Making Waves—Or Not

Dr. Malcolm Cross

Last week’s biggest story was the outcome of the presidential election.  Unless voter fraud on the scale described by President Trump is proven in court, Joe Biden will become the 46th President of the United States.  But a potentially bigger story may be that of the Big Blue Wave That Never Was.  Its absence may portend a Big Red Wave as early as 2022.  

The pollsters, pundits, and news media are perfectly free say whatever they want about Big Waves of whatever color they choose.  But the voters themselves have the final say on which Waves, if any, show up.  And the voters have a funny way of making waves whenever they want to, and refusing to make waves if they don’t want to, regardless of what anyone else says.  

The election returns indicate that Joe Biden won both the popular vote and the all-important  electoral vote.  But they also indicate that in losing, Trump won not only more popular votes than he won in 2016, but a greater percentage of the popular vote as well.  The Democrats failed to win the overwhelming repudiation of Trump that they were hoping for.  

No Big Blue Wave appeared to help the Democrats in the Senate elections either.  To be certain, several vulnerable Republicans whom the Democrats targeted for defeat—Cory Gardiner in Colorado, Martha McSally in Arizona—did in fact lose their re-election bids.  But most of the Republicans targeted for extinction—Lindsay Graham, Tom Tillis of North Carolina, Joni Ernst of Iowa, our own John Cornyn, and perhaps most importantly Mitch McConnell—won their races despite, in several cases, being heavily outspent by the Democrats.  At worst, the Republicans were hit by a Small Blue Ripple.

In fact, Mitch McConnell may well return as the Senate Majority Leader too.  The Republicans will have at least 48 Senators come January. Four seats have yet to be called. The Democrat is leading and expected to be the victor in only 1.  Should the Republicans win the other 3, as is currently expected, they’ll retain their majority for another 2 years.

In the House the Republicans actually gained at least half a dozen seats, and of the 24 races which remain, as of this writing, undecided, the Democrats are leading in 6 while the Republicans lead in 18.  Of course, the Republicans have no chance of taking back the majority this year, but their growing numbers will make it easier to win the 2022 off-year elections, where a Big Red Wave may put in its first appearance on the road to 2024.  

There are at least 2 reasons for Republicans to be optimistic about 2022:

First, in off-year elections the party which does not hold the White House normally makes gains in the Congress.  Voters dissatisfied with the President punish him by voting against his party’s congressional candidates.

Second, although data remain incomplete as of this writing, the Republicans seem to have maintained—and possibly even strengthened—their hold on state legislatures and governorships.  This is important because following years ending in 0, the states are required to redraw election district boundaries in light of the recently completed census.  This task is normally left to the state legislatures and the governor.  If a party has won the “trifecta,” controlling both houses of a state legislature as well as the governorship, it can more easily gerrymander the new districts to maximize the number of seats in can win.  The Republicans having won the Texas Trifecta, we can expect them to make certain that the majority of Texas congressmen will remain Republican, and that the 2 or 3 new seats to be awarded Texas because of its population growth over the last decade will probably become Republican as well.  Since the Republicans will probably continue to dominate the majority of state governments for the next two years, they should be more successful than the Democrats in creating new congressional districts in which they can triumph in 2022–quite possibly enough to win back the House majority and the Speakership.

Of course, none of this is written in stone.  Past patterns and current data offer clues to what is most likely to happen in the future, but they do not permit of perfect accuracy in predictions.  A Big Red Wave seems the most likely driver of the 2022 elections, but what will really happen is up to the voters themselves, and they have a funny way of doing whatever they want—including the dashing of expectations of those who think they know better.

Malcolm L. Cross has lived in Stephenville and taught politics and government at Tarleton since 1987. His political and civic activities include service on the Stephenville City Council (2000-2014) and on the Erath County Republican Executive Committee (1990 to the present).  He was Mayor Pro Tem of Stephenville from 2008 to 2014.  He is a member of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church and the Stephenville Rotary Club, and does volunteer work for the Boy Scouts of America. Views expressed in this column are his and do not reflect those of The Flash as a whole.

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