Illustration by Dulce Pop Bonini

American Institutions Survive The Ballot Box, This Time

The 2022 midterm elections provided a good showing for Democrats compared to expectations and the tough national climate. Clearly, there are limits to how far Trumpism can succeed.

Nov 13, 2022

The Republican Party entered the 2022 United States midterm elections with very strong fundamentals. Inflation remained stubbornly at historic highs, President Joe Biden had a low approval rating, and midterms tend to favor the party out of power. With a trifecta in the Presidency, House, and Senate, Republicans could have easily locked in control of the divided government with a solid majority in the House and Senate for years.
It is not currently known precisely who will control each branch. Many races are too close to call, and when they are called the balance of power will likely be roughly even. FiveThirtyEight, which has previously overestimated Democrats, gave them only a 16 percent chance of holding the House. It looks like, even if Republicans manage to hold on to the House, their majority will be highly tenuous which will require an intra-party cohesion that does not exist in a party split between moderates and Trump acolytes.
Candidate quality is a major theme of the election. In the Georgia Senate race, Republicans nominated former football coach Herschel Walker who has multiple abortion and domestic abuse allegations and said that environmental regulations would lead China to send its “bad air” over to the United States. His election will go to a runoff with Raphael Warnock on Dec. 6; he underran Republican governor Brian Kemp, known for resisting pressure to rig his state’s votes for Donald Trump in 2020, by an 8.5-point margin. It wasn’t even close in avowed conspiracy theorist Tudor Dixon’s race against Governor Gretchen Whitmer in Michigan. Despite Pennsylvania Senate candidate John Fetterman suffering from a stroke shortly before the election, he still defeated Mehmet Oz in the crucial swing state. Before entering the race, Dr. Oz was known as a TV celebrity doctor who peddled questionable medical advice. He has never lived in Pennsylvania before the race. Attack ads on Oz’s lack of authenticity were thus very easy to land in a state that prioritizes its own, fueling Fetterman’s victory.
Perhaps the 2022 midterm elections should serve as a watershed moment for the Republican Party. They prove that, even as America remains deeply polarized, there are limits to how well extremism can land. Voters were willing to turn out and overlook the poor economic climate because the alternative is election denial, extremism, and the continued rollback of Civil Rights. It is true that President Joe Biden certainly did not cause global supply chain disruptions, the war in Ukraine, and post-pandemic inflation, but typically presidents take responsibility for the current economic climate at the ballot box. The Democrats managing to tread water during these midterms already breaks historical precedent where the party in power loses an average of 28 House seats and four Senate seats. Only in Florida and New York did the results look more typical for an out-of-power party in these circumstances, with Republican routs in the former and an unexpectedly close governor’s race and several new Republican house seats in the latter.
These two states show the kind of leadership that may get Republicans out of their predicament, and the kind of circumstances where Democrats might fail to turn out. A growing schism has developed between Ron DeSantis, or “Ron DeSanctimonious” as Trump called him at a recent Florida rally, and Donald Trump. While certainly no moderate politician, Ron DeSantis represents an appeal to surface-level suburban respectability that Trump’s buffoonish personality lacks. What New York this year reflects is how Democrats can fumble in a “safe blue” state and fail to inspire. Lee Zeldin easily gained a foothold amidst Governor Kathy Hochul being painted as uninspiring and poor at managing increased crime. Democrats’ base clearly failed to turn out, and even the House Democrats’ campaign chief lost his seat that Joe Biden won by a 10 percent margin.
The U.S. has at least two more years of highly divided government in store, but there are some signs of hope and resistance. What happens in the U.S. domestic political sphere still greatly influences global affairs and a non-democratic U.S, should election denialism continue and get its way, would become a large threat to the world. “Normal” has not existed since Donald Trump’s election, if not before — but today there is some cause to celebrate before returning to vigilance.
Ethan Fulton is Senior Opinion Editor and Satire Columnist. Email him at
gazelle logo