On Monday, U.S. President Joe Biden warned that in the midterm elections, his Democrats were “up against some of the darkest forces we’ve ever seen in our history.”
On Tuesday his Democrats, defying expectations, held back those dark forces, turning what was supposed to be a Republican ruby red wave into a pale trickle.
But while the Democrats fared leagues better than incumbent parties normally do in midterm tests, any celebration need be put on hold. The Republicans are slight favourites when all the vote counting is done to come out on top in the House of Representatives. They could still win the Senate as well, thus turning the political landscape into a playpen for their authoritarian populist proclivities.
Republican midterm victories more of a ripple than a wave
The upshot of these elections shows the United States still evenly and brutally divided. Party allegiances are becoming more and more calcified. With the outcomes so incredibly close, neither side will have a clear mandate, setting the stage for more instability and convulsions.
But if we don’t know the big winner from these elections, it’s clear who the big loser is. That would be Donald Trump, who saw many of his heartily endorsed but badly flawed candidates defeated, a prime example being Mehmet Oz in the crucial Pennsylvania Senate race.
Another candidate the former president pushed for was ex-football star Herschel Walker for the Senate seat in Georgia. His campaign was beset by sordid controversy and the outcome will depend on a runoff election set for Dec. 6. The fight for the Senate is so close that the runoff could well determine which party has the majority. That was the case in 2020, when both Georgia Senate seats had to be decided in runoffs and the Democrats triumphed. They won largely because Mr. Trump had wrongly impugned the integrity of Georgia vote counters, depressing the GOP turnout in those elections as supporters lost faith in voting.
More bad news for kingmaker-turned-dudmaker Trump was one of the biggest stories of the day, the re-election victory of hard-right Florida governor Ron DeSantis. He won resoundingly all across the state, elevating his status as the party’s rising star and stoking his chances for the presidential nomination.
Mr. Trump led the party to losses in 2018, in 2020 and this, the 2022 disappointment, is a third strike. Many Republicans will be looking for a new face to lead them and in Mr. DeSantis they have a compelling candidate of the hard right who does not have Mr. Trump’s baggage. Mr. Trump was reportedly steaming mad while watching the results come in. He had reason to be. They may have sounded this death knell.
With these elections, Mr. Biden, whose approval rating is only at 43 per cent, was expected to face more pressure to announce that he would not be seeking a second term. There will be little such pressure now, given how his party’s showing compares to that of other administrations in midterm tests. In the 1994 midterms, Bill Clinton lost 54 seats. In a shellacking in 2010, Barack Obama lost 63 and in 2018, Mr. Trump dropped 40.
But having done well, Mr. Biden is now in a position to leave in peace as a one-term president.
If the Republicans do take control of the House, he is going to face, whatever his decision, a hellish opposition over the next two years. His legislative agenda will be moribund. Though not as many as feared, more radicals, extremists, bigots and election deniers will populate Congress. Marjorie Taylor Greene, she of the racist and anti-Jewish diatribes and wild conspiracy theories, was re-elected in Georgia, crushing her Democrat opponent.
The elections constituted another bad day for pollsters, most of whom had Republicans winning the House handily and slight favourites to take the Senate. It appears they underestimated motivation among Democrats to get to the polls, the spark provided by the bombshell Supreme Court decision in the summer reversing abortion rights. That despised decision could come to be seen as their saving grace. It turned what looked like a midterms rout into a competitive race. The irony is that the conservative-dominated Supreme Court gave the Democrats a political lifeline.
The voting outcomes saw many Republican election deniers winning, though many relegated to the loss column as well. CNN exit polls showed one-third of Americans – that would translate to tens of millions – still don’t believe Joe Biden’s victory in 2020 was legitimate. Not even after all the recounts and audits proved it was perfectly above board.
The number is ample evidence of the alternative universe these Republicans live in. Given the distressing midterm results, the numbers in the denier camp are likely to swell. They’ll likely want to contest Tuesday’s results. As will Donald Trump.