In Michigan, John Gibbs, who ousted a House Republican that voted to impeach Donald Trump in an August primary, was defeated last week by about 13 points. In Washington state, Republican Joe Kent, who similarly felled a GOP Trump impeacher, suffered the same fate when he was projected to lose by a smaller margin over the weekend in a more conservative district.
And in Arizona, Kari Lake, among the most ardent messengers of false claims that the 2020 election was stolen, was projected on Monday to have lost the race for governor to Democratic Secretary of State Katie Hobbs. In Colorado, Rep. Lauren Boebert, who has made Islamophobic comments and has been a staunch defender of rioters in the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the US Capitol, clung to a razor-thin lead in a surprisingly tight race.
Across the country, many Republicans who ran in this year’s midterms promoting far-right platforms on issues such as abortion, elections, LGBTQ rights and other topics lost their races, even in some unexpected places where the GOP was favored to win. Many were elevated by former president Donald Trump and associated themselves with his combative movement.
In post-election interviews, Democrats and many Republicans said they see these results as a decisive rejection of political extremism on the right, propelled by Trump. In the eyes of some in the GOP, this is an alarming development in a year the party expected to make large gains because of inflation, President Biden’s low approval rating and historical trends. Now, the party is reckoning with the results as it eyes future elections and policy debates.
“In any environment when the electorate is unhappy, it should be winnable, but Republicans fell short and couldn’t capitalize on that because Donald Trump promoted candidates through the primary that weren’t viewed favorably by a general election population,” said Kevin Madden , a longtime GOP operative. “There were a lot of missed opportunities.”
In the primaries, the former president backed far-right candidates, propelling them past more-moderate alternatives, who then lost in the general election. In other cases, he joined their side later in the campaign. A representative for Trump did not respond to a request for comment.
It was unclear whether the Republican Party as a whole would move in a different direction following what many in the GOP have regarded as a disappointing election. Trump has signaled an intention to run for president again. In Florida, there is a Republican push to implement stricter abortion laws. And a majority of election deniers on the ballot for Congress or a key statewide office were projected to win their races as of Monday.
National exit polls showed an electorate concerned about the future of democracy, with 68 percent of voters saying it was being threatened. Nearly 8 in 10 voters said they felt confident that elections were conducted fairly and accurately in their state, and 61 percent said Biden was legitimately elected. Only 10 percent of voters said abortions should be illegal in all cases.
Democrats held on to the US Senate majority, and in the House they held their ground in many competitive races. While the House majority was up for grabs Monday, it was clear the massive wipeout some Republicans had hoped to see in the lower chamber of Congress had not materialized.
In key state races, voters also rejected Republicans who ran on far-right platforms. Voters in the six major battlegrounds where Trump tried to reverse his 2020 defeat rejected election-denying candidates running to control their state’s election systems. These included GOP candidates such as Jim Marchant in Nevada and Mark Finchem in Arizona, who embraced false claims about the 2020 presidential election.
The Republican Senate nominee in Arizona, Blake Masters, was projected last week to lose to Sen. Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.). Masters, a first-time candidate Trump endorsed in the GOP primary, had drawn attacks from Democrats for musing about privatizing Social Security and endorsing a national ban on abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy.
In Michigan, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer easily beat Republican Tudor Dixon. Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers defeated the GOP’s Tim Michels, and Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz prevailed against Republican Scott Jensen. All three Republicans had denied or questioned the outcome of the last presidential election.
While many Republicans and Democrats have said Trump is heavily culpable for the midterm results, some have pointed to political positions GOP candidates took on issues such as abortion and LGBTQ rights, as well as their divisive rhetoric.
Michael Stratton, a longtime Democratic operative in Denver, said many voters rejected “the lack of civility” often displayed by Boebert and her allies. “Regular rank-and-file people have been embarrassed by her conduct,” he said, adding that voters were looking for a viable alternative in that district.
Stratton said “people made a conscious decision to think about the value of democracy and women’s choice, and that is extraordinary that they are paying more for bread, more for gas, more for milk, but democracy is still worth it for them.”
Many Democrats ran heavily on protecting abortion rights and calling out Republicans for opposing them. Abortion rights advocates won major victories on ballot amendments and in local contests affecting the laws governing the procedure.
Speaking of the election on a national scale, Matt Bennett, president of Third Way, a centrist political think tank, said it was “very clear the electorate wants mainstream and not extreme.” He added that “the attack on democracy sent a message about where that candidate stood on a range of issues; it was a defining attribute. It wasn’t just about democracy; it’s that this person can’t be trusted because they are so far-out.”
Some Democrats took a gamble during the primaries that voters would rebuff far-right candidates in the general election, promoting them over more-mainstream GOP alternatives. That bet paid off in key races, from Michigan’s 3rd Congressional District, where Gibbs lost to Democrat Hillary Scholten, to New Hampshire, where Democratic Sen. Maggie Hassan beat back a challenge from Republican Don Bolduc, who had baselessly raised doubts that Biden won the 2020 election, to the governor’s race in Pennsylvania.
In the latter contest, Democratic Gov.-elect Josh Shapiro spent much of the last year warning that Mastriano was the most extreme and dangerous candidate running in the country. He spoke specifically about the freedoms he said were under attack by the right. On Election Day, Shapiro’s landslide win stood in contrast to the narrow victories won in the swing state by Trump in 2016 and Biden in 2020.
“We all basically joined together behind three simple truths. Three simple truths that have sustained our nation over these last 246 years. We value our freedom, we cherish our democracy, and we love this country — and these three truths, these three truths, and your votes, well, that stood up to the extremism that has taken root in some parts of our society,” Shapiro said in his victory speech on election night.
In Washington’s 3rd Congressional District, where Trump won by just over four points in 2020, Kent, with Trump’s backing, eliminated Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, one of the few Republicans who voted to impeach Trump after the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the US Capitol, in the all-party primary. In the general election, he lost to Marie Gluesenkamp Perez, a Democrat, in a district the GOP had hoped to hold.
In Ohio, Republican JR Majewski, who had been associated with QAnon conspiracy theories, lost by 13 points to Democratic Rep. Marcy Kaptur in a battleground US House district that had been redrawn in redistricting from a deep-blue seat to one Trump would have won by more than four points.
Reflecting on the races across the country, former Republican congressman Charlie Dent, a centrist who left Congress in disgust over the party’s embrace of Trump’s brand, said that “voters called out crazy.”
“A lot of the more extreme candidates lost; this is all on Trump because Trump was responsible for nominating a lot of these problematic candidates,” Dent said. “Bottom line is, I never felt there was a future in this angry populism, this isolationism, nativism that defines Trumpism. I don’t think it works, not in the long term.”
One Republican operative, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to be more frank about the party’s future, said that many of the races had unique factors but that it was undeniable that “Democrats were able to turn out their people with the issue of abortion and to an extent the issue of democracy or the election denialism — Trump, you could say for short.”
Amy Gardner contributed to this report.