By: David A. Giglio
The “Red Wave” has fizzled, November has come and gone, and the coordinated media narrative has been set.
Donald Trump and his army of MAGA “extremists” had cost the Republican Party perhaps their biggest “wave election” ever.
Nowhere was this sentiment more apparent than on Twitter, where the usual “principled conservative” commentators and outlets like Paul Ryan, FOX News, Ben Shapiro, Frank Luntz, and The National Review, were plastering timelines with seemingly ready-made repudiations of Trump and America First.
They were desperate to control the narrative and get ahead of the truth. They wanted your rage directed at MAGA and Trump instead of where it belonged, at the feet of the GOP brass.
It was their mission to make sure that people were quick to forget that the entire platform GOP leadership presented to voters centered around regurgitated 1994 talking points and the argument that the American people should vote Republican because it's "better than the alternative party."
With Trump not on the ballot or in the White House, Mitch McConnell and Kevin McCarthy were in charge of coming up with the GOP's "winning" message. Rather than using Trump's populist platform as a foundation for continuing to transform the Republican Party into the party of the working class, Mitch and Kevin spent two years plotting to revert the GOP back to the party of George Bush, Mitt Romney, and Wall Street.
Instead of listening to their base, focusing on election integrity or building a diverse coalition, they obsessed about how they could "take the edge off" the party platform and bring back "compassionate conservatism." By doing so, they hoped that the GOP would once again appeal to their beloved highly educated white suburban voters.
Gone was the talk of taking on China, breaking up Big Tech, confronting Big Pharma, bringing back American jobs, or even specific policy details on how they planned to reign in runaway inflation.
On the Senate side, Mitch McConnell himself absurdly told GOP donors and Senate Republican colleagues that the Senate GOP would not release a legislative agenda to voters. They instead opted to focus completely on the Democrat failures and all the "terrible things" they had done to the country. ¹¹
This failure in messaging allowed the Democrats to dominate the narrative on inflammatory topics like abortion. Instead of pushing back and providing voters with a clear alternative platform, GOP leadership told their candidates to avoid engaging with the media and the Democrats on the most important topics.
In politics, when you are playing defense, you are losing. Instead of countering the media and the Democrats' narrative, the GOP's strategy of avoiding "hot button" issues left voters confused and concerned about what a Republican run government might look like.
However, in the end, the GOPe didn't fail altogether. Their "prevent defense" strategy did, in fact, succeed in making gains with their beloved suburbanite voters. However, the gains weren't nearly enough.
By running away from Trump, the GOP failed to appeal to and motivate swing-district working class voters, who propelled Trump and the GOP to historic victories in 2016. In many places like Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin they simply stayed home and rejected the traditional Country Club Republican platform like they had done for decades before Trump came along.
Anyone who is privy to the changing demographics of the United States understands that educated white suburban voters are an ever-shrinking portion of the American electorate. There’s simply no path forward as a legitimate national political force for a Party that cannot consistently bring out or appeal to the working class.
There's a reason Trump was the first Republican in 35 years to win the Rust Belt (and no, it wasn't because he "got lucky"). He won because his team of outsiders were shunned by the GOP consultant class allowing them to work outside the system and develop a platform that broke from tradition.
It doesn't take a rocket scientist to understand that Trumpism (populism) appeals to a voting bloc that traditional Republicanism has never been able to engage.
After the 2020 election, even the ultra-Liberal New Yorker ran a story about how Trump and his America First platform changed the game especially with working-class Latino voters.
The article, which relied on analysis from Bush Administration alumni Alfonso Aguilar, explained how Trump's economic populism formed the bedrock of his "appeal to Latino voters," and "marked his contrast with establishment figures such as George W. Bush, John McCain, and Mitt Romney."²
But a massive failure in messaging wasn't the only reason the Red Wave failed to materialize.
Further buried beneath the establishment’s "Dump Trump" narrative lies a far more sinister story of deliberate sabotage that could make one's blood boil.
There’s an age old saying in politics: if you want to know the truth, follow the money.
As they make their post-election media tours, Ronna McDaniel, Kevin McCarthy, and Mitch McConnell continue to highlight the results of a small handful of "key races" for the House, Senate and Governorships which they claim proves that Trump and his hand-picked candidates are to blame for the GOP's underwhelming midterm performance.
For context, here are clips of each of them accepting no responsibility for what happened and instead talking about how it was the former President and "candidate quality" that cost the party.
The problem with their assertations is that when weighed against the evidence (in particular the money) their case implodes. In fact, not only does their case implode, but it actually implicates them as the real guilty parties.
Let's start with the primaries. Much of this was covered in a well-circulated article published by the Washington Post.
As crazy as it might sound, neither Kevin McCarthy nor Mitch McConnell were never interested in winning large majorities in their respective chambers. What they were interested in was making sure that they remained in positions of power after November.
Kevin was consumed by his lust for the Speaker's gavel and Mitch just wanted to make sure he remained as GOP Leader in the Senate, whether it be majority or minority.
If a historic Red Wave did in fact prevail, it would have carried many Trump-loyal candidates into office and their positions at the top would likely be threatened.
The first step of the plan was simple. If there was going to be a Red Wave, McCarthy and McConnell needed to ensure their candidates were the ones who made it through the primaries and onto November. To do so, both McConnell and McCarthy spent tens of millions of dollars waging war against MAGA candidates during the primaries.
If any troublemakers, like Joe Kent, ended up making it past the primary, they would be left without vital financial support by McCarthy during the general.
According to FEC records, McCarthy's Congressional Leadership Fund alone directly spent upwards of $7 million dollars opposing America First GOP Candidates like Joe Kent, John Gibbs, Anthony Sabatini, Loren Culp, J.R. Majewski, Michael Cassidy, Karoline Leavitt, and myself.
Even more infuriating, much of the money McCarthy spent opposing America First candidates was used to protect incumbents who voted to impeach President Trump, such as Jaime Herrera Beutler, David Valadao, Dan Newhouse, and Peter Meijer.
Furthermore, that $7 million doesn't include the millions spent against these candidates by the McCarthy aligned "dark money" groups. It's estimated these groups spent a combined $10 million in the primary for Florida's 7th Congressional District targeting Anthony Sabatini, a fierce ally of President Trump who publicly vowed NOT to support McCarthy for Speaker.
On the Senate side, McConnell and his allies broke from Trump in nearly every race.
In Arizona, tens of millions were spent in favor of Karrin Taylor Robson over eventual nominee Blake Masters. In Pennsylvania, McConnell helped behind the scenes with a smear campaign that took out the frontrunner Sean Parnell and then spent a small fortune pushing David McCormick over Dr. Mehmet Oz. McConnell aligned "dark money" groups also spent millions pushing Chuck Morse over Don Bolduc in New Hampshire. The list goes on and on, with Alaska representing perhaps the most egregious example. McConnell and his minions spared no expense to save Trump impeacher, Lisa Murkowski. McConnell's behavior in the Alaska race was so over the top that he was censured by the Alaska Republican Party.
Not only were millions spent propping up their establishment candidates, but they chose to run ruthless smear campaigns against their America First challengers.
For example, in Washington's 4th Congressional District which featured a high-profile race between impeacher Jamie Herrera Beutler and the America First Joe Kent, McCarthy and Buetler aligned dark money groups waged total war. They sent out mailers with pictures of Joe Kent side by side with Adolf Hitler, implying that Kent, a former Green Beret who served his nation with honor, was a socialist akin to of one of history's most heinous individuals.
I'm not a rocket scientist, but I'm willing to bet that comparisons like this tend to stick in the minds of voters and would do irreparable damage to a candidate if they manage to advance to the general election like Kent did.
This brings us to phase two of the plan.
One would assume that GOP leaders, who constantly preach about the importance of party unity, would rally around all of their nominees, but that's not their style. For them, party loyalty always only goes one way. They demand it from those whom they successfully destroy but refuse to offer it if things don't go their way.
As primary season ended and Labor Day approached, it was becoming apparent that the dam had burst for Democrats. Any polling bump they might have received from the Supreme Court's decision to overturn Roe v. Wade had dissipated. Even the most left leaning pollsters now showed the GOP pulling away on the generic ballot to leads as high as 8 percent. A Red Wave was now almost a certainty.
Rather than making plans to wipe out the Democrats completely, Mitch McConnell and Kevin McCarthy went into self-preservation mode.
Such a large lead meant Republicans were now in position to make gains in Democratic strongholds like California, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Washington, and Oregon and that they now had "seats to spare."
This meant that Trump won/leaning districts like OH-09, WA-04 and Senate races in Arizona and Georgia were no longer "must win" seats. They could abandon MAGA candidates who might refuse to support them for leadership positions and invest in races that featured establishment picks like Allen Fung in RI-02, George Logan in CT-05, Brian Marriott in CA-49, Scott Baugh in CA-47, Tiffany Smiley in Washington, and Joe O'Dea in Colorado.
The chart below lists the six races in the House, Senate, and Governor races that are commonly cited by pundits to prove that MAGA was responsible for killing the Red Wave.
In the House, the races were in MI-03 (Gibbs), WA-03 (Kent), OH-09 (Majewski), PA-08 (Bognett), NH-01 (Leavitt), and AK-AL (Palin).
Despite the NRCC and McCarthy's Congressional Leadership Fund (CLF) spending record amounts of cash this cycle, these six candidates were left to be outspent by their Democratic rivals by an average of $2.4 million. Gibbs, Kent, and Majewski, who had expressed reluctance to vote for McCarthy as Speaker, were outspent by an average of $3.5 million, with Kent and Majewski receiving ZERO dollars from McCarthy or the NRCC.
In the case of John Gibbs, who was lucky enough to receive $2.7 million from the CLF, the money came at a cost. According to sources familiar with the matter, McCarthy and his team told Gibbs if he wanted their help in the general election, he needed to fire his consultants, pollsters, and advisers and surrender control of his campaign to their high-priced consultants. Even with the $2.7 million from the CLF, Gibbs was still left to be outspent almost 2-1.
Instead of using the messaging and aggressive campaign tactics that propelled Gibbs to victory in the primary, the NRCC's consultants advised Gibbs to drop his populist messaging and avoid directly attacking his opponent.
This was disastrous advice. While Gibbs played defense, Hillary Scholten and the Democrats spent the final months of the campaign bombarding televisions, newspapers, and social media with negative ads and stories that portrayed Gibbs as a radical extremist who represented a danger to democracy. In the end, the voters of MI-03 were left confused about who John Gibbs really was.
On the Senate side of things, the GOP and McConnell allowed their Senate candidates in the most important races to be outspent by an eye-popping average of $49 million.
In Georgia, Herschel Walker ended up being outspent by Raphael Warnock by nearly $100 million and was completely abandoned during the December runoff that ended up being decided by just 2 percentage points.
McConnell's behavior in Arizona against Blake Masters was nothing short of sabotage.
Even as polls began to show Masters closing the gap on Mark Kelly, McConnell refused to spend a dime in support of him. Instead, he elected to continuing pouring money into the senate races in Ohio and North Carolina where both Ted Budd and JD Vance were, at this point, almost certain to win. In total, McConnell's SLF and NRSC spent a combined $37,997,520 in North Carolina and $32,465,089 in Ohio. It's not to say that Budd and Vance weren't deserving of McConnel's money, it's that the outcome in both races was never really in doubt as we inched closer to Election Day. In addition to overspending in Ohio and North Carolina, McConnell also chose to burn money in Colorado in support of the Trump hating Joe O'Dea rather than helping Masters.
On the governor side of things, the task of "winning" was bestowed upon the Republican Governor's Association (RGA), which is run by outgoing Arizona Governor Doug Ducey and the Ricketts Family. In the six governor races that featured Trump backed candidates, the GOP was outspent by an average of nearly $29 million.
In the two races, Arizona and Pennsylvania, where the results would have a significant impact on the Republican Party's chances in the 2024 Presidential Election, the RGA and Ducey were nowhere to be found.
In Pennsylvania, controlling the governor's mansion is of critical importance when it comes to the electoral process. Because it is a "commonwealth, the governor is in charge of appointing the Secretary of State, who is in charge of carrying out the State's elections. If the GOP were serious about "election integrity" they would be willing to win in Pennsylvania at all costs regardless of whether the nominee was the establishment's first choice or not. Losing the governor's mansion would be disastrous for whomever ends up being the Republican Party's presidential nominee in 2024.
Still, this wasn't enough for Doug Ducey and the establishment to bury their pride and play to win. After what sources describe as a "positive meeting" between the Ricketts Family and Doug Mastriano, a staunch ally of President Trump, the decision was made to abandon the race. Mastriano was given ZERO dollars from the RGA and outspent by a whopping $50 million. Making the situation worse, "principled conservatives" like Karl Rove spent millions of dollars running television ads AGAINST Mastriano. ³
In Arizona, another state that is basically a "must win" for the Republican nominee in 2024, Trump ally Kari Lake withstood millions spent against her in the primary and defeated the establishment's Karrin Taylor Robson. Once again, rather than uniting behind Lake, it took months before Ducey chose to offer assistance. In the end. the RGA spent just $11 million boosting Lake. Rather than garbage polls to justify diverting money to the governor's race in Oklahoma to "save" incumbent Republican Kevin Stitt who would end up winning by 14 points. Identical to what happened in Pennsylvania, establishment forces led by the McCain family used their influence and money to actively campaign against Lake.
It's hard to sit here and look at the monetary advantage that Democrats had in these key races and conclude that it was Donald Trump or "candidate quality" that is really to blame for the GOP's massive underperformance.
If that hypothesis were true, then why didn't establishment candidates hand-selected by Kevin McCarthy and the NRCC win either?
In 2020, with Trump actually on the ballot, the GOP won almost every single House race that Cook Political rated as a "toss-up." Flash forward to 2022, with Trump not on the ballot, the GOP lost almost every competitive House race.
Even if the GOP won the six seats we discussed above, that would still have only given the party a 228-seat majority or a net pickup of just 15 seats. Blaming Trump and his band of MAGA troublemakers doesn't explain why the GOP failed to win in the 20-40 other seats that many expected them to pick up and which featured candidates "hand-picked" by Kevin McCarthy and NRCC Chairman Tom Emmer.
The actual explanation for the death of the Red Wave is simple. McConnell and McCarthy overplayed their hand and underestimated the ferocity of the Democrats' ground game and ballot-harvesting operations in competitive districts.
While Kevin and Mitch were busy figuring out how they could use their laundered FTX money to weed out and destroy MAGA, the Democrats were investing heavily in ballot harvesting operations in the districts that would end up determining control of the House and Senate. The seats the McCarthy and McConnell were counting on winning were already effectively lost well before Election Day.
Rather than blindly parroting the establishment's narratives, it's time for Republican voters to wake up to the reality of what is actually going on. Those who run the Republican Party have no interest in listening to and actually representing their voters. Just like they did with the Tea Party, they are willing to do whatever it takes (even if that means losing elections) to kill populism and maintain control over the party's platform. If we allow them to succeed, it is likely the GOP will fade away into irrelevance.
¹ Jonathan Swan, A. T. (2021, December 3). McConnell: No Legislative Agenda for 2022 midterms. Axios. Retrieved December 14, 2022, from https://www.axios.com/2021/12/03/mcconnell-no-agenda-midterms
² Cadava, Geraldo. “The Deep Origins of Latino Support for Trump.” The New Yorker, 29 Dec. 2020, https://www.newyorker.com/news/the-political-scene/the-deep-origins-of-latino-support-for-trump.
³ Birle, Jack. “Ad from Karl Rove-Founded Super PAC Lifts Shapiro to Bash Fetterman.” Washington Examiner, Washington Examiner, 27 Oct. 2022, https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/news/ad-super-pac-karl-rove-praises-shapiro-bash-fetterman.