‘Red Wave’? This Democratic Strategist Said All Along It Wasn’t Coming

Simon Rosenberg explains how he knew that predictions of a strong Midterm election for the Republican Party were way off the mark, and why the results are a rejection of extremism

Ben Samuels
Ben Samuels
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The sun sets behind the U.S. Capitol dome on midterm Election Day, Washington, November 6, 2018.
"This ‘red wave’ narrative prevented many analysts from looking honestly at what was happening."Credit: \ JAMES LAWLER DUGGAN/ REUTERS
Ben Samuels
Ben Samuels

WASHINGTON – Democratic strategist Simon Rosenberg has been saying for months that the widely predicted Republican “red wave” in the midterm elections was greatly exaggerated and that Democrats would remain competitive in races across the country.

Rosenberg, whose hypothesis was roundly rejected by pundits on both sides of the aisle, was vindicated after the shockingly lackluster GOP showing at both the state and national levels this week.

So where did everyone go wrong? According to the New Democrat Network founder, too many people disregarded repeated evidence of the high intensity Democrats were bringing to these midterms compared with the Republicans’ low intensity.

“That was a big miss,” Rosenberg says. “If you look at the measures of intensity after Dobbs” in June – when the Supreme Court overturned the constitutional right to obtain an abortion – the Democrats “overperformed our 2020 numbers in five House specials. We overperformed in Kansas,” where voters rejected an amendment that would have removed the right to an abortion in the state. “Voter registration spiked. Our candidates raised much more money,” he says.

Any questions about whether this intensity would carry over to the midterms was answered via early voting numbers, Rosenberg adds, explaining that Democrats were overperforming the previous elections’ totals.

Republicans, meanwhile, underperformed in the House specials and Kansas, while their candidates struggled to raise money. Once the early vote showed them underperforming their 2020 totals, it became clear to Rosenberg that those months of high Democratic intensity and low GOP intensity would not suddenly shift on Election Day.

“This ‘red wave’ narrative prevented many analysts from looking honestly at what was happening. This idea that abortion had faded as an issue was Republicans in fantasy world – there was no evidence,” says Rosenberg, who worked on the Democrats’ 2018 House takeover. “A red wave may be coming, but it’s not here.”

Beyond those misunderstandings, Rosenberg argues that the midterms offer further evidence that former President Donald Trump’s influence over the Republican Party is waning.

“This was the third disappointing election in a row for Republicans. MAGA is not working; their political strategy is holding them back,” he says.

Abortion, meanwhile, became a gateway issue for voters concerned about Republican extremism to show that the party has gone too far.

“About 20 percent of the Republican Party isn’t MAGA. If they were disappointed and tired of the extremism, that would explain why there would be a drop,” Rosenberg observes.

Crediting Republican figures such as outgoing Rep. Liz Cheney, writer Bill Kristol and pundit Michael Steele with fighting what he describes as a “hostile takeover” of the Republican Party, Rosenberg says he is hopeful that like-minded Republicans will now be emboldened to speak out against the party’s extremists. “We know from polling that there is a deep awareness in the electorate that Republicans have changed, and for worse. A fear of MAGA was the driving force in the 2018 and 2020 elections, and it may very well have been the driving force in this one.”

Supporters celebrating as they attend an Election Night party for Democratic U.S. Senate candidate John Fetterman, in Pittsburgh on Tuesday.Credit: QUINN GLABICKI/REUTERS

‘Deeply disappointing’

That displeasure extends to outrage over the antisemitism that was an ever-present theme of some GOP candidates, but also among elected Republican officials who failed to forcefully speak out against such anti-Jewish sentiment.

“Antisemitism, racism, nativism and extremism was very much on the ballot, and it did not go well for them. You have to hope that the hold of MAGA has been loosened. It’s not good for the country,” Rosenberg says, adding: “The Republican Party’s response to antisemitism has been deeply disappointing, and it’s worrisome.”

Despite the historically positive showing for the Democrats, who may yet retain control of the Senate while losing the House, it is still too early to determine the impact these midterms will have on U.S. policy toward Israel and its expected new far-right government.

Much of this depends on what happens in the outstanding Senate races, though there is no doubt that Election Night was a bad one for America’s far right.

“Donald Trump himself used the word ‘disappointing’ to describe the election. He never admits to that kind of thing. I’m hoping it causes some reflection in the Republican Party about the top of the ticket,” Rosenberg says.

Republican Mark Ronchetti's daughter crying as her father delivers a speech after Democratic rival Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham won reelection, in Albuquerque, N.M., on Tuesday.Credit: Chancey Bush/AP

Whether MAGA’s grip has been loosened remains to be seen, but the fact remains that this is Trump and his party’s third disappointing election in a row at a national level.

Rosenberg believes that, overall, the far right across the world is now in a far weaker position – Italy and Israel’s recent election results notwithstanding – largely due to its support for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and President Vladimir Putin.

“Something different may happen now with the far right: it is not on firm ground, whether in Israel, here or anywhere. They’ve had some modest victories, but I’m optimistic this election can be read as a rejection of extremist politics,” he sums up.

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