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2022 midterms offer final lesson: Parties that don’t adjust don’t win elections

First Read is your briefing from “Meet the Press” and the NBC Political Unit on the day’s most important political stories and why they matter.
Image: Republican Senatorial candidate for Pennsylvania Mehmet Oz speaks during a "Save America" rally ahead of the midterm elections in Latrobe, Pa., on Nov. 5, 2022.
Republican Senatorial candidate for Pennsylvania Mehmet Oz speaks during a "Save America" rally ahead of the midterm elections in Latrobe, Pa., on Nov. 5, 2022.Angela Weiss / AFP - Getty Images

WASHINGTON — If it’s Friday ... The Senate passes a one-week stopgap to keep government open. ... That bill heads to President Biden’s desk for his signature. ... The Senate also approves massive military bill that lifts Covid vaccine requirement for U.S. troops. ... Donald Trump lashes out at polls showing him trailing Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. ... Sen. Kyrsten Sinema files paperwork to run as an independent in 2024. ... Virginia Democrats coalesce around Jennifer McClellan in open 4th District race. ... And Elon Musk’s Twitter suspends the accounts of journalists who cover the social-media platform.

But first: The 2022 midterms taught us an important lesson that carries over to the next election cycle. 

A defeated party that doesn’t reinvent itself — or at least try to — will have a hard time succeeding, even in our closely divided and highly polarized politics. 

That’s what happened in November (as well as in the Georgia runoff in December), when the Republican Party that mostly stood by Donald Trump — after he lost re-election in 2020 — and whose candidates were largely remade in his image failed to win the Senate and barely won the House. 

Despite sky-high inflation, an unpopular incumbent president and 70% of Americans thinking the country is headed in the wrong direction. 

Think about it: After their defeats in 2008, Republicans dumped George W. Bush and John McCain for the Tea Party (and found success in the 2010 midterms). 

After losing to Barack Obama in 2012, the GOP turned away from Mitt Romney and eventually toward Donald Trump (and won in 2014 and 2016). 

And after Hillary Clinton lost in 2016, Democrats turned to the anti-Trump Resistance and then to Joe Biden (and won in 2018 and 2020). 

That’s what makes the 2022 midterms so different. Despite some notable exceptions (Brian Kemp in Georgia, Ron DeSantis in Florida), the GOP stood by a defeated former president who had never won more than 47% of the popular vote — and paid the price at the ballot box. 

We pretty much got the same results we saw in 2020, including in the same battleground states. 

It’s also arguably the most important political story to watch over the next year. Does the GOP continue standing behind Trump? Or does it finally turn the page? 

And if it does turn the page, what happens to a Democratic Party and an emerging Biden re-election campaign whose playbook is built around Trump and MAGA? 

Quote of the day

“You know your campaign isn’t going well when your re-election strategy is, ‘Maybe people will like me as a Pokemon.’”

Comedian Jimmy Fallon on Donald Trump’s new trading cards.

Data Download: The number of the day is … 25

That’s how many candidates out of the 59 who received individual contributions from disgraced cryptocurrency CEO Sam Bankman-Fried told NBC News and CNBC that they plan to donate the money to charity. Three said they would return the donation or wait for federal investigators to advise them on next steps. Three campaigns could not be reached, while the rest did not respond to requests for comment.

Most of Bankman-Fried’s contributions were to Democrats, but GOP Sens. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana and John Boozman of Arkansas also received contributions, and both plan to donate them. 

But individual contributions — limited to $5,800 per campaign finance rules — are just a drop in the bucket of Bankman-Fried’s political spending. He also donated millions to party committees and super PACs.

Other numbers to know:

7: That’s how many days the deadline to fund the government was extended, with the Senate voting, 71-19, to pass a stopgap funding bill, sending the measure to President Joe Biden’s desk.

81: The number of senators who voted for the National Defense Authorization Act, which heads to President Joe Biden for his signature. The measure includes funding for Taiwan and Ukraine, but also gets rid of the military vaccine mandate. 

3%: The share of government documents related to President John F. Kennedy’s assassination that are still redacted in part or in whole, now that President Joe Biden released another tranche of more than 13,000 documents

More than 400: How many voicemails a Washington state man allegedly sent threatening members of Congress over two years

3: The number of men sentenced Thursday in the plot to kill Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. 

40%: How many of Pennsylvania’s counties have precincts where recounts were requested after the November election. 

Eyes on 2024: News From Trump

Thursday brought some NFTs (News From Trump) — a policy announcement, a polling announcement and a product announcement. 

After teasing a “major announcement” on Wednesday to come the following day, Trump posted on his Truth Social platform a “major announcement” hawking NFT trading cards of him in various poses (think: superhero, sheriff and in front of a stock chart donning a hat that says “Dow”). 

But all the discussion about Trump’s digital trading cards overshadowed the other news that came out Thursday that had more to do with his campaign. 

First, Trump lashed out at the bevy of polls showing him with low favorability marks or trailing Republicans like Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, declaring on social media that “Great polling has just come out on me versus various others, including Biden,” and criticizing polling from “most others in the LameStream Media”

Then, Trump released a six-minute video outlining what he’s calling his “free speech platform” — which includes making changes to Section 230, limiting federal funding going toward attempts to label speech “disinformation” and calling for a new DOJ “investigation of all parties involved in the new online censorship regime.”

And according to NBC’s Vaughn Hillyard, Trump also is planning small “policy events” early next year before holding more traditional rallies.

In other 2024 news:

Lunch talk: House Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Speaker Nancy Pelosi both believe Biden should run for re-election, they told CNN in a joint interview over lunch at a Chinese restaurant on Capitol Hill. 

Live first or die: New Hampshire’s congressional delegation wrote an op-ed in the Boston Globe calling for Democrats to keep the state’s spot as the first-in-the-nation presidential primary.

Sinema’s step: Arizona Sen. Kysrten Sinema filed a new statement of candidacy with the Federal Election Commission as an independent. In other Sinema news, Slate appears to have found her Facebook Marketplace and purchased a pair of shoes from her.

Richmond rally-around: Democrats in Virginia are coalescing behind state Sen. Jennifer McClellan ahead of Tuesday’s firehouse primary. 

Nebraska Senate: The Associated Press reports that some Nebraska Republicans don’t think it’s a good idea for incoming Gov. Jim Pillen to appoint outgoing Gov. Pete Ricketts to GOP Sen. Ben Sasse’s Senate seat. 

ICYMI: What else is happening in the world

A Biden administration official recently told some members of Congress that Ukraine has the military capability to take back Crimea, NBC News’ Carol E. Lee, Courtney Kube and Dan De Luce report.

A new report declassified by the House Intelligence Committee found that U.S. intelligence agencies missed opportunities to spy on Chinese health officials as Covid began to spread, a move that would have helped the U.S. better understand how the virus spreads, NBC News’ Ken Dilanian reports. 

The Senate passed legislation that would ban federal employees from using TikTok on government devices out of national security concerns