June 22, 2024


Law, This Is It!

Why You Didn’t Read About a “Red Wave” in the Washington Monthly

3 min read
Why You Didn't Read About a "Red Wave" in the Washington Monthly

The bottom is dropping out of the 2022 election for Democrats,” screamed a CNN.com story by Chris Cillizza on November 1. Versions of the same “coming red wave” story were common in mainstream outlets like The New York Times, The Washington Post, and Axios leading up to Election Day.

One place where you did not read such foolish-in-retrospect stories was the Washington Monthly. Partly that’s because the Monthly focuses more on the crossroads of policy and politics than on the day-to-day horse race. But it is also because our chief political writer, Bill Scher, never bought the red wave hype. 


In the spring of 2021, respected analysts predicted a 30-seat GOP gain in the House, based on historical patterns. After all, the president’s party almost always loses seats in the midterms. But Scher, a keen student of political history and a smart contrarian, looked instead at historical anomalies—years when the party in power bucked the trend and kept congressional losses to a minimum or even gained seats. He found that when the country is in crisis, like economic collapse (1934), nuclear standoff (1962), unwarranted impeachment (1998), or terrorist attack (2002), the president’s party fares well. Because the multiple emergencies Biden inherited (global pandemic + antidemocratic insurgency + economic downturn) amounted to a crisis and then some, Scher reasoned, the Democrats could keep the House in 2022 or come close—a prediction he doubled down on this August.

Scher was quicker than most analysts (male ones, anyway) to foresee how damaging the Supreme Court’s repeal of Roe v. Wade would be for Republicans. “Little in politics is more motivating than a governmental body taking from you something that you already had,” he wrote in May 2021 after the Court announced that it would consider Dobbs v. Jackson. Bill returned to that argument after the decision was leaked and then released this summer.


When red wave mania grew more frantic in the weeks before the midterms, Scher castigated political reporters and operatives who claimed that a gain of 15 or 20 House seats for the GOP would constitute a blowout. Drawing on the work of political scientists and common sense, which the western Massachusetts writer has in abundance, Scher made the case that the Beltway crowd was moving the goalposts. Republicans would need to win considerably more than the average number of seats out-of-power parties typically have—a couple dozen—for 2022 to constitute a genuine wave election.

On Election Day, the punditocracy turned its nose up at President Joe Biden for giving not one but two prime-time speeches on the threat to democracy rather than pocketbook issues, which all the smart people had decided would be determinative for voters. Scher disagreed. Given that the Democrats had failed to develop a coherent economic message, Scher argued that highlighting how election-denying Republicans were destabilizing American democracy was not a bad closing argument. It just might help the party win—which, evidently, it did.

Oh, and Scher’s final predictions for the election: a 50-50 Senate, a 19-seat GOP pickup in the House, and a Katie Hobbs victory over Kari Lake in the Arizona governor’s race. It wasn’t perfect, but it’s likely to end up closer to the final outcome than any political writer I know.If you think the kind of penetrating, against-the-grain political journalism that Bill Scher provides is valuable, there’s something you can do: Make a donation to the Washington Monthly right now. As a token of our gratitude, if you give $50 or more, we’ll send you a one-year subscription to the print edition of the Monthly.

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