Republicans See Red Wave and Look to Make It Even Bigger

House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy expects to be a happy chappy in November unless Donald Trump pushes him aside. Photo: Shutterstock

Whatever is bad for the current Democratic-controlled federal government of the United States is good for the Republican Party as it looks forward eagerly to this November’s midterms. There is no landscape more inviting than a narrowly held trifecta for your opponents: Democrats will bear responsibility for the mood of voters troubled by a stubborn pandemic, a sudden burst of inflation, a dangerous unstable international situation, and the inability of the governing party to deliver on many of its ambitious promises. The underwhelming nature of the Democratic victory in 2020 (especially in the House, where Democrats lost seats instead of posting the gains they expected) makes hanging on to the trifecta very difficult and historically improbable, particularly given President Biden’s poor job approval ratings, which have stabilized in the low 40s for the moment.

So it’s not surprising to see exceptional optimism emanating from Republican circles. According to The Hill, GOP strategists are now raising their own expectations and preparing for a wave that will sweep not only contests in highly competitive territory but those that could turn blue areas red:

“This year, the first midterm after a president’s been elected with both houses of Congress, it sets up really well,” said one GOP strategist with experience working in Colorado. “And there’s been nothing, literally nothing to date, that looks to disrupt a really, really positive environment for candidates running in red, purple and blue areas. That’s why the map has a really huge opportunity to stretch.”  

Well, there’s the little matter of a Donald Trump, who threatens to take away some of the focus that typically makes midterms a referendum on the current president’s performance while also creating unnecessary primary fights that may not result in the strongest possible general-election candidates. And Republicans need to be realistic about the possible extent of their midterm gains if they want to target their resources effectively and avoid their own disappointing election. This isn’t easy at a time when hype and spin and proclamations of impending total victory seem to be part of the GOP’s DNA, partly thanks to the former president.

But the “stretching” of the map of competitive races does seem likely if the bad economic and foreign news continues. Add in the stalling of the Democratic legislative agenda in Congress and continued Republican interference with voting rights in the states and you don’t have an atmosphere likely to produce strong Democratic turnout in November.

How far could Republicans reach? Pretty far, as The Hill notes:

Republicans have already begun allocating staff and money for ad buys and touting strong candidate recruitment in states like New Mexico and Colorado, which are not at the core of the midterm fight but could be caught in a red wave if it rises high enough. Connecticut’s gubernatorial race and Washington state’s Senate election also fall in that expansion category, as do House races against some Democrats who saw double-digit wins in 2020.  

Aside from the possibility of unexpected Senate and gubernatorial gains (not to mention the secretary of State races that Trump has been eyeing with bad intent), it’s the House that Republicans are most focused on given how close (five seats) they already are to a majority. The fact that 30 House Democrats are retiring this year (the most since 1992) is another strong omen, much like birds in flight before a big storm. As Punchbowl News reports, the head of the House GOP’s campaign committee, Tom Emmer of Minnesota, is talking pretty big:

“If we win 18 seats, it’s a larger majority than 1994,” Emmer noted. “If we win 30 seats, it’s larger than 2010. And I think the number is 32 – but correct me if I’m wrong – If we win 32 seats, it’s the largest Republican majority in 100 years.”

Now, that would be a wave! But as Emmer undoubtedly knows, big House gains in years like 1994 and 2010 created less than majestic majorities because they occurred when Republicans were deep in a hole going into the cycle (they had 176 seats prior to the 1994 midterms and 179 prior to 2010; they have 213 now). Thus Democrats had more “exposure” to losses because they held more marginal seats. A more reasonable, if still ambitious, expectation might be something like the 13 net House seats they gained in 2014. That would still make Kevin McCarthy speaker (unless some backbench House Freedom Caucus–led revolt toppled him) but not with a majority much more comfortable than Nancy Pelosi’s today.

So Republicans currently have a wind at their backs, but a big win won’t come easily to a party as extremist and sometimes chaotic as theirs.

Republicans See Red Wave and Look to Make It Even Bigger