The Republican Party’s Problem is the Republican Base

Running hard-right MAGA candidates in swing states is a recipe for defeat. But the GOP base loves them.

James Surowiecki

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Donald Trump (Gage Skidmore for Creative Commons)

With inflation near 8% and an unpopular president in the White House, history suggested that Tuesday’s midterm elections were going to be a wipeout for Democrats, as the 1994 and 2010 midterms had been. Instead, as we now know, Democrats did very well by historical standards — while, once all the votes are counted, they will likely have lost control of the House, they still have a good shot at keeping control of the Senate, and they won key governorship and Secretary of State races in swing states, while actually flipping state houses in Michigan and Pennsylvania.

The two factors that had the biggest impact on the Democrats’ performance were, it seems clear, candidate quality (which really means that Republicans nominated a surprising number of extremist candidates in potentially winnable races), and abortion rights. And the interesting question going forward is whether the Republican Party can do much to change the dynamics around either of those issues.

I’ll look at abortion in my next post. Here, I’ll focus on the question of candidate quality, where the Republican problem is pretty simple: the GOP base in swing states like Pennsylvania, Arizona, and Michigan is much further to the right than the Democratic base in those states is to the left. The Republican base in these states (indeed, almost everywhere) is made up of very culturally conservative MAGA voters, while the Democratic base is made up mostly of moderate liberals. As a result, Republican voters in swing states nominated candidates for major statewide offices who had no real chance of winning, including governorship candidates Doug Mastriano in Pennsylvania, Darren Bailey in Illinois, Dan Cox in Maryland, Tudor Dixon in Michigan, and Geoff Diehl in Massachusetts, and senatorial candidates Don Bolduc in New Hampshire and Blake Masters in Arizona. (Herschel Walker might also fall into this category, except his name recognition and celebrity in Georgia has kept him in the race with Raphael Warnock.) Republican Secretary of State nominees in swing states were often similarly extreme.

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James Surowiecki

I’m the author of The Wisdom of Crowds. I’ve been a business columnist for Slate and The New Yorker and written for a wide range of other publications.