The first polls of the 2022 midterms hadn’t yet closed when The Daily Wire’s Matt Walsh took his shot at defining the narrative.
“There’s no doubt that the Democrat Party was partly doomed by its decision to go all in on gender ideology,” he tweeted. “We successfully made this a losing political issue for them.”
Chris Rufo, the Manhattan Institute muffing researcher who helped fuel a panic about drag queen story hour on Fox News programs such as Tucker Carlson Tonight and Jesse Waters Primetime, sounded a similar note: “The Left has spent the past two years pushing chaos in our economy, critical race theory in our schools, and radical gender surgeries onto our children. Tonight, they pay the price.”
Terry Schilling of the American Principles Project gleefully spiked the football, writing: “Now we are winning and winning BIGLY.”
But the “red tsunami” failed to materialize, as did any meaningful backlash against LGBTQ candidates and allies. Voters listed access to abortion and preserving democracy among their top issues, along with inflation. The lack of national Republican inroads marked a historic defeat in relative terms — not since the 2002 midterms, in the wake of the 9/11 terror attacks, has an opposition party fared this poorly. The Daily Wire’s own Ben Shapiro called it “a garbage evening for Republicans.”
For LGBTQ political candidates, it was an evening of firsts. Massachusetts and Oregon simultaneously elected the first openly lesbian governors in the U.S. in Maura Healey and Tina Kotek, respectively. In New Hampshire, where the legislature considered bills to repeal a ban on conversion therapy and enact a ban on trans participation in sports earlier this year, James Roesener became the first out trans man to win an election to a state legislature in U.S. history. In Montana, the state that for months this year defied a court order to allow trans people to change the gender listed on their birth certificate, Zooey Zephyr became the first out trans woman elected to the legislature in state history. In Oklahoma, where just one month ago the governor signed a bill holding hospital funding hostage in order to halt lifesaving gender-affirming care, Mauree Turner won reelection to the state legislature as the first nonbinary lawmaker in the country. Leigh Finke became the first openly trans person elected to the Minnesota state legislature, pledging to protect reproductive freedom, push for climate action, and address Minnesota's housing shortage.
Nor was it a garbage evening for LGBTQ allies. Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D-VA), who’d been attacked in the right-wing media for speaking out against anti-trans conspiracy theories spread by her Republican colleague Rep. Bob Good, cruised to reelection in Virginia despite the Cook Political Report rating the race a “toss-up” earlier this year. So did Michigan state Sen. Mallory McMorrow, known for a viral speech earlier this year in which she defended herself from the vile “groomer” smear for supporting LGBTQ equality, and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, falsely attacked by right-wing media on the eve of the election for an old video in which she used gender-inclusive language to describe people with periods. Voters in Nevada added an equal rights amendment to their state constitution that prohibits discrimination for traits including sexual orientation, gender, and gender expression.
Responding to the election results for the American Principles Project, Schilling urged the GOP to double down and refocus on anti-trans campaigning despite their midterm losses, claiming: “When Republicans juked that message and, for a large part, gave up on it ... that’s when they began to lose.” But the actual election results tell a different story.
With votes still being counted, Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly is favored to prevail in Arizona despite attacks from Schilling and the APP that he had allegedly supported “sex changes for minors.” In Nevada, too, election experts predict that, based on the outstanding vote, Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto will hold her seat despite the same attacks, which featured graphic topless photos of transgender minors. APP similarly went after Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers for supposedly supporting legislation “that would destroy girls’ sports.” He won.
All-in-all, APP bragged about spending $15 million of their donors’ money in 13 states to make “the transgender issue” a “litmus test issue” — with little to show for it. This should be a familiar feeling for donors to the American Principles Project considering that the group bragged about making trans issues central to the 2019 Kentucky gubernatorial race and the 2020 presidential race, failing both times.
While all of this might suggest that the promised national backlash against trans equality is unlikely to materialize in time for the 2024 elections, anti-trans media figures responded to the red wave that wasn’t by clinging to a thread of hope in Florida, which demographic changes during the pandemic appear to have put into the column of deep red states. Walsh protested that “there were only a few races where the Republican made the trans agenda into a campaign issue and those were all wins for the GOP” before citing Gov. Ron DeSantis, who was reelected by double digits. “Substance is ultimately more important than style,” echoed Rufo.
With a radicalized segment of the right-wing media continuing to push anti-LGBTQ hysteria, the danger has not passed. The votes had not all been counted yet when Tennessee legislators prefiled a bill to ban “male or female impersonators” in public. And with the homicide rate against trans people doubling over the last four years, the danger of stochastic terror fueled by hate is growing. In Florida, discriminatory rule changes by DeSantis’ administration have cut off an estimated 9,000 trans adults from lifesaving medication and the board of medicine just voted to ban treatment for trans youth.
But the 2022 midterms provide one important piece of evidence moving forward: Anti-LGBTQ panic is not a silver bullet for winning much of anything more than additional subscribers to the Daily Wire.