By Jonathan Bernstein / Bloomberg Opinion
The best thing about the 2022 midterm elections so far is how utterly normal everything has been.
There were no significant disruptions at polling places. If there was voter intimidation on Election Day, it was small-scale enough that it barely registered. There was nothing like the widespread, organized operations by extremist groups as many feared. Losing Republican candidates conceded their races as the losing candidates in democracies normally do. I’m sure there are plenty of conspiracy theories out there about why Republicans overall did worse than they expected, but they don’t seem to have made the leap into the mouths of party politicians or partisan media that reaches most voters.
The main post-election reaction seems to be a very normal argument within the GOP about what went wrong and which party faction or strategy or former president is to blame. That, and I very rarely say this about Republicans, is what healthy parties do. Of course, it’s still early.
There were signs that things might head in a different direction. During the Republican primaries, some losers resisted conceding. Many election workers were under siege over the summer and into the fall. Armed drop-box “observers” in Phoenix were an ominous sign, and there were scattered reports of intimidation during early voting. But most of it — including the recent attack on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s husband — seemed more like individual reactions to the fevered Republican atmosphere than organized attacks on democracy.
On Tuesday, Republicans overreacted to minor technical difficulties at some Arizona polling places. Other Republican conspiracy mongers spent Election Day pushing the nonsense idea that vote counting should end before all the ballots were counted; a suggestion that if it had been followed might have cost Republicans votes. But as the day (and night and early morning) progressed, the threat dissipated.
Why? For one thing, most people simply don’t have former President Donald Trump’s capacity for flat-out falsehoods. Trump, as a candidate, claimed fraud before elections even happened; he claimed fraud even after elections he won. Whether there was even vaguely plausible evidence to support his false claims never seems to bother him much.
President Biden’s warnings as well as those from other Democrats helped by laying down some relatively clear lines about what counts as normal and what counts as anti-democratic behavior. It might be that a lot of Republicans don’t actually want to be seen as opponents of democracy.
And then there are the elections themselves. In part, everyone was probably lucky that (at least so far) there haven’t been any high-profile races decided by extremely narrow margins. But perhaps it also demonstrates why the extremely convoluted mechanisms involved with the Electoral College make presidential elections particularly vulnerable. Barring a constitutional amendment, we’re stuck with some of that. But other vulnerabilities can be directly traced to the 19th century Electoral Count Act, and those can be reduced or eliminated if Congress passes reforms before adjourning this year.
While our worst fears weren’t realized Tuesday, the anti-democratic faction within the Republican Party remains a real threat. But for one day at least, things look a little better.
Jonathan Bernstein is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering politics and policy. A former professor of political science at the University of Texas at San Antonio and DePauw University, he wrote A Plain Blog About Politics.