Midterm results suggest needed return to normalcy

SACRAMENTO – These are some of the worst economic times in memory, as the nation braces for soaring inflation, a coming recession, out-of-control home prices, spiraling public debt and growing public disorder. The Democratic Party’s leaders spearheaded the painfully memorable COVID-19 lockdowns – and midterm elections typically go poorly for whatever party controls the White House.

It was no surprise, then, that political junkies – bolstered by every major public-opinion poll – had expected major Republican gains on Tuesday. The big question: Would it be a red wave or a tsunami? Although key races remain undecided, the results were a mere trickle. President Joe Biden reportedly was giddy and a raging Donald Trump postponed his 2024 presidential announcement.

I don’t often agree with conservative Washington Post columnist Henry Olsen, but his hard-headed predictions usually ring true. On election eve, he predicted that huge GOP gains would break the political stalemate. Thanks to progressive overreach and Biden’s unpopularity, he wrote, Republicans were on the “precipice of a historic moment” that creates “the foundation for a long-term Republican resurgence.”

In his Wednesday mea culpa, Olsen explained that he missed a key factor: “Democrats did something no one has done in decades: Do well with voters who somewhat disapprove of the president.” The party with an unpopular president typically loses those voters by 20 percentage points, he noted, but on Tuesday Democrats won them by 4 points. What happened?

That’s easy enough to answer. Political prognosticators generally expect Americans to vote their pocketbook. Yet many people who are troubled by the economy, angry at $5-a-gallon gas prices and peeved by the president voted for his party. I find it easy to understand given how pleased I am by Tuesday’s results even though I believe Democrats are largely waging a war on my financial wellbeing.

It’s hard to draw too many lessons from any election involving more than 42 million voters, but the mainstream media conclusion strikes surprisingly close to the truth. Perhaps Americans didn’t vote to “save democracy,” but enough of them were willing to set aside economic self-interest to rebuke the GOP’s election denialism.

Many voters also apparently had enough of an unstable former leader whose latest musings involve sending a journalist to prison where “he’s going to be married to a certain prisoner who’s extremely strong, tough, and mean.” This is the first time since 2016 that large numbers of Republicans have shown a willingness to move on from the freak show. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is problematic in his own ways, but his 20-point victory leaves him in the catbird’s seat.

“Across the country … the normies held serve,” concluded the Bulwark’s Tim Miller. “Voters split their ticket, backing the least-Trumpy GOP governors at huge margins over their ticket-mates who were more comfortable in Steve Bannon’s War Room.” They chose normal rather than people “intent on burning the country to the ground.” I agree that the election signals at least a slight pivot back to normalcy.

Admittedly, the political “normal” that existed before 2016 always left much to be desired. I understand why Americans weren’t about to hand Hillary Clinton the keys to the White House and their willingness to entrust someone who promised to drain the swamp. But the new swamp was worse than the old wetland.

Concocting bizarre strategies to overturn election results undermines our institutions. Attacks on the Capitol are troubling. Sucking up to foreign autocrats is not an American virtue. Shredding democratic norms tears apart our society. Burning down the old system might be fun, but beware of what emerges in its place. America might finally be ready to move on from some of this.

I did admittedly enjoy all the weeping and gnashing of teeth in MAGA world following its Tuesday disappointment. These folks claim to be populists, which means that they celebrate the will of the People. They applauded voters when they elevated Trump to the presidency, but now they may have soured on the wisdom of the populace.

Writing about American democracy in American Greatness, Christopher Roach concludes that, “Any system that selects someone like (Pennsylvania Senate candidate John) Fetterman or a tyrant like (Michigan Gov. Gretchen) Whitmer is flawed and questionable.” So the people know what they’re doing – except when they don’t do what we like.

Before Tuesday, the question was whether the wave would crest over the Sierras. Republicans did OK in legislative races here, but it wasn’t from a national wave. California’s voters have yet to push back against overreaching progressive governance as they gave even incredibly flawed Democratic statewide candidates strong victories. We need a return to normalcy here, too – and the sooner the better.

Nevertheless, Tuesday’s election results were reassuring. Republicans gained enough to put a check on the administration, but voters largely rejected the excesses. Now maybe Congress can focus less on the odd ramblings of the former president and more on getting inflation under control.

Steven Greenhut is Western region director for the R Street Institute and a member of the Southern California News Group editorial board. Write to him at

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