The American mid-term election results have been trickling in since last Thursday and, surprisingly, the US appears to have rejected its out-and-out slide into authoritarian dystopia. Or at least, the handbrake appears to have been just slightly pulled.
The Republicans have officially gained a narrow majority in the House of Representatives while the Democrats are likely to retain control of the Senate.
Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, announced that she would not seek re-election as Democrat leader following the news.
“There is no greater official honor for me than to stand on this floor and to speak for the people of San Francisco. This I will continue to do as a member of the House – speaking for the people of San Francisco, serving the great state of California and defending our constitution,” Pelosi said.
“For me, the hour’s come for a new generation to lead the Democratic caucus that I so deeply respect.”
Pelosi has long been a key ally of President Joe Biden and the second-most powerful woman in America after Vice President Kamala Harris.
Despite this, the news is still not great for Republicans, with Pelosi characterising the Mid-Term results as a win for the Democrats. Commentators and politicians from both parties alike were fully expecting the Republicans to sweep both the House and the Senate from the Democrats on a mighty ‘red wave’. That wave appears to have been little more than a tremor.
The US Mid-Terms are the halfway point between Presidential elections that historically see a swing against the current leader. Two years into their term, voters select Senate and House members to represent them, often at odds with the sitting President.
In 2014, Obama lost nine Senate seats and 13 House seats to the Republicans while in 2018 Trump gained two seats in the Senate and lost 41 in the house.
That typical ‘pendulum swing’ hasn’t been seen this time around. At least, not on the scale normally seen in Mid-Terms. The Democrats have so far gained one seat in the Senate and eight in the House as the Republicans lost one and gained eight. There are still a few seats left to be called but two new Democrat governors have been elected.
Although the results are mixed, Donald Trump has been declared the unofficial loser of the night. Many of his personal picks failed to perform while others who stood against his policies and philosophy did well, in swing states at least. Even the Murdoch press turned on him in an “unusually coordinated attack.”
So, what does all this mean and how does it lay the foundations for the upcoming 2024 election? Will Donald Trump return? How will Biden seek to govern over the next two years? We spoke with Associate Professor William Clapton, Senior Lecturer in International Relations at UNSW to find out.
Talk Us Through the Results — What Was the Expected Outcome?
“Largely a Republican whitewash — they would come in, sweep the House and the Senate and really put the Biden administration on the back foot,” Clapton told The Latch.
In fact, Democrats were so panicked that Party big-hitters like Harris and Hillary Clinton were flown into New York to defend Governor Kathy Hochul, who was feared to lose her traditionally very safe seat. Instead, she won the vote easily.
“What we’ve seen instead is a bit of a red splash, rather than a red wave. It’s been a much more divided result,” Clapton said.
Is This Normal for the Mid-Terms?
“It’s not entirely unprecedented for the party of the incumbent President to do better than expected in a midterm election but, generally, the trend is that whoever is the incumbent party is going to get hammered and going to get hurt in the midterm elections,” Clapton explained.
What’s even more surprising here is that Biden is performing badly. With approval ratings sitting at around -10 and inflation running rampant, it should have been a slam dunk for the Republicans.
However, analysts are suggesting that the legacy of Trump and the Party’s lean into his election denialism have rubbed voters the wrong way. Although they might not like Biden, they appear to really dislike Trump.
How Will This Affect Biden’s Presidency?
Losing the House “will have a fairly significant impact on his ability to pass legislation through Congress,” Clapton said.
“It will stymie his legislative agenda and will effectively make him what they call a lame-duck President that has a hostile Congress and is unable to progress their legislative agenda.”
However, losing the House may not be the disaster that it could have been. Republicans will likely only have a slim majority, meaning that they’re left vulnerable to Representatives changing sides and voting against the party line.
“Party discipline in the United States isn’t quite as rigid and strict as it is in Australia,” Clapton explained.
“If they’ve only got a small majority, that means there’s not that many that have to be flipped for them to potentially lose a vote. It could have a significant impact on Biden, but it might not be as terrible an impact and as terrible as a result as he would have feared a few days ago”.
What Are the Major Issues that Decided These Elections?
Clapton notes that COVID and the legacy of the health policies implemented to stop it are also key voter issues, as is abortion and the decision by the Supreme Court to repeal Roe v Wade.
However, it seems as though voters did not back Republican solutions to many of these issues.
“A lot of the time these races are affected by local politics and local contexts and that will differ from one district in one state to the next,” Clapton said.
“But certainly the economy and inflation have been big issues for a lot of people. Cost of living pressures and increasing fuel prices are particularly hard for everyday people in the United States.”
So, What Does This All Say About America?
“Probably just that America remains as intensely divided and polarised as ever,” Clapton said.
“These results speak to the difficulty of both parties to really gain firm traction and build momentum to deliver comfortable victories in elections, be it for Congress, or the Presidency. It shows just how divided the country is that you’re getting really slim majorities for the House and likely the Senate, which is exactly where we were two years ago”.
Clearly, there is a long way to go for both parties in the run-up to the next Presidential election if they want to secure a strong position in power.
Do We Know Who is Going to Run for President in 2024?
We could very well be looking at the end of Donald Trump as a political force in the United States. Or, at least, a serious diminishing of his influence.
Since his electoral defeat in 2020, the Republican Party has been split between those who want to move on from his policies and politics and those who want to double down on them in the hopes of winning votes.
Trump announced his bid for Presidential candidate last night however more Republican candidates may now feel emboldened to attack him. As one top Republican in Virginia has recently come out and said, Trump has, for many, become a “liability”.
However, that may not mean that his acolytes and supporters will go quietly. Far from it. In Florida, Trump devotee Ron DeSantis won a decisive victory for Governor in a state increasingly being seen as no longer a swing.
“DeSantis has been empowered because he’s now got a head of steam after winning Florida by nearly 20 points,” Clapton said.
“He’s someone who a lot of people have identified as the next in line after Trump. The fact that DeSantis has all this momentum and is riding high after his victory, and Trump is now sort of sitting here wondering where it all went wrong and how he didn’t win as heavily as he thought he might, kind of sets up a potentially more interesting contest for the Republican nomination for the 2024 presidential election.”
That being said, Clapton argues DeSantis would still have to “pull off the world’s greatest magic trick” in order to be selected over Trump for the Republican candidacy.
“I think Trump still has an incredible amount of power and capital, if you will, in the Republican Party,” Clapton said.
As for the Democrats, Biden, who originally said he would only seek to be a one-term President, appears to have changed his mind.
“Right now it’s looking like he might actually have another crack at it,” Clapton explained.
That would make it a fairly straightforward selection process for the Democrats and mean that voters in the US will get a re-match of the 2020 Presidential race. Whether the result will be the same or not is yet to be seen, but if these Mid-Term elections are anything to go by, it very well could be.