Democrats kept the Senate, Republicans want it back

WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 29: U.S. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) looks on as Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) speaks at a news conference after the Senate passed the Respect for Marriage Act at the Capitol Building on November 29, 2022 in Washington, DC. In a 61-36 vote, the measure would provide federal recognition and protection for same-sex and interracial marriages. (Photo by Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

This week: The Briefing, Vol. X, Issue 50

  • Walker loses his runoff, Democrats hold the Senate
  • Sinema goes independent
  • Tester may not run again


Speaker race: Formally, House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy (R) has a Republican opponent for speaker — Rep. Andy Biggs (R) of Arizona. The thing is, no one expects Biggs actually to win a majority of support from House members. And there lies the rub.

One can oppose McCarthy as vociferously as one wants, but here’s the hard truth: nobody else who can win the job actually wants it. Indeed, with such a narrow majority of 222-213, it is sure to be a headache. Given the recent history of Republican wrangling in the House, it’s hard to understand why anyone would want it. This is why McCarthy feels he can get it, even if a number of conservatives loudly complain and don’t support him. In order to win, he will have to make a lot of promises, and that could be a good thing.

Even so, the next Speaker will be more of a figurehead than anything else. The coming 118th Congress will be one in which a Republican House simply serves as the place where Joe Biden’s agenda goes to die. 

Yes, there will also be investigations that may or may not go anywhere — most congressional investigations do not go anywhere. But the main function is to serve as a placeholder — to block Biden from packing the Supreme Court, raising taxes, or doing anything else that Democrats have been threatening to do legislatively.

Senate 2022

Alaska: In the end, Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R) was able to use the ranked-choice voting system to outlast a conservative opponent once again. It seems clear that if Alaskans are to be freed up to elect candidates as conservative as they are as a whole, they will have to get rid of ranked-choice voting.

Georgia: He made it close, but Herschel Walker (R) came up short in his runoff challenge against Sen. Raphael Warnock (D). The real wonder in this race is that Walker, despite knowing (as his campaign has acknowledged he did) that he would have multiple women accusing him of paying for abortions, decided to run in the first place.

Walker was a poor choice in retrospect, but it would be a mistake to blame President Trump entirely, as some are suggesting. He was a candidate approved by nearly everyone. It seemed like a good idea at the time among everyone in the know, not just Trump. Still, the race is another reminder that Georgia, as we have been observing since he underperformed there in 2016, is a state where Trump really rubs people the wrong way. 

This could be but isn’t necessarily a broader Republican problem. Gov. Brian Kemp, an antiestablishment figure who some considered unelectable in 2018, had no problem winning reelection against the best-known Democratic candidate in the state. Nor did down ticket Republican officials suffer in 2022. The only one who couldn’t win was Walker.

Senate 2024

Arizona: Senator Kyrsten Sinema‘s switch to independent from Democrat won’t change things around the Senate very much. She is a liberal, and she will remain so, even if she is one of the saner liberals left in the Senate.

But it will matter in electoral terms. 

There are two interpretations for what she is doing with this party-switch.

The more exciting one is that she is planning to run for president. This seems very unlikely, but it’s still something to keep in the back of your mind. In the very unlikely event that she starts making moves in that direction, that’s something we can revisit later.

The more likely interpretation is that, as someone who has been an obstruction to President Joe Biden’s agenda, Sinema is assured a brutal Democratic primary next year, probably against left-wing Rep. Ruben Gallego (D). Although Sinema’s approval ratings among Arizonans are relatively high, she is despised by the activist base and would be likely to lose such a primary among Democratic voters, given how far to the left the Democratic Party and its primary voter base has drifted. 

The thing is, even an independent bid does not necessarily save Sinema. Arizona has gone poorly for Republicans in recent years, but it is not Connecticut and she is not Joe Lieberman. This could lead to a very odd three-way race in which any credible Republican candidate (that adjective is important) has to be favored against two liberals. 

Montana: Sen. Jon Tester (D) has not made a decision yet on whether he will run for reelection in 2024. He said over the weekend that he will be discussing the matter with his family. If he doesn’t run, his seat is very likely to flip to the Republicans. If he does run, he will still be very vulnerable — the last dying gasp of a working-class, left-wing Montana that used to be a very big thing. 

We often discuss how some state parties are strong (the Republican parties in Florida, Ohio, and Iowa, for example) and some are weak. The Montana Republican Party has been very weak, underperforming national Republicans despite the mostly conservative nature of the state. Despite being nearly as red as neighboring Idaho, it has strong roots in the labor movement, which helped Democrats hold the governorship for 16 years since the turn of this century. Tester’s rise in 2006 was a result of that same weakness. 

An existing problem was magnified in 2001 with a scandal in which the late Gov. Judy Martz (R) became enmeshed in a series of scandals, including a situation in which an advisor went straight to her house after getting into a lethal drunk driving accident. (The man later pleaded guilty to negligent homicide.)

Whatever the past problems of the Montana GOP, Republicans rightly believe that this Senate seat will become red eventually. They would really like it to happen now, so that they can build a Senate majority in 2024.

Tester has survived long odds before, but he also knows that it will be an immense struggle to win re-election to a fourth term against the Republican tides of a presidential year in Montana. It has been an immense challenge both times he has defended the seat (against Denny Rehberg in 2012 and against now-Rep. Matt Rosendale in 2018), and this could be the hardest race of them all. There is no shortage of credible Republican candidates to take him on. Either congressman — Rosendale or Ryan Zinke — would be a threat, and they are by no means the only ones.

Pennsylvania: Hedge fund manager David McCormick (R) just barely lost the 2022 primary to Mehmet Oz after being savaged by Donald Trump. Now the state Republican Party is recruiting him to challenge Sen. Bob Casey, Jr. (D) in 2024. So far, he seems to be doing what a candidate would do, including publishing a book in the coming spring.

It will be hard for Pennsylvania Republicans to rebuild after their 2022 disaster, in which their weak gubernatorial nominee was crushed and they lost control of the state House. But with McCormick’s resources — he is worth as much as $300 million — he could prove very helpful to the cause.