Sen. Raphael Warnock's projected win in the Georgia runoff hands another loss to the GOP.
The Republican Party will end the once promising 2022 cycle having failed to reach many of its goals.
The GOP will retake the House come January, though the majority will be significantly smaller than expected.
It ended with a whimper in Georgia. This is not how the Republican Party envisioned 2022. This year was going to be a wave year to remember.
Instead, Sen. Raphael Warnock's projected runoff win means Democrats will now have a larger Senate majority than they started the cycle with. Republicans still flipped the House. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis romped to reelection. Conservatives realized their decades-long ambition to overturn Roe v. Wade. But Tuesday's results add another disappointing note to a wave that became a ripple and a party that enters an open presidential contest poised to rip itself apart.
Herschel Walker's showing illustrates that the GOP still struggles to find candidates that can unite their base without turning off general election voters. In particular, many GOP candidates, including Walker, continue to underperform in fastly growing suburbs.
And no Republican retrospective would be complete without Donald Trump. The former president's hostile takeover of the party has turned into a popularity contest in which appeasing the reality TV show host remains paramount. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush was widely mocked for once saying that the GOP needed a nominee willing to "lose the primary to win the general." Trump has developed a weakness for elevating candidates who couldn't win primaries without his support but then lose to vulnerable Democratic opponents.
It's all about the candidates
It's never a good sign when one of your own leaders says that you're scaring voters.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's early post-midterm postmortem that some of the GOP's candidates "frightened" independent and moderate Republican voters illustrates the party's struggle to pick electable alternatives.
Florida Sen. Rick Scott, the head of the Senate GOP's campaign arm, also refused to meddle in contested primaries. Trump on the other hand showed no such hesitation. In fact, he quite enjoyed all the attention he received as hopefuls pressed for his blessing.
Trump chose to elevate candidates largely in his mold: inexperienced outsiders. The lack of a voting record can actually be an asset. Congress is increasingly full of lawmakers who have not previously served in public office before. Inexperience can also put hopefuls under more scrutiny.
This is why McConnell and more establishment leaders were initially skeptical of Walker. The 1982 Heisman Trophy winner had previously written about his violent conduct toward women. Walker was besieged by unflattering revelations about his personal life, including previously undisclosed children and alleged payments for abortions. Walker strenuously denied any knowledge about abortions, but the negative headlines took their toll. It's not surprising then that Walker, who began the race as a well-liked native son, now ends with horrific approval ratings.
Still getting rocked in the suburbs
Republicans are still struggling in the suburbs. The GOP was hopeful that inflation and crime would bring back the voters that were once easily theirs. While several Republican hopefuls have illustrated that suburban voters are not unreachable, Trump-backed hopefuls have routinely struggled. Walker's performance on Tuesday mirrored his showing in November, posting impressive numbers in much of rural Georgia while failing to keep pace in the burgeoning Atlanta metro area.
The GOP can't afford to go on like this forever. The repeated lapses illustrate that this is bigger than one state, candidate, or cycle. As long as educated voters continue to be turned off by the party, margins will have to be made up elsewhere. And in many states, running up the score in rural areas will simply not be enough.
Democrats came prepared
It wasn't all Republican blunders. Warnock's performance was indicative of how Democratic incumbents fared nationwide.
Warnock, Arizona Sen. Mark Kelly, Nevada Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, and New Hampshire Sen. Maggie Hassan all entered the year knowing the GOP was coming for them. In response, they raised an obscene amount of money. Every single one of them easily outraised their eventual GOP challenger.
In open seats, the GOP didn't fare any better. Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman dwarfed Republican Mehmet Oz in donations, even as Oz spent tens of millions of his own money. And author JD Vance was outspent by Democratic Rep. Tim Ryan so badly that outside Republicans had to pour tens of millions into what should have been an easy contest.
What comes next …
The GOP now enters an open presidential contest. So far, Trump is the one major contender to announce so far. You can expect that to change, perhaps within weeks. Walker's defeat will only amplify the bah humbugs brewing for the former president. But too many challengers could leave a divided field ripe for Trump to squeak by. You might remember the last time that happened.
While the focus will be on the presidential contest. The GOP enters the 2024 cycle with a solid chance to once again flip control of the Senate. Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Jon Tester of Montana will be two of the most endangered incumbents. Democrats are also unlikely to find many chances to add to their now 51-seat majority. And the incoming head of the Senate GOP campaign arm, Sen. Steve Daines of Montana, has no qualms about wading into primaries — meaning the party leadership could nuke hopefuls that might turn off general election voters.
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