The Republican party is suffering an identity crisis. During the 2022 midterm elections, two factions of the Republican party were on full display.
On one side of the Republican political aisle is a coalition of Trump-backers who brand themselves as anti-establishment but lack a consistent ideological platform.
The other side is the establishment wing of the party, which echoes conservative rhetoric with a more consistent political platform, like general opposition to increasing tax rates.
Simply put, the anti-establishment wing fell short in numerous crucial congressional seat and governor races. The red wave petered out to a minuscule trickle because Republicans nominated unpopular candidates who brandished Trump’s endorsement to independent voters with the hope that Trump still carried electoral influence.
However, while a Trump endorsement may have allowed Republican candidates to win their respective primaries, most of them lost the general election to Democrats in key swing states.
Due to mixed messaging and poor candidate quality, Republicans failed to capture the senate seats in Pennsylvania, Arizona, and Nevada, losing the senate majority again. In gubernatorial races, Republicans also lost in key midwest states like Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin.
The only Republican to flip the governor’s mansion and win in a swing state was Joe Lombardo in Nevada. Although he was endorsed by Trump in the Republican primaries, Lombardo rejected conspiracy theories about the 2020 election and argued in the gubernatorial debate that confirming such allegations about the election undermined confidence in the democratic process.
Conversely, Republican Adam Laxalt narrowly lost the crucial Nevada senate seat to Democratic incumbent Catherine Cortez Masto. During his campaign, Laxalt also received Trump’s endorsement, but unlike Lombardo, he danced around the 2020 election conspiracy theories — endorsing an election denier for Nevada secretary of state, holding rallies with Trump and declining to acknowledge that Biden was legitimately elected.
This is only one of several races in the midterm elections that show a unique split within the Republican party in the 2020 election. While Trump-endorsed candidates did poorly in the midterms, Republicans who openly defied Trump’s baseless claims about the 2020 election won their elections by comfortable margins.
This Republican divide was stark in Georgia’s elections specifically.
Earlier this year, Georgia Governor Brian Kemp defeated Trump-endorsed David Perdue in the Republican primary by a significant margin of more than 50%. In that primary, Trump invested $2.64 million in Perdue because Kemp repeatedly rejected Trump’s calls to prevent the certification of Georgia’s results in 2020.
Shrugging off Trump’s barrage of insults, Kemp later defeated Democrat Stacy Abrams in the general election by nearly eight points. In that ballot, Republicans swept almost every state-wide election and maintained strong majorities in both chambers of the state congress.
However, the one Georgia election that remains unclear is the senate election between Raphael Warnock and Trump-endorsed Hershal Walker, which is scheduled for a runoff in December because neither candidate received a majority of the vote.
Comparing the gubernatorial and senate election within Georgia, Kemp dramatically outperformed Walker by around 200,000 votes, meaning that crucial counties voted for Kemp but either did not vote for Walker or voted for Warnock instead.
Now, there are many possible explanations for why Walker did not outright win the senate election and may not win the runoff: accusations revolving around him allegedly paying for abortions for previous partners, his unimpressive oratory skills or his lack of political experience. Regardless, with a personal history of peddling election conspiracy theories, Walker ran as a proxy for Trump, while Kemp focused more on his political track record as a mainstream conservative.
Among other things, this ballot split is not just a conventional disagreement among fellow Republicans but is emblematic of the brewing civil war within the Republican National Committee.
If the Republican party was split over economic issues like the Democratic party on government spending, most Washington insiders could chalk that up to normal in-party fighting. However, the new fundamental basis for the Republican divide stems from whether Republican leaders are willing to move beyond Trump or not.
Eventually, one wing of the party will have to give in to the other. During this congressional session, Trump-backing Republicans may dissent from supporting Kevin McCarthy for House Speaker and may not give their full support for any future legislation or House committees. For Republicans in the establishment wing, the main threat to their leadership and political agenda is dissenting Trump loyalists, not Democrats.
This is why the first step for the Republican party is to learn from these midterm results.
According to every historic precedent, the 2022 midterm elections should have been a red wave. For 15 months, President Biden has had underwater approval ratings for a laundry list of reasons, including, in my opinion, his botched withdrawal from Afghanistan, stalled legislative agendas, high inflation rates and general perceptions of his leadership abilities.
According to a Politico poll released a day before the midterm elections, 70% of registered voters said the country was heading in the wrong direction, citing concerns over inflation and the economy.
Therefore, the Republicans tried to cast this midterm election as a general repudiation of Biden, and while that may have worked in any other scenario, Trump’s imposition in this midterm election demonstrated that the American people still dislike Trump more than Biden and congressional Democrats.
In short, Democrats barely clinched the Senate majority and a larger-than-expected House minority not because of widespread support for their legislation but because voters held their noses and chose them over a seemingly worse alternative. If the Republican party wishes to be a serious contender for the 2024 elections, then there should be a general Republican repudiation of Trump as he announces his third presidential run.
However, this repudiation should not just happen due to any Republican electoral ambitions, but also because of Trump’s continued undermining of electorate faith in our democracy. Our American government is only legitimate if it leads with the full command and consent of the people they are supposed to represent, and any person who seeks to debase our electoral system for political gain is not worthy to lead any party.
On a matter of basic principle, the Republican party needs to unshackle itself from the prevailing conspiracy theories and resulting distrust for the 2020 election results.
Trump lost, and Biden won. Let’s move on.