Psychologists say grieving is a five-step process. In the past week, I’ve experienced all of them, plus the feeling Wile E. Coyote has in that split second he’s suspended in mid-air before falling from a cliff and crashing to Earth. My predictions the week before the midterm elections were entirely wrong, as my liberal friends have enjoyed reminding me.
While there are the proverbial silver linings, the midterms were a disaster for Republicans. It took a week for Republicans to eke out 218 House seats and a slim majority.
We’ll learn a lot in the coming weeks and months, but there are many clear lessons. Here are six lessons the Republican Party should take away, with four more to follow next week.
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Lesson #1: There is no longer “Election Day.” Now, it’s “Election Season.”
Voters in at least 28 states could cast their ballot at least 30 days before Nov. 8 (“Election Day”).
The Census Bureau reports that 69 percent of voters nationwide cast “nontraditional” ballots in 2020 (43 percent by mail and 26 percent in person before Election Day) compared to 40 percent in 2016. Figures aren’t available yet for 2022, but the percentage voting before election day is likely to continue to rise.
How many Pennsylvanians cast their vote for John Fetterman before seeing the debate, and more relevantly, how many wish they had their ballot back afterward?
Lesson #2: One impact of Election Season is tabulating the results has become a long-drawn-out affair in some states — “overtime.”
When elections go into “overtime,” the odds tip overwhelming in Democrats favor. In 2020 and these midterms, Republicans went to bed with leads in numerous races only to see Democrats win in “overtime.”
Lesson #3: Republicans must adapt to the new reality of “Election Season” and “overtime.”
It’s a new game with different rules. Traditional “get out the vote” (GOTV) efforts and getting people to the polls won’t win elections when two-thirds of votes get cast before Election Day.
In 2020, Donald Trump encouraged his supporters to vote only on Election Day, claiming their votes might not count if they mailed in their ballots. That is a false narrative — Republicans must start banking votes early and often.
Lesson #4: Bipartisan election law reforms are necessary.
Bipartisan efforts to reform election laws at the state level need to occur.
Both sides should agree that, in most cases, it is unreasonable not to know the winner of an election more than a day after polls close. After the 2000 hanging chad debacle in Florida, Democrats and Republicans got together to fix their broken system. This year, Florida had the results of seven million votes ready within a couple of hours of the polls closing. It’s a standard all states should replicate.
Some states continue to hold off counting mail-in and early ballots until they finish counting Election Day votes. It doesn’t seem logical to wait to tabulate the largest number of already available ballots before counting the smaller share coming in on Election Day. It also explains why “overtime” counting happens.
It’s legitimate to question how far in advance of an election it’s appropriate to allow voting to start. Pennsylvania accepted completed ballots as early as Sept. 14 this year — nearly six weeks before the Fetterman-Oz debate and eight weeks before Election Day.
The day after the Fetterman-Oz debate, Dana Perino wondered if early voting should wait until after at least one debate. It’s a good point.
Debates aren’t mandatory but could be included as a requirement to receive public financing. Ballotpedia cites “more than 30 jurisdictions” with some form of public funding for candidates, including Arizona, Connecticut, Maine, and Michigan. Most major-party candidates don’t take public funding, but anything encouraging public forums where nominees go head-to-head would be a plus.
States should require an ID to vote. The approval scores for showing an ID to vote are significantly higher than for abortion rights.
Election reform would increase the integrity and fairness of our elections and boost everybody’s confidence in the results.
Lesson #5: Republicans must stop denying losing or blaming losses on fraud and cheating.
The only Democrat who was a so-called “election denier” that comes to mind is Stacey Abrams, and she lost along with nearly every other Democratic candidate in Georgia.
Sure, not all of the “election deniers” lost. It’s possible to win with beliefs outside the mainstream in House districts, but we could also point to Members of Congress like Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib, and even AOC. Let’s see if any of The Squad wins a statewide election — even in New York.
Lesson #6: Fear was a stronger motivator for independent voters than the issues Republicans thought would carry the day.
Exit polls show 73 percent of voters are “dissatisfied or angry about the way things are going in the country today.” A plurality (47 percent) thinks “Joe Biden’s policies are mostly hurting the country” compared to 33 percent who think “they are helping the country” and 18 percent who say “they are not making a difference.”
Despite these opinions and other questions demonstrating that the economy and their family’s financial situations are worse than two years ago, voters weren’t ready to hand more control over to Republicans.
I thought the “democracy is on the ballot” stuff was nonsense. Democrats were saying Republicans were trying to scare voters with fake issues. Meanwhile, they repeatedly told people their opponents were worse than Stalin, Mussolini, and Hitler. Yes, the media is complicit. Trying to limit the press, even calling them the enemy of the people, plays into the “end of democracy” narrative.
Although Independents were unhappy with the current state of the country, they feared many of the Republicans on the 2022 ballot more. Therefore, they broke for Democrats the day before the election.
One example of why Independents were afraid was Wisconsin’s GOP candidate for governor, Tim Michels. The day before the election, he said, “Republicans will never lose another election in Wisconsin” if he wins. Borrowing a joke that Dave Chappelle told on Saturday Night Live last weekend, “He can think that, but he can’t say it out loud.”
Voters think some of the problems they face are temporary, but Michels’ comments and others like it gave some voters a reason to believe he intended to be permanent.
The exit polls showed that nearly six in ten voters think democracy in the U.S. today is somewhat (32 percent) or very (36 percent) threatened.
Governor Chris Sununu (R-NH) won reelection by sixteen points, while the state’s Republican Senate candidate General Don Bolduc lost by nine points. In an interview, Sununu said although voters are concerned about Biden’s leadership, their urgent message was: “Fix policy later, fix crazy now.”
What and who they fear is pretty clear too. That’s where we’ll pick up next week with “Four more lessons from the Republicans’ disastrous midterm elections.”
Andy Bloom is president of Andy Bloom Communications. He specializes in media training and political communications. He has programmed legendary stations including WIP, WPHT and WYSP/Philadelphia, KLSX, Los Angeles and WCCO Minneapolis. He was Vice President Programming for Emmis International, Greater Media Inc. and Coleman Research. Andy also served as communications director for Rep. Michael R. Turner (R-Ohio). He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or you can follow him on Twitter @AndyBloomCom.