The midterm election has largely been called: razor-thin majorities for Republicans in the House of Representatives and Democrats in the Senate, strong gains for Democrats in governorships and state legislatures, and a disappointing showing for Republicans who expected a “red tsunami.”
Now, the other shoe is set to drop. How will the Republican base react in coming months – acceptingly? angrily? violently? – to the defeats suffered by a party many believe is divinely ordained? The base’s reaction will determine how extreme Republicans in power will act.
America’s already stark political and social divisions got starker. Exit polls of 18,571 voters show that the one-third of 2022 voters who are under age 30 and/or of color staved off the electoral disaster aging White voters would have inflicted. Triangulation of voting patterns by age, race, and sex (see figure) show how dramatically young and non-White women are anchoring progressivism.
Among 18-29 year-old women, approximately two-thirds of White, three-fourths of Latinx, Asian, and Native, and 90 percent of African Americans voted Democratic. Men are lagging 10 to 15 points behind their female counterparts.
At the other end, seven in 10 White men 45 and older voted Republican, as did six in 10 older White women. In an unsettling trend, a slight majority of over-50 Latino men appear to have voted for Republicans as well, particularly in Florida, creating a 20-point gender gap among older Latinxs.
Whatever the current perils of today’s divisions, we are seeing a potentially dynamic future emerge, led by diverse, younger, female-led movements. That is not starry-eyed romanticism. It is hard electoral reality. The populations favoring Democrats have risen more than twice as fast since the 2016 election (up by approximately 7 million over-18 voters) as the Republican-voting populations (up 3.2 million), a demographic shift contributing to disappointing Republican outcomes in 2018, 2020, and 2022.
Unfortunately, the saboteurs of that future are not just aging Republicans, but a bipartisan cohort of self-described moderates and traditional liberals who fear loss of status in a Democratic Party racing beyond them. This anti-progressive movement consists of national media figures who openly campaigned to unseat local reformers and to spread hostility against the younger generations crucial to progressive success.
At the center of this centrist/Democrat and never-Trump Republican crusade are pundits like James Carville and Charles Blow, MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell, Chris Hayes, and Chuck Todd, the Atlantic Magazine, never-Trump Republicans like Tim Miller, established institutionalists, and numerous reporters and editors in the so-called "liberal media.”
MSNBC’s days-long tirades against the entire 40-million-member “younger generation” following the Buffalo, New York, and Uvalde, Texas, mass shootings by two young gunmen veered into outright rage. Articles like The Atlantic’s absurd “failed [Democrat-led] city” and incessant liberals-and-crime salvos right up to election day were cited by delighted right-wingers at Fox News, the Hoover Institution, and in the punditry. Meanwhile, these outlets refused to similarly scrutinize the worse crime and gun violence records of Republican-run areas.
A couple of recantings late in the campaign failed to make up for a year and half of relentless media trashing of “liberal cities” that aided Republican campaign demagoguery blaming social ills on Democrats. These campaigns evidently swayed many voters toward Republican candidates.
There’s a good argument that old-line Democrats’ reversion to “centrist” strategies hurt their party in 2022. “Occupying the center” may have benefited the last two Democratic presidents but proved a disaster for down-ballot Democrats. President Bill Clinton won in 1992 and 1996 (aided greatly by third-party candidate Ross Perot and weak Republican nominees), but Democrats lost 11 Senate, 56 House, 11 governor, and hundreds of state-level seats during Clinton’s eight years. Similarly, during the eight years of President Barack Obama (whose elections were also aided by weak Republican candidates), Democrats lost 11 Senate, 69 House, 10 governor, and hundreds’ more state-level seats.
Clinton’s capitulation to Republican policy goals and Obama’s fruitless efforts at bipartisan cooperation in the name of unity proved liabilities for their parties at the polls in the face of hardline Republican messaging. Republicans have been far savvier in exploiting the dwindling of America’s political center and gaining millions of votes by becoming ever-more extreme.
The cries by old-thinking centrists/liberals urging Democratic candidates once again to co-opt Republican positions by adopting tough-sounding anti-crime rhetoric attacking reformers and young people were badly wrong for 2022. Wrong not just because they are politically maladapted, but because they are factually wrong. They cost progressive candidates votes.
There are powerful, positive, fact-based issues on climate change, justice, the economy, crime, and related issues to be raised when progressives decide to voice them to affirm their emerging constituencies and lay the groundwork for future-facing innovation.