuesday’s vote was a powerful rebuke to that ominous threat to U.S. democracy.