Phew. Sort of. But not yet.
The red wave that was predicted to wash over the nation, giving Republicans control of Congress and critical positions in swing states, did not come to pass. Contrary to historical precedent, there was no “shellacking” of the president’s party in Tuesday’s midterm elections. Republicans may still win the majority after all the votes are counted, but by a smaller margin than Democrats feared.
And voters wisely rejected many of the extremist Republicans endorsed by former President Trump for powerful posts in swing states. They reelected Democratic Govs. Gretchen Whitmer in Michigan and Tony Evers in Wisconsin over Republican challengers who repeated Trump’s Big Lie that the 2020 election was riddled with fraud. In Pennsylvania, voters sent Democrats John Fetterman to the U.S. Senate and Josh Shapiro to the governor’s office, rejecting GOP TV personality Dr. Mehmet Oz and far-right state legislator Doug Mastriano, both of whom were backed by Trump and perpetuated baseless doubts about the legitimacy of the 2020 election.
Perhaps most important of all, Republican attempts to put election deniers in charge of elections have largely faltered so far. In Michigan, New Mexico and Minnesota, Democratic candidates for secretary of state beat far-right opponents Tuesday. Georgia voters reelected Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger — who famously rebuffed Trump’s plea to “find” enough votes to make him victorious in 2020 — after rejecting a Trump-backed challenger in the primary.
But (and you knew there was a “but”) it’s too soon to feel a real sense of relief about this election. Millions of ballots remain to be counted, with control of Congress — and the fate of the country and democracy — still unclear.
And the outcome may remain unknown for weeks. Votes are still being counted in tight congressional races throughout the West, including for House seats in Orange and San Diego counties. Control of the U.S. Senate may not be known until next month because of close races in Nevada and Arizona, and Georgia is heading to a Dec. 6 runoff between Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock and Republican challenger Herschel Walker.
But even though it’s not yet certain that Republicans will take control of the House, Bakersfield Republican Rep. Kevin McCarthy immediately launched a bid for speaker. A small GOP majority could complicate his ambition, but would still give Republicans the power to tank Biden’s agenda and launch frivolous investigations. A narrow majority could empower Republicans on the fringes, such as Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, because their cooperation will be required to pass anything. While it was encouraging to see extremist Republican Rep. Lauren Boebert of Colorado trailing her Democratic challenger on Wednesday, the depressing truth is that the House Republican Conference will remain dominated by election deniers who tried to block Biden’s 2020 election or refuse to acknowledge that Trump really lost.
In Arizona, where vote counting is expected to continue for days, GOP election deniers Kari Lake and Mark Finchem are in tight races for governor and secretary of state, respectively. Lake is a Trump sycophant who’s said she would not have certified Biden’s win in Arizona if she were governor in 2020. Finchem — whom the Arizona Republic describes as “the loudest election denier in the state” — wrote unsuccessful legislation as a state lawmaker to overturn the 2020 election results. He attended Trump’s rally in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 6, 2021, and joined the march to the U.S. Capitol as protesters attempted to block the certification of Biden’s election. If Lake and Finchem win, they will have critical roles in a swing state in the 2024 election, raising frightening prospects for the integrity of the next presidential race. The entire nation should be terrified if these two people win.
An election denier is also in contention for secretary of state of Nevada, where Republican Jim Marchant has a narrow lead over Democrat Francisco Aguilar. Marchant is an organizer of the “America First” slate of candidates who backed Trump’s attempt to overthrow the election results. In 2020, he advocated for the Nevada GOP sending a fake slate of electors to Congress, and said he would consider doing the same thing in 2024. Even Trump’s White House lawyers said the notion of an alternate slate of electors is illegal, and some of Trump’s campaign attorneys said it was dubious. Anyone pushing this idea should absolutely not have a role in administering elections.
This election offers some signs that Trump’s influence on American politics is waning, but his toxic legacy remains enmeshed in our nation’s governance. It’s scary to think about how that power could still be exploited to determine who wins the presidency in 2024.