Georgia Runoff Warnings for Both Parties

The 2022 midterms ended Tuesday when Sen.

Raphael Warnock


Herschel Walker

in Georgia. Democrats should be pleased. They gained governorships and a Senate seat and kept their House losses to single digits, despite expectations of a red wave. But there’s a danger that Mr. Warnock’s runoff victory will strengthen President Biden’s misinterpretation of Democrats’ better-than-expected showing. That could be a recipe for disaster for his party come 2024.

The president seems to believe that the GOP’s awful midterm performance was the result of improved Democratic messaging about his administration’s record. When asked after the November election what Mr. Biden would “do differently to change people’s opinion of the direction of the country” as he prepares to run again, the president replied “nothing.” Americans are “just finding out what we’re doing,” he said. “The more they know about what we’re doing, the more support there is.”

Since then, Mr. Biden has signaled full speed ahead for his re-election campaign and demanded a makeover of the primary calendar to smooth his renomination and discourage any Democratic opposition.

But in reality, Democrats’ relative victory in the midterms came courtesy of

Donald Trump,

whose high-profile endorsements helped nominate freakish candidates, leading GOP-leaning voters to split their tickets. This was clear in Senate races, where candidates Mr. Trump carried to primary victories with his “full and complete endorsement” ran behind more-traditional Republicans in the fall.

In Ohio, 1 of 6 supporters of Gov.

Mike DeWine

cast their Senate ballots for Democrat

Tim Ryan

or left it blank. This is why Mr. Ryan’s Trumpian opponent, J.D. Vance, won by less than 7 points, while Mr. DeWine won by almost 26. In Arizona, almost 14% of supporters of the GOP’s victorious candidate for state treasurer left their ballot blank or voted for Democratic Sen.

Mark Kelly,

who defeated Trump-endorsed

Blake Masters

by 4.9 points.

Ticket-splitting also cost the GOP House seats as Republicans and GOP-leaning independents rejected Trump-endorsed candidates. More than 1 in 5 voters for New Hampshire Gov.

Chris Sununu

refused to support Trump-backed Republicans in the state’s two congressional districts. Mr. Sununu won by more than 15 points, while the GOP House candidates lost by 8 and 12.

In North Carolina’s First District, Mr. Trump endorsed

Sandy Smith.

She lost, in large part because she was accused by two previous husbands of domestic abuse. In a major county in the district, 1 of every 8 voters split their ticket, voting Democrat for House and Republican for Senate. Same in the 13th District, which rejected a young Trumpster for the House but went Republican for Senate.

In Ohio, Republicans lost two pickup opportunities when about 21% to 38% of Mr. DeWine’s voters in counties in the Ninth District voted Democrat for Congress. In the 13th District, 19.1% of DeWine supporters in one major county split their ticket, and 18.5% did in another. Both GOP candidates had little but Mr. Trump’s enthusiastic endorsement to recommend them. Republican-leaning voters found that insufficient.

Between 7% and 13% of GOP gubernatorial nominee

Tudor Dixon’s

supporters in Michigan’s Third District counties turned thumbs down on

John Gibbs,

Mr. Trump’s handpicked candidate. Trump favorites in Alaska and in Washington state’s Third District who stressed their ties to the former president also lost, running behind their statewide tickets.

In total, the GOP threw away at least nine House seats running nominees voters found too extreme, unqualified or closely tied to Mr. Trump and so split their tickets. Imagine how different the House would be if it was divided 231-204 in favor of Republicans rather than 222-213.

Tuesday’s loss in Georgia for the GOP also came down to ticket-splitting. On Nov. 8, Mr. Walker trailed Gov.

Brian Kemp

by 203,130 votes, meaning nearly 1 of every 10 Georgians who supported the Republican governor refused to cast their ballot for Mr. Walker. And the last month didn’t change their minds. Mr. Walker lost the runoff by nearly 100,000 votes.

This resurgence of GOP ticket-splitting provides warnings for both parties. Democrats shouldn’t take the midterm result as a vote of confidence in Mr. Biden. It was a targeted rejection of Mr. Trump. If he doesn’t adjust to a Republican House, the president will have two unpleasant years that sink his low approval rating still further.

For Republicans, the return of ticket splitting shows that many of the voters they need see Mr. Trump’s endorsement as a warning, not an inducement. A Republican Party led by Donald Trump will lose and lose and lose.

Mr. Rove helped organize the political-action committee American Crossroads and is author of “The Triumph of William McKinley” (Simon & Schuster, 2015).

Copyright ©2022 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved. 87990cbe856818d5eddac44c7b1cdeb8



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