Well, that didn’t take long.
Long before the votes were tallied on Tuesday night, the establishment went to work on the disappearing red wave. Mitch McConnell’s self-serving warning that “candidate quality has a lot to do with the outcome” had long been forgotten in a wave of pollyannish polling. Once the Republican sweep failed to materialize, it was resurrected in a New York minute.
Washington Post columnist and Fox News analyst Marc Thiessen even blamed the victorious J.D. Vance in Ohio for sucking Mitch’s money out of other races. He didn’t mention that the Senate Leadership Fund had abandoned Arizona for Alaska to prop up McConnell backer Lisa Murkowski.
Regardless, the implication was clear. (RELATED: REED: A Red Wave Didn’t Materialize On Election Night — But There’s A Glimmer Of Hope)
These MAGA-candidates underperformed and by inference, former President Donald Trump continues to drag down the ticket. It’s a facile explanation, considering the GOP continued its gains from 2020 and will take the House and perhaps the Senate in 2022. The anti-Trump pundits point to the gap between establishment Republican gubernatorial officeholders, like Ohio’s Mike DeWine who cruised to victory, and the MAGA candidates who trailed behind.
But not only was Vance’s race called early, the Trump-endorsed newcomer won by a wider than expected margin with over 53% of the vote. Not that far off Rob Portman’s 56.8% in his first bid. As in every election, there were a few duds like Mastriano in Pennsylvania or Bolduc in New Hampshire, but the idea that Blake Masters, Kari Lake, Tudor Dixon and Tiffany Smiley were “bad” candidates is absurd.
Besides, comparing more parochial gubernatorial races with nationalized Senate contests where unprecedented levels of campaign spending is far more determinative is a fool’s errand. After all, there was little daylight between DeSantis’s impressive victory and that of Marco Rubio.
But unlike some of the other failed candidates thrown under the establishment’s bus, they had the two things that Tuesday’s elections were really about regardless of party — incumbency and money. DeSantis outraised the hapless Charlie Crist and Rubio, though outraised, amassed $45 million.
The reason the Senate Leadership Fund played heavily in places like Ohio was purely transactional. Historically, it was one of the best places where a GOP challenger could win. It shouldn’t have meant leaving other Republican candidates locked in tough races withering on the vine.
In an era dominated by outside money, the lack of support quickly becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. And no amount of candidate “cold-calls” can come close to matching kingmakers like the Congressional Leadership Fund that would prefer to play in safer House districts where they can rack up a better won-loss record for the next cycle.
That way, the “swamp” never loses elections — only bad candidates do. Despite the fact it was the highly paid consultancy class who charged top dollar for the errant polls (once again) and advised Republicans to keep their ammo dry, avoid controversial issues and ride a red wave that never came.
The outcome of this election cycle, like the last, was determined by early voting (now forever described as any ballot cast before a debate that includes John Fetterman) and mail-in ballots — the kind co-chairs Jimmy Carter and James Baker III cautioned against in the 2005 “Building Confidence in U.S. Elections” report.
Yet, according to those now complaining the loudest about “candidate quality,” election reform remains the issue that dare not speak its name.
Former Congressman Jason Lewis was Minnesota’s Republican nominee for the US Senate in 2020 and is the author of Party Animal, The Truth About President Trump, Power Politics & the Partisan Press.
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