On November 8th, Americans will go to the polls and vote in a variety of local, state and national elections. Midterms are generally a referendum on the incumbent president, particularly in a president’s first term. Politicians, voters, and analysts see the election as a way of measuring American approval of a president’s work on a much larger scale than general presidential approval polls.
However, this year’s midterms are not only a referendum on President Biden and the Democrats, but also on former President Donald Trump and his influence on the GOP.
Trump-backed candidates include incumbents and main challengers, with mixed results in many states. In Arizona, candidates supported by the former president won their primary by a wide margin. Republican gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake won over Karrin Taylor Robson (who was endorsed by both Trump Vice President Mike Pence and the state’s current GOP Governor Doug Ducey).
Of the 10 Republicans who voted to impeach the former president after the Jan. 6 attack on the US Capitol, nine were defeated in their primary elections. Only one — Rep. Dan Newhouse (R-WA) — won his primary to advance to November’s general election.
Trump refused to endorse candidates who would not overturn the 2020 election results. This too turned out to be mixed. In Georgia, incumbent Governor Brian Kemp defeated Trump-backed David Perdue. Kemp did not support Trump in changing the 2020 election results. However, in Arizona, election denier Kari Lake won the GOP primary.
All in all, 140 out of 141 Trump-backed House and Senate incumbents won their races (Rep. Madison Cawthorn of North Carolina didn’t). Trump backed 16 challengers in congressional races, all but two of which will advance to the general election. In open house races, the former president endorsed 18 candidates, 16 of whom claimed victory.
Some of these candidates have tried to distance themselves from Trump, but the majority — along with the GOP at large — embrace him. The former president still keeps a tight grip on the Republican Party. Candidates seek validation rather than shying away from it.
The former president’s rhetoric and politics ignited in 2016 a base that had not been so politically active in a long time. The rise of the Tea Party in the early 2000s began this resurgence, but the candidacy and election of Trump cemented the GOP’s new position further to the right than ever.
It worked and still works. Some Republican voters found in Trump a candidate who voiced their innermost beliefs about the direction America should be moving and where it should be going. Some feel alienated now that the GOP has moved farther from the ideological center.
This has also been observed in the Democratic Party. The two parties have shifted further to their respective sides of the ideological spectrum. However, Democrats have seen a slow shift further to the left, while Republicans have seen a rapid shift away from the center.
Trump-backed Republicans put in a strong showing in primary elections across the country, but it remains to be seen how they will hold up against Democratic candidates. If the 2020 presidential election is any indication, the GOP could be in trouble.
Recently, President Biden has achieved several legislative wins. The non-partisan Safer Communities Act was the most comprehensive gun law in decades. The CHIPS and Science Act of 2022 “will spur American semiconductor research, development and manufacturing and ensure U.S. leadership in the technology that powers everything from automobiles to home appliances to defense systems.” The PACT Act promises to help veterans get better health care after inhaling toxins.
The President also recently announced that his administration will eliminate student loan debt for Americans earning less than $125,000 a year (read more here).
These actions increased Biden’s approval rating. The Democratic Party struggled early in the summer, but this fall has a strong foundation to build on.
Whether the GOP can beat the Democrats is unknown. From September 16th RealClearPolitics gave Democrats a 45 percent chance of winning a general congressional vote. Republicans were given a 44.1% chance. It’s one of the few times the Democrats have had a better chance of winning over the Republicans this summer, and it’s the widest lead they’ve had since last fall.
In some districts, Trump-backed Republicans will win by a wide margin. Overall, however, the influence of the former president on the midterms of 2022 is uncertain. The GOP is still very Trump-centric in Congress, but alienating moderate Republicans could see the party lose on Nov. 8.
Commentary author Price Wilborn can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @pricewilborn.