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Do Republicans need to rethink their party's leadership?

The weeks leading up to the midterm elections predicted a “red wave” throughout the country, especially in historically blue districts. These predictions were the result of increasing dissatisfaction with the Biden administration, especially pertaining to recent events in Afghanistan and widespread inflation. There is also frustration with democratic leaders in states that have high crime and low job rates in cities around the United States. However, the final results of the election—which still needs to be determined for many races—seem to be one of the best Democratic midterm elections under a Democratic presidency. But what does this mean for the Republican Party?

This failure of a “red wave” to wash over the nation serves as a wake-up call to Republicans around the country to carefully consider who can effectively lead the GOP in 2024. Seemingly, that is not Donald Trump.

This leads to my key takeaway from this election: candidates with little experience in public office or with low character quality were not elected. The moderates and independents were not convinced by the lack of experience in politics and the rambunctious Trumpian personalities of many GOP candidates. This shift back to normalcy started in 2020 and is still true for this election: Americans want “normal” candidates with traditional political backgrounds, and this was reinforced Tuesday night.

Republican John Gibbs ran for the 3rd Congressional District in Michigan against Hillary Scholten and lost by 13 points. The 3rd district was a flip in congress for the Democratic Party in a historically red district, largely because John Gibbs, endorsed by Trump, was the wrong candidate. Peter Meijer (the current Congressman serving the 3rd district) lost the primary earlier in August to Gibbs, due to Trump’s endorsement. Trump’s vendetta against anyone who voted for his impeachment showed its colors this week when his candidate lost, and when the incumbent, Meijer, could have preserved his seat in Congress. Another instance of this same phenomenon was in Pennsylvania where Trump-endorsed candidate Dr. Mehmet Oz lost to Democrat John Fetterman in a critical race to determine the majority in the US Senate. Oz lost by four points to a man who suffered a stroke this past spring and couldn’t even make it through a debate, all the while going back and forth on his fracking stance. Instead of nominating a decent candidate with experience and close ties to the Pennsylvania population, Trump endorsed someone who did well on TV, essentially attempting to replicate his own win in 2016. This was a vital win for the Democratic Party as it flipped one more seat in the Senate, lowering the chances of GOP control.

Midterms have also shown that Michigan is becoming less of a purple state, and becoming permanently blue. The Democratic Party flipped the State Senate and is likely to do the same in the State House of Representatives. Additionally, incumbent Governor Gretchen Whitmer and all three proposals—on term limits, voter ID and reproductive rights— passed with high support. Although Tudor Dixon closed the gap between herself and Whitmer, she still lost by about ten points. This, I believe, has to do with the emphasis on abortion rights as well as the fact that Dixon is inexperienced in the political world. No one knew who she was before being endorsed by the DeVos family. Dixon was also endorsed by Trump early on, which automatically categorized her negatively in the eyes of Republicans that hate Trump. These races support the idea that the supposed “red wave” was stopped, not because the Biden Administration is doing a superb job, but because Trump still has power in the Republican Party.

Trump is claiming that he had major wins this week and that his candidates’ failures were not his fault. He is right that a lot of his candidates won; however, many of those candidates were in very red districts where the race was not nearly a toss-up. The races you have to look at are like the ones in Ohio, a very red state, where JD Vance barely won his seat in the Senate. That race should not have been close, but because Vance was Trump endorsed with little to no political experience, conservatives were hesitant to give Vance their votes.

Despite saying all this, I supported the Trump administration and his races in both 2016 and 2020. I thought Trump added a unique energy of eagerness and transparency to both politics and the Republican Party. His race in 2016 got many voters out to the polls for the first time, but it’s no longer 2016—his time in the political spotlight has come to an end. The Republican Party needs to do better.

Instead, Republicans should look to the only state that pulled off a true “red wave” and cemented itself as a deep red region: Florida. Ron DeSantis won re-election as governor with huge margins. From 2018 to 2022 he beat Andrew Gillum by 0.4 points and this week he beat Charlie Crist by 19.4 points. But what does this mean?

Voters liked what DeSantis did while in office, and supported his policies. They liked his strong stance in culture wars, his attention to education and his commitment to keeping Florida open during the COVID-19 pandemic. DeSantis has emerged as a strong leader for the Republican Party. In an election where Republican candidates underperformed, DeSantis was able to pick up 19% of the total vote and gain huge percentages of the Puerto Rican and Latino vote. Marco Rubio also performed well, beating his opponent Val Demings by 16.4 points.

It’s clear that Florida did something right. DeSantis focused on endorsing multiple candidates for school boards, which effectively built up a foundation for future politicians and support for a potential presidential run. Republicans around the United States should look to Florida and its leadership as a role model.

Trump may have had his hand in this election, but Republicans are slowly realizing that he does not belong at the forefront of the party anymore. Our elections aren’t favoring the odd candidate that Trump campaigned as in 2016. Instead, voters want reliable, experienced politicians who effectively serve their people without engaging in their own personal, toxic culture wars.


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