7 min read

Have Republicans learned the lessons of 2022?

Republican candidates were seen as too extreme in 2022. They aren’t making changes in 2024.
Have Republicans learned the lessons of 2022?
(Gage Skidmore)

Good morning! It’s Wednesday, February 22, 2023. The 2024 elections are 622 days away.

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Republicans poised to run back their 2022 playbook

Last week, I asked whether Republicans have learned the lessons of the 2016 election, referring to the risk of the party facing another crowded primary field.

This morning, I want to dial it back to the more recent past and ask a different question: Have Republicans learned the lessons of the 2022 midterms?

Republicans, of course, significantly underperformed expectations last year, winning the House — but only barely — and actually losing ground in the Senate. On the state level, Democrats managed to net two governorships and four state legislative chambers. It was the worst midterm year for the party out of the White House since 2002.

There is no one reason the GOP performed poorly in November, but you could do worse than the two-word explanation offered by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell: “candidate quality.” Specifically, candidates in battleground states fared poorly when associated with Donald Trump, January 6th, election denialism, and strict abortion restrictions.  

So how are Republicans positioning themselves heading into 2024? Let’s take a look:

  • Candidates

Many of the same Republican candidates who came up short in 2022 are poised to run again in 2024. In highly competitive Arizona, where Democratic-turned-Independent Sen. Kyrsten Sinema is up for re-election, failed gubernatorial nominee Kari Lake is “inching closer” to a Senate bid, per the Washington Post.

Lake, who trafficked in 2020 election denialism and won’t acknowledge her 2022 loss either, would be “tough to beat” in a GOP primary, the Post notes. According to a private poll obtained by the paper, she boasts the “highest favorability ratings among Republican primary voters of five potential GOP candidates.” In second place? Fellow failed nominee Blake Masters, who lost his Senate campaign in 2022 and is now mulling a comeback attempt.

It’s not just Arizona: despite acknowledgement by party leaders that “candidate quality” cost them dearly last year, a crop of 2022 losers are moving towards running in 2024. Per Politico, other examples include right-wing candidates J.R. Majewski of Ohio, Joe Kent of Washington, and Bo Hines of North Carolina — all of whom lost winnable House races last year and have signaled they plan to try again.

  • Election denialism

In another key battleground state, Michigan, Republicans gathered this weekend to choose a new state party chair. Their options: Kristina Karamo, an election denier who lost a bid for Michigan secretary of state by 14 points last year, and Matthew DePerno, an election denier who lost a bid for Michigan attorney general by 8 points last year.

Karamo emerged victorious, which means a far-right promoter of election lies will lead the Michigan GOP into the 2024 cycle, when the state will be home to a key open Senate race. Republicans struggled mightily in Michigan in 2022, forking over control of both the state House and Senate for the first time in 38 years; Karamo’s selection is a sign that the party has no plans to pivot its strategy.

Notably, Karamo won despite a Trump endorsement for DePerno. But the ex-president — and 2024 presidential frontrunner — still celebrated her selection, proudly referring to her as a “fearless Election Denier” and writing on Truth Social: “If Republicans (and others!) would speak the truth about the Rigged Presidential Election of 2020...they would be far better off.”

Based on how election deniers fared in key races last year, it is unlikely that’s the case.

  • Abortion

In the aftermath of Roe v. Wade’s reversal, abortion was another issue that appeared to hurt Republicans in 2022. Exit polls in several key states showed voters rating abortion as their most important issue, above inflation; strategists in both parties viewed it as the GOP’s glaring midterm vulnerability.

According to AP data, abortion was responsible for increased Democratic turnout and for flipping a sizable number of Republicans to vote for Democratic candidates.

So how did the Republican National Committee respond at its annual meeting late last month? By passing a resolution calling on GOP candidates to “go on offense in the 2024 election cycle” on abortion and to pass laws banning the procedure after about six weeks of pregnancy. (In an October 2022 poll by the Kaiser Foundation, 38% of Americans supported such bans and 60% opposed them.)

Although some Republicans have sought to moderate their stance on the issue, the party has broadly continued to push increasingly more extreme anti-abortion bills, including measures that would punish doctors and ban abortion pills.

  • Culture wars

Many Republican candidates ran last year on a platform of policies generally known under the catchall of the “culture wars.” Some, like Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, won by large margins. But many others performed poorly: Republican Senate and gubernatorial candidates in Arizona, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Georgia, Kansas and Wisconsin who highlighted transgender issues in their advertising came up short, for example.

American University political scientist Andrew Flores crunched the data in the Washington Post and found that legislation targeting LGBT rights did more to mobilize LGBT voters than anti-LGBT voters.

And yet, despite its mixed popularity nationally, DeSantism has swept across the country since the midterms: Republican politicians in several states have followed his lead on culture-war legislation. Most recently, that has meant a threat to eliminate AP classes — an idea that has earned backlash from parents and students.

In the GOP response to the State of the Union, Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders went all-in on the culture wars, accusing Biden of harboring “woke fantasies” and spending air time on issues like critical race theory (which she referred to simply as “CRT,” trusting viewers would understand) and the word “Latinx.”

  • The presidential nod

Most of these issues — from election denialism to the “culture wars” — are associated to some degree with Donald Trump or Ron DeSantis, the two current frontrunners for the Republican presidential nomination.

If either man is atop the Republican ticket, take it as a signal that the GOP doesn’t plan to adjust its agenda much in 2024. Second (or in Trump’s case, third) time’s a charm, I guess?

More news to know.

(Jon Tester’s office)

— Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT) announced he will run for re-election this morning, a relief to Democrats desperate to hold onto his seat in 2024. Read more

— The EPA took control Tuesday of cleaning up after the East Palestine, Ohio train derailment that released hazardous chemicals. The agency is ordering the train company, Norfolk Southern, to foot the bill. Read more

— The Biden administration proposed a new rule barring most migrants from applying for asylum if they enter the U.S. illegally or fail to first seek protection in another country. Read more

— The special grand jury in Georgia recommended multiple indictments, its forewoman revealed. She declined to say if former President Donald Trump was among them, answering only: “It’s not rocket science.” Read more

— Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) joined the crowded primary to succeed retiring Sen. Dianne Feinstein. If elected, she would be the third Black woman ever to serve in the Senate. Read more

— Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI) announced he will resign in June to lead a non-profit, vacating his safe-blue seat just months after being re-elected. Read more

— Chinese leader Xi Jinping is reportedly planning to a trip to Moscow to hold a summit with Russian president Vladimir Putin. Read more

The day ahead.

All times Eastern.

President Biden is in Warsaw, Poland. He will greet with U.S. embassy staff and then meet with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and the leaders of the Bucharest Nine (B9), the countries that make up NATO’s easternmost flank.

After the meeting, Biden will begin the trip back to Washington; he will touch down at the White House tonight.

First Lady Biden is in Windhoek, Namibia. She will meet with Namibian president Hage Geingob and visit a war memorial with Namibian first lady Monica Geingos.

The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in Twitter v. Taamneh. Like yesterday’s case, this dispute is about whether tech companies can be held liable under anti-terrorism laws for ISIS content spread on their platforms.

This case was brought by the family of Nawras Alassaf — a Jordanian citizen killed by ISIS in a 2017 attack in Istan — against Twitter, Facebook, and Google. As with Gonzalez v. Google yesterday, the justices’ decision could lead to a curtailing of the broad liability shield currently offered to tech companies by the landmark 1996 statute known as Section 230.

The House and Senate are on recess until next week.

Before I go...

Here at Wake Up To Politics, we love stories of great student journalism. So we loved this: The Polk Awards — one of the most prestigious honors in American journalism — were awarded on Monday, and the list of winners included the youngest-ever recipient.

Theo Baker, 18, won a “Special Award” for his work at the Stanford Daily, the campus newspaper, uncovering “falsified data” in scientific papers previously published by the university’s president. (Stanford is investigating the allegations.)

According to the Stanford Daily, it is the “first time in history that an independent, student-run newspaper has won the prestigious award.” Baker is the son of two prominent journalists: New York Times chief White House correspondent Peter Baker and New Yorker columnist Susan Glasser.

Read more from the Stanford Daily.

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— Gabe