Nov 12, 2022 - Politics & Policy

The 5 circles of chaos after 2022 midterms

An adjudication board reviews ballots yesterday at the Maricopa County Tabulation and Election Center in Phoenix. Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Tuesday's midterms have left America in its longest period of suspended political animation since the Bush v. Gore cliffhanger of 2000.

Why it matters: The weekend after Election Day, neither party has clinched the House or Senate. The leaders, and directions, of both parties are very much up in the air — a convergence of chaos that matches the country's testy mood and partisan split.

Reality check: Washington is freaking out about the impending results and the repercussions. But for most of the nation, this election felt pretty normal — just incredibly tight.

  • Voting systems worked. There were none of the massive disruptions that some feared, either on Election Day or in the immediate aftermath.
  • Losers mostly conceded.
  • Republican election deniers lost every swing-state Secretary of State race, per NBC.

On the fourth day after Election Day 2020, Joe Biden went over the top to win the presidency. As in 2020, we'll have to wait for Georgia's runoff, 24 days from now, to know the Senate's margin — and perhaps control.

Saturday is the fourth day since Election Day 2022. Look at the circles of chaos that remain in our Election Month:

1. Senate control: In a real surprise, Democrats could keep the Senate. Republicans have a narrow path that includes clinging to a dwindling lead in Nevada.

  • Sen. Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.) was declared a winner over Republican challenger Blake Masters on Friday night. So Democrats only need Nevada to hold their majority.
  • Republicans would have to win both Nevada and the Georgia runoff to secure the majority.

2. House control: This looked like the more certain outcome going into the election. Now, it also has a shaky outlook.

  • Republicans appear likely to wind up with a narrow majority. But Dems have a narrow path that CNN's John King outlined Friday on his "Magic Wall", calling this his most complicated midterm in 38 years in journalism.
  • AP wrote that based on some slow-counting California races, it "could take days, or even weeks, to determine who gets the gavel next year."
  • Axios' Josh Kraushaar originally said it looked like Republicans could gain as many as 35 seats. The GOP had expected to pick up at least 20 seats, with more bullish operatives anticipating 30 or more seats flipping in a wave.
  • Now, it's looking like a gain of 6 to 8 seats — or fewer.

3. House GOP leadership: House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy looked like an almost-certain Speaker before Tuesday's disappointing results. Now, a few defectors in his roiling caucus could cost him the gavel.

  • McCarthy's allies are panicked — and can't yet see a way clear for him to get the prize he had assumed was his only a few days ago.
  • Nobody can answer the simple question: If McCarthy — one of the most transactional politicians in America — can’t get the votes, then who can?
  • The prize would be nothing like he expected. A dejected aide to a senior House Republican tells The Washington Post that's "an unworkable majority" where nothing can get done.

4. House Democratic leadership: Speaker Nancy Pelosi, 82, has been ambiguous about her plans even as a younger generation of leaders — led by Democratic Caucus Chairman Hakeem Jeffries, 52 — prepares for a generational shift.

5. Senate GOP leadership: Even Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell has to fight for his job.

  • Senators Marco Rubio of Florida, Josh Hawley of Missouri and Ted Cruz of Texas are among the Republicans pushing to delay leadership elections, scheduled for next week, until after the Georgia runoff.

What's next: Tuesday is former President Trump's "big announcement" — expected to be a 2024 launch.

  • Some stalwarts have urged him to wait until after the Georgia runoff since Trumpian distractions could cost the party that seat.
  • But a top Trump ally tells Axios that the former president is plunging ahead: "The logistics are well organized and professional, with a tremendous attention to detail."

The bottom line: There's one island of stability in American politics. The most certain outcome — in all these circles of chaos — is that Chuck Schumer will remain the leader of Senate Democrats.

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