The biggest takeaway from the American midterm Congressional elections? Don’t bet against Joe Biden.
The US president has reason to celebrate – he defied the expectations and disproved conventional wisdom that the party in the White House gets a drubbing in the midterms. The better-than-expected performance by the Democrats was especially remarkable because Biden’s approval ratings were low and inflation at a 40-year high.
But instead of a drubbing, Democrats not only managed to hold on to the Senate (50-50) but also have amassed a respectable number of seats in the House of Representatives forcing the Republicans to live with a slim majority. It was an election of small shifts that ultimately produced big shocks.
Republican Pushback: Code Red for Biden?
The Republican bravado about a “red wave” and other happy variations on the theme vanished as results started coming in. Full results are still awaited for the House with Republicans one seat short (217) of a majority and Democrats with 206 seats in the 435-seat chamber.
A thin majority means the Republicans will fight a lot more among themselves with radical elements possibly punching above their weight. It remains to be seen whether they drown Biden in subpoenas and investigations, especially of his son Hunter. But they are sure to hold uncomfortable hearings on US withdrawal from Afghanistan, which Biden ordered soon after taking office last year.
Despite incessant Republican talk that voters were deeply worried about high inflation, rising gas and grocery bills and a looming recession due to which they were ready to vote against Democrats in huge numbers, it turned out that they were also worried about abortion rights and saving democracy from extremist Republican candidates.
Trump’s Worst Nightmare
Proof came from many contests, including Pennsylvania where Democrats gained a Senate seat in a closely-watched election between John Fetterman—a Democrat who suffered a stroke during the campaign, and Mehmet Oz, a celebrity doctor. Fetterman won despite the obvious after-effects of the stroke.
Several key candidates endorsed by former President Donald Trump lost, including a couple of high-profile contenders who fashioned their campaigns along Trumpian lines. One of the few major Trump-endorsed candidates to win was JD Vance, who won a Senate seat from Ohio but only after he had distanced himself from the former president’s more extreme positions.
And to Trump’s chagrin, the main Republican star was a man who is a rival for the 2024 presidential nomination. Governor Ron DeSantis won his re-election in Florida handily, solidifying his position and weakening Trump’s. DeSantis could be the heir to the MAGA or Make America Great Again movement of die-hard Trump supporters.
Will the Results Impact Trump’s Candidature?
Biden and other Democrats had highlighted that many Republican candidates represented a danger to democracy because they repeated Trump’s main pitch that the 2020 election was ‘stolen’ from him. Trump persists with his false claim minus any proof and despite the fact that courts have thrown out all his cases across the country.
If midterm elections are seen as a referendum on the president in power, this time they were as much an accounting of Trump. Will it prevent him from announcing his candidacy in 2024? Of course not. He did exactly that on 15 Nov from his estate in Mar-a-Lago.
Pro-Abortion Rights Voters Sweeped Polls
Apart from rejecting questionable Republican candidates, voters across the country delivered a series of decisive victories for abortion rights, including in Republican-dominated states such as Kentucky. In Michigan, voters approved a ballot initiative to enshrine the right to abortion in the state constitution.
A similar trend was noted in North Carolina where Republicans thought they were headed for a super majority in the state legislature to put more restrictions on access to abortion and tie the hands of the Democratic governor. But voters disagreed.
Abortion was clearly a “sleeper” issue in the din about inflation and gas prices. This was the first nationwide election since the US Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June, taking away the federal right of a woman to choose abortion.
Young voters were especially stirred by the decision and lined up in large numbers to vote and send a clear message. Biden thanked “young adults” repeatedly as results began coming in last week.
As the dust settles on this historic midterm election, the Republican Party faces a major question. Will it come out of Trump’s shadow and return to being a normal conservative party or will it continue to wallow in crackpot-ism, election-denying behaviour and other newly-minted forms of abnormal behaviour? By rejecting most of Trump’s candidates, voters have sent a clear message but whether it gets through is another matter.
Trump’s shadow hangs over who will be elected the leader of the party in both the House and the Senate. A tussle is already underway for both positions with contenders trying to stand in opposition to Congressman Kevin McCarthy and Senator Mitch McConnell, both of whom are being blamed for the underperformance of Republicans in the midterms.
(Seema Sirohi is a senior Washington-based journalist. She can be reached at @seemasirohi. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)
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