The November 2022 election may someday be seen as a turning point for the Republican Party. Despite a lagging economy, high inflation, an unpopular Democratic President and conventional wisdom predicting a resounding victory, Republicans underperformed.
On the national scale, we barely took control of the House of Representatives, where the Republican caucus has only a few-seat majority and massive internal divisions. We failed to make any gains in the Senate and may have even lost ground. Expected gains in governorships failed to materialize. In fact, there will be fewer Republican governors in 2023 than there were before the November election. Having been limited to only incremental gains in the House and losses elsewhere, the Republican Party needs to undertake some serious soul-searching.
Republicans need to think carefully and clearly about why we lost. Our message failed to convince voters we hoped would be on our side. Perhaps most concerning, the places that Republican candidates fared the worst are states that are widely considered presidential battleground states. Pennsylvania, Arizona, Georgia and Nevada are all states that Republicans need to have a shot at to seriously compete for the Presidency. Yet, all saw Republicans run behind Democrats on Election Day. If a Republican presidential candidate cannot win at least a few of those states, it is difficult to imagine a path to victory in 2024.
If nothing else, this election should reinforce the truth that candidates matter. Even in favorable environments, bad candidates snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Mehmet Oz, Blake Masters, Herschel Walker, Kari Lake and Doug Mastriano were all bad candidates. In each of those races, a better candidate would have won. The elephant in the room for all these candidates is their embrace of the election steal claims of former President Donald Trump. All made it a key part of their campaigns, all tied themselves closely to the former president, and all lost (or are polling behind the Democrat in a runoff, as is the case with Walker). Regardless of your thoughts on the former president, the last three elections show that the median voter does not want him to be president and does not look kindly on those who would emulate him or advance his cause. If Republicans want to win in the future, we must remember that it is the median voter who picks the winner. We must nominate candidates that appeal to that voter.
In Wyoming, as expected, Republicans continued to dominate politics. In fact, the Wyoming Democratic Party barely contested the election. Even if every Democratic candidate had won, they still would have been in the minority in statewide elected officials, the state Senate and House of Representatives. Only 20 of 62 House races had a Democrat on the ballot. As tempting as it is to blame Democrats for their collective lack of effort, it is understandable, as the candidates that do run have little success. After this election, there is not a single Democrat in the Legislature outside of Jackson or Laramie. Republicans have a 57 to 5 advantage over Democrats in the House and 29 to 2 advantage in the Senate. Regardless of national trends, the Republican brand remains strong in Wyoming.
However, even with this Republican dominance, Wyoming voters still sent signals to elected officials. Interestingly, alignment with Trump appeared to be a net negative, even in Wyoming. Wyoming’s most Trump-aligned candidate — U.S. Representative-elect Harriet Hageman — consistently ran behind Republican legislative candidates in contested races. To illustrate, there were 16 House races that pitted a Republican against a Democrat without independent, third party, or write-in candidates also running. When you compare the vote totals from the precincts in each of those races, Hageman got fewer votes than the Republican legislative candidate in 14 of the 16 House districts. While she was certainly at no risk of losing her race, the data suggests that Hageman probably lost votes due to her close alignment with Trump.
Given these realities, what should the Republican Party’s soul-searching entail? If nothing else, Republicans need to come to terms with the reality that Trump tends to cost us votes. It would be foolish to disregard the reasons that he appealed to so many in 2016, but his personal style, political and legal history, and continued insistence on a story of the last election that has been rejected by most of the country’s voters, make him an electoral liability. Our chances in 2024 and beyond would be better with a different candidate that does not come with Trump’s preexisting vulnerabilities. A Republican can and should win in 2024, but Trump is the least likely to get it done.
We also must recognize that bad candidates cost us winnable races. Politics is serious business, and we need serious people to take on those roles. Hopefully, my fellow Republicans take this to heart before we let another winnable election slip past.