In the weeks leading up to the 2022 federal elections, anticipation began to build for a dominant Republican performance from coast to coast. In political jargon, it became known as “the red wave.”
Some pundits floated expectations of another year like 1994 when Republicans picked up eight seats in the Senate and won a net of 54 seats in the House of Representatives. Others talked about numbers similar to the Republican wave of 2010 when In the House of Representatives, the GOP won a net gain of 63 seats.
Former President Donald Trump spent much of the past 12 months choosing and anointing various candidates for Congress and Senate. As the anticipation and excitement grew in the days immediately prior to the election, Mr. Trump began what turned out to be an amazingly premature victory lap. In speeches, he touted how important his role had been in this election cycle. In private he is reported to have essentially taken complete credit for what he expected to be a tremendous victory for Republicans. If he intends to run for president again, labeling himself as the architect of a historic night for his party would certainly be a feather in his cap.
Except something went terribly wrong.
There was no red wave. As of this writing, the count is still not official, but it appears the Republicans will control the House. Their margin? Perhaps four seats. Certainly not a red wave. Perhaps more along the lines of someone leaving the faucet dripping. The obvious question that came from all corners, Democrat, Republican and the media itself, was that if Mr. Trump was poised to take the credit for a big victory, surely he must take the blame for the GOP underperforming.
Many of the candidates he recruited were political rookies. Dr. Oz may have had a good run for more than a dozen years on television, but he had no political experience and perhaps most importantly, wasn’t from Pennsylvania. He was beaten by a true Pennsylvanian, despite the fact the winner had suffered a stroke in May and struggles to communicate now.
Since losing his reelection bid in 2020, Mr. Trump has held court from his Mar-a-Largo resort in Florida. He would summon the leadership of his party, members of the conservative media and any number of others and they would scamper to him like happy puppies. Why the party continued to cater to a volatile angry election loser was always in question, but in many ways the GOP did.
It appears those days are over.
Immediately after the election, Charles Cook wrote a piece in National Review. It said, “It’s time for Donald Trump to go,” Mr. Cooke continued, ”Trump is a loser. He squeaked past the most unpopular woman in America in 2016, he presided over a blue wave in 2018, he lost to a barely breathing Joe Biden in 2020, and he hand-picked a bevy of losing Republican nominees in 2022.”
Mr. Cooke is not alone.
Even before the election troubles for the Republicans, there were consistent signs that America had had enough of Mr. Trump’s antics. In July of 2022, a New York Times/Siena College poll showed his support within the Republican base plummeting. The toughest demographic for the GOP to capture is often the young vote. In the poll, 64% of those under age 35 said they would object to Mr. Trump heading the 2024 ticket and instead said they would vote for somebody else in the Republican primary. Also of note, 65% of primary voters who are college-educated, said they would vote against Mr. Trump if he ran against other Republican nominees. Notably, even before his landslide reelection as Governor of Florida, Ron DeSantis had more support than Mr. Trump from voters who have at least a bachelor’s degree. The final nail in the poll’s Mr. Trump coffin may have been that nearly one out of five Republicans said Mr. Trump “went so far that he threatened American democracy.” That was just among his own party.
In Sept 2022 PBS NewsHour/NPR/Marist commissioned a poll and found that 61% of Americans do not want to see the Republican on the ballot in 2024. The poll found that more than two-thirds of independents don’t believe Mr. Trump should run for office again. In today’s polarized world, any candidate must have support from registered independents. According to exit polling from the last election, only 41% of independents voted for Mr. Trump over President, explaining a partial reason why Mr. Trump lost. The fact his numbers are cratering even worse now should be a sign any future Trump candidacy would be in trouble from day one.
The failure of the anticipated red wave is a huge disappointment to the Republican Party. As is always the case on a tough election night, there will be plenty of blame to go around, but much of it is, and rightfully so, focused on Donald Trump. For the first time, Party leaders, elected officials and conservative media outlets are daring to stand up to the bully. In the last several days many have said not only that Mr. Trump shouldn’t run in 2024, but that he must not run.
The truth is Mr. Biden is the most unpopular president in the modern era. If you believe the polls, however, he would still beat Donald Trump in a one-on-one match-up. Donald J. Trump is the only Republican who cannot win in 2024.
The failure of the red wave has given the party and its supporters the courage to stand up and proclaim the Trump era is over. In that way, the red wave just may save the GOP from a disaster in 2024. Anyone but Mr. Trump signs will be popping up everywhere conservatives live and eat, and rightfully so.
No red wave, but certainly a silver lining.
• Tim Constantine is a columnist with The Washington Times