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The Wave That Wasn't

Susan Estrich on

While the final results are being tallied, this much is clear. There was no red wave. Not even a red tide. A landslide turned into a night that was simply too close to call. Democrats could only be pleased, or should be.

Historically, the president's party in a midterm election loses an average of 28 House seats and 4 Senate seats. That was the bar that the Drudge Report was playing front and center at the beginning of the night. That's the average since the 1930s. It didn't happen.

There are any number of reasons why not. There is always the local angle, as former House Speaker Tip O'Neill used to remind us: All politics is local. But not all, and not always. This election was supposed to be a national one, with Donald Trump very much running against Joe Biden, Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats. Indeed, the House was supposed to be a sure thing. Not so sure.

So what happened?

Abortion, for one thing. Beware what you wish for. After decades of campaigning against Roe v. Wade, the Republicans got what they wanted. And it got them. They underestimated, at the very least. Abortion is a symbolic issue, as well as a constitutionally protected option: It was not just women of child-bearing age who were voting on the abortion issue.

But it wasn't just abortion, of course. The exit polls showed an unhappy electorate -- some 7 out of 10 voters were reportedly unhappy about the direction of the country. And that should have produced a red tide. Important as the abortion issue is to many voters, it doesn't come close to the bread-and-butter issues that usually decide elections. The price of eggs, not to mention the price of gas, generally counts for more than any social issues. Voting on social issues is, in a way, a luxury that struggling voters may not think they can afford.

So why didn't a struggling economy and an unhappy electorate cause a Republican wave?

Here is my answer, in just two words: Donald Trump.

The country could have voted to turn back the clock, just as we did on Saturday, and head back to the old days of Trump-mania. They could have given control of the House and Senate clearly to Republicans, the way Elon Musk wanted us to do. This was all supposed to be a setup for Trump's announcement of his next campaign for president.

 

Some setup? Not exactly a victory lap this morning for the former president.

Biden's approval rating has tanked, but not so low as to bring back the Donald. His victory night wasn't. He announced in advance that he deserved the credit when his endorsed candidates won handily.

So does he get the blame when his endorsed candidates lose?

I used to teach election law in a seminar-sized room. Now you could fill the biggest lecture hall. It may be days, weeks or months before some of these races are decided. The old tradition of graceful losers has been replaced by the recount generation. Lest anyone believe their vote doesn't count, in certain key races, it does, and it will.

But however the closest races turn out, what will be remembered most about Tuesday night is all the things that didn't happen. The Democrats did not get slammed in House races the way they were supposed to. They may yet hang on to control of the Senate, which none of the wise guys were predicting. If the polls were wrong, they were wrong in the opposite direction than usual.

The country may be on the wrong track, but we aren't looking for Donald Trump to save us.

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To find out more about Susan Estrich and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

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