Voices: The Democrats’ apocalypse was canceled — largely thanks to Donald Trump

 (Getty/iStock/Reuters/AP)
(Getty/iStock/Reuters/AP)

What the hell just happened? I’ve been asking that all night. Before the final polls closed, I said that this election did for midterms what Donald Trump’s election in 2016 did for presidential races: It scrambled everything we thought we knew about politics. Democrats overwhelmingly defied what pundits, the press, political professionals and yes, even I thought would happen, holding tough in many House races and successfully flipping Pennsylvania’s Senate seat.

To be clear, the election isn’t over yet. Tons of mail-in ballots have yet to be counted, and some races will probably take until the end of the week. Similarly, some vulnerable Democrats lost their races as expected, among them January 6 committee member Elaine Luria. But as we parse the results and wait for more, here are some winners and losers from tonight.

Winners: Democrats

There is no other way to spin this. Democrats didn’t just win; they achieved what many thought was impossible. And they did so thanks to tons of angry women and their allies furious about the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v Wade.

The signs were there early on. That Congresswomen Abigail Spanberger held on in Virginia’s 7th district and Jennifer Wexton in its 10th, keeping two of the crucial districts that the party flipped in 2018 despite tough Republican challenges, was the first tell that the party might not be headed for devastation.

Then, Republicans kept underperforming or outright losing in places where they’d been favored for weeks or months. They failed to unseat Angie Craig in Minnesota’s 2nd district, which includes suburbs of Minneapolis and St Paul (we’d told you to watch that one). They also fell short in their attempt on Seth Magaziner, whom many expected to lose Rhode Island’s 2nd district but who ultimately beat back a tough challenge from Republican Allan Fung. Frank Mrvan held Indiana’s 1st district.

And in a hard-won triumph at the Senate level, John Fetterman easily beat back Mehmet Oz in Pennsylvania – this even as his own campaign expected it to be a long week.

Loser: Donald Trump

Plenty of Republicans are accountable for what’s happened to their party (we’ll get to them later), but one Republican in particular deserves most of the blame: former president Donald J Trump.

Trump set Republicans up for failure the moment he and then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell rammed through Justice Amy Coney Barrett’s confirmation right before the 2020 presidential election. That teed up the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v Wade with its decision in Dobbs v Jackson. Had that not happened, Democrats would have been looking at a catastrophic midterm on the scale of their historic rout in 2010. Instead, the decision galvanized their base in a way almost no issue ever could.

But the former president also deserves the blame for hand-picking outright clunkers in races his party could — even should — have won. While he can celebrate Ted Budd’s Senate victory in North Carolina, state Democrats’ malfeasance and the national party’s failure to invest in the Tar Heel state is as much to blame for the seat staying Wolf Pack red. The ex-president endorsed Ohio senator-elect JD Vance, but most of the credit for that victory must go to McConnell for pouring an obscene amount of cash into the state.

Meanwhile, Trump’s preferred candidates in North Carolina’s 1st and 13th districts are toast. Mehmet Oz, whom he infamously endorsed in Pennsylvania’s Senate primary, lost to Fetterman, and Tim Michels failed to beat incumbent Democratic Governor Tony Evers in Wisconsin. This is Trump’s failure.

Winners: Progressives

The 2020 cycle was a rough go for progressives, particularly in the House, where Democrats lost a bunch of seats that they had won in 2018. The party immediately rounded on its left wing to accuse them of nearly throwing away the upper chamber with their rhetoric about defunding the police. The progressive left also lost plenty of primaries throughout the 2022 midterms, including in Texas’s 28th district and New York’s 10th.

But as Hanna Trudo of The Hill tweeted, progressives won big across the country. Fetterman ran as an exuberant economic populist in Pennsylvania. Meanwhile, Summer Lee, whom we profiled earlier this week, hung onto the state’s 12th district despite a deluge of outside money pouring in against her. Similarly, 25-year-old Maxwell Frost won his primary earlier this year in Florida’s 10th district, and has now been elected the first Gen Z member of Congress.

Loser: Kevin McCarthy

While it’s still too early to tell whether Democrats or Republicans will hold the House, would-be speaker Kevin McCarthy’s life is about to become a whole lot more miserable.

If Democrats hold on, he will surely be forced out of the leadership and forever be remembered as the man who lost the House in what was expected to be a triumphant year. If Republicans win only a narrow majority, members of the party too afraid to blame Trump for their pathetic margin will instead project onto him. Similarly, if by some way McCarthy gets the Speaker’s gavel – though some challengers may emerge even if the GOP takes control – a smaller margin means he will be more at the mercy of the Marjorie Taylor Greenes of his caucus.