Welcome to Election Week 2022!
With DDHQ being the only election return service to call control of both the House and Senate, we can start to draw some conclusions from the 2022 elections, and what they can tell us about the upcoming 2024 Presidential race.
Let’s start with the incumbent President Joe Biden, who seemed headed for the kind of first midterm reckoning dealt out to nearly every Chief Executive since the Civil War.
Indeed, ever since President Biden’s approval ratings began to crater in August of 2021, Democratic prospects in 2022 looked grim. An abysmal performance in the November 2021 elections only heightened such fears as generationally high inflation dominated voter concerns.
Democrats felt some hope that the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe would galvanize female voters and their progressive base, but after initially showing some improvement in the late summer, polls found Republicans regaining momentum throughout October.
Yet the red wave never came.
Decision Desk HQ currently has Republicans ahead by a net of 9 seats, with the GOP at 219 races called, Democrats at 206 races called, and 10 seats still up for grabs.
Meanwhile, in the Senate, Democrats picked up the Pennsylvania Senate seat being vacated by Republican Pat Toomey. So with Georgia’s Senate contest heading to a run-off, Democrats are looking at either no net change or a one net seat gain in the upper chamber.
To put these results in the proper perspective, consider how Biden’s midterm experience differs from his two previous Democratic predecessors, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. Clinton, Obama and Biden all had approval ratings mired in the 40s as they tried to hold onto control of Congress.
In 1994, President Clinton lost both Congressional chambers, dropping a net of 8 Senate seats and 54 House seats. Additionally, Clinton’s Democratic Party lost 10 Governorships that day. Then in 2010, President Obama lost the House after Republicans picked up 63 seats. His Democratic Party also dropped six Senate seats and six Governorships as well.
So compared to those outcomes, the 2022 midterms were practically a triumph for President Biden. In fact, he’s got a chance to be the first President to see his party manage a net gain in Senate and Gubernatorial seats since Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1934.
Such a performance effectively puts an end to the whispers that Biden should step aside in 2024; making the President the Democratic Party’s presumptive nominee.
Of course, these 2022 results don’t guarantee success in 2024. Historic precedent actually indicates the opposite, since Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush both had decent midterms before losing their re-election bids. As a matter of fact, Donald Trump gained Senate seats in 2018 before losing in 2020.
What the 2022 midterms did prove, though, is that the group of voters who ‘somewhat disapprove’ of Biden’s performance are still open to voting for Democrats, an encouraging sign that he could win back their support by November 2024.
The Continually Impending End of Trump
Biden, of course, loves to assert that elections are not a referendum but a choice. So who is best positioned to be his Republican opponent in 2024?
For most of the past two years, the answer was clearly Donald Trump. After all, the former President led every survey of 2024 Republicans, to say nothing of his unparalleled ability to boost his chosen candidates in party primaries.
Now, however, several Republicans are publicly and privately assigning the responsibility for the GOP’s massive disappointment to Trump. As a result, there’s been a concerted effort by Republican power brokers and conservative media to urge their voters and viewers to move on from Trump.
As you’re no doubt aware, this is not the first time such an effort has occurred. In the summer and fall of 2015, for example, some of these same people (Rupert Murdoch most prominent among them) tried to pull the plug on Trump. Yet his support in the polls didn’t waver.
Similarly, after the Access Hollywood tape was released in early October 2020, there were widespread calls to abandon Trump. For the most part, though, party officials and Republican voters stood by him. Even after January 6th, party leaders like Mitch McConnell and Kevin McCarthy decided that they couldn’t afford to fully break with Trump and opposed his impeachment (as well as the effort to disqualify him from seeking office again).
At the same time, Trump’s main competitor for the 2024 Republican Presidential nominee, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, had an incredible night. He not only won re-election with over 59%, but his redistricting map yielded the GOP three more Congressional seats, which may make the difference in giving the Republican the House majority.
Could Ron DeSantis defeat Trump for the 2024 GOP nomination? Sure. Will he? Well, that’s a far more difficult question. While DeSantis performs better than any Republican primary challenger has against Trump, the former President still maintains the advantage in nearly every survey.
Additionally, there’s the possibility of a repeat of the 2016 primary, when a plethora of candidates allowed Trump to win the nomination with only a plurality of the vote. For instance, it’s clear that former Vice President Mike Pence and ex-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo are preparing their own 2024 campaigns.
Not to mention all the other contenders circling the race, among them: Ted Cruz, Nikki Haley, Larry Hogan, Tim Scott and Glenn Youngkin. Now, none of these candidates is likely to do well in such a contest but they’d take votes, money and attention away from DeSantis.
Therefore, if DeSantis is to become the Republican nominee, he’ll have to fully engage Trump head-on and convince enough of Trump’s supporters to jump over to him. Suffice to say, that remains a daunting task.
For now, Joe Biden and Donald Trump still seem destined for a rematch in 2024. Although as we just learned, conventional wisdom in politics is far from flawless.