America conducted its Midterm elections on Tuesday, which traditionally takes place two years after a Presidential election. In effect, midterm elections are America’s referendum on their sitting presidents, halfway through their four- year terms. Joe Biden was slated as the least popular American President in a midterm election in recent times. Despite the gains Biden had made in areas like employment, Medicare, social security and the anti-inflation bill among others, like fate would have it, other factors had conspired to diminish those gains to relative insignificance. Thanks to OPEC’s “timely” attempt to gate-crash America’s political jamboree with reduced oil production, the financial and logistical pulleys from the ongoing Ukraine war, the midterm elections coincided with the highest inflation rate in 40 years. You don’t need to live in America to see how badly the odds were stacked against Biden and his administration, when the price of gas(fuel) was threatening the stratosphere.
With such a backdrop, it was not surprising that the political mood in America was one of hysteria for the Republicans and doom for the Democrats. Every pollster, media house, pundit etc predicted a red wave (Republican). The anticipated Republican victory in the midterm elections was described along the lines of a “wipe-out”, hurricane, tsunami, etc by the American right wing press. Even die hard Democrats were so despondent that some had started making plans about who should replace Joe Biden in the next Presidential elections in 2024. In simple terms, most had already started writing Joe Biden’s political epitaph
In the face of ongoing economic squeeze on the people, Joe Biden and the democrats were left with nothing to shout about, as the reality of the economy became evident in every household. Faced with such apparently insurmountable task, the Democrats turned to the only political cards left in the pack, Democracy and Abortion rights. While the Republicans sold the election as judgment on the economy, the Democrats described it as the trial of “democracy and abortion rights” on the cards. Both issues are emotive, and there can be no bigger rallying call for voters than issues with emotive implications and attachments. Notwithstanding the historical nature of midterms for sitting administrations, it was obvious that the odds were against Biden and the Democrats. The democrats may not have won conclusively, but the Republican red wave failed to materialise spectacularly. The mood song is one of white noise. Like George Romney once said, “you can’t be too right too soon and win elections”.
So, how did the Republicans snap defeat out of the jaws of victory?
In the run up to the elections, Trump personally handpicked, promoted, and raised funds for relatively unknown lightweight candidates. Their only person specification for Trump’s selection was that they were ardent disciples of Trump’s “election deniers”. That seemed to be the only thing going for them. With every pollster and right wing media predicting a Republican “tsunami”, did these predictors inadvertently galvanise the democrats? With the democrats preaching that democracy and abortion rights were at risk, was it not inevitable that pollsters had inadvertently motivated the democracy and abortion rights activists to mobilise to the polls? By predicting that the Republicans will win both houses in a landslide, did these pollsters unconsciously become the driving force and campaign agents for the democrats to “get out and vote” in unprecedent numbers?
Where did the Republicans go wrong?
The midterm elections were supposed to be a national referendum on Biden’s two years in office. Donald Trump was warned against announcing his intention to run for the 2024 presidential election during this time. Republicans knew that such an announcement will switch the focus from the matters at hand. But true to form, Trump could not resist the urge to make himself central to everything and anything he touches. Trump made sure that he teased his MAGA followers about his 2024 candidacy during every rally and fundraising event he attended. It was therefore inevitable that Trump would hijack the referendum on Biden and make it all about himself and 2024. The traditional message to give sitting administrations a bloody nose in midterm elections got lost in translation. Every conversation about the midterm election came with the hazard of Tump’s 2024 candidacy attached.
Is it any surprise that Republicans are now feeling emboldened enough to publicly lay the blame for their spectacular failure, squarely on Donald Trump’s shoulders? Ironically, Trump does not have shoulders big enough to carry the blame. As usual, Trump is now blaming everybody and anybody but himself. He is reportedly blaming even his wife Melania, for advising him to back Dr. Oz, the surprising loser in the crucial state of Pennsylvania.
The results of the midterm elections might have conjured up many unseeming reflections of the current political psyche of the American voters. Trump could still have a sizeable clout among his MAGA followers, but the results show shifting sands of the time nationally. It is no wonder that a sizeable number of Republicans now feel emboldened to criticise Trump publicly for their demise. To criticise Trump was not only a taboo but was considered a politically treasonable offence that resulted in ostracization a few years ago. The fact that most of Trump’s handpicked 2020 “election denying “candidates lost does not make for a good reading. First, it shows that most Americans have gone past 2020 and that the conspiracy has run its course.
So, what next for the Republicans?
Interestingly, it is not like the democrats won the midterms. Without winning the elections outright, it is ironical that failure to win an election is nationally received with some triumphalism by the Democrats. This is not only against the backdrop of the traditional loss that follows sitting governments in the midterms, but largely due to the overhyped and widely expected “Red Wave” that failed to materialise. This turned out to be more of a ripple than a hurricane. With Trump blasted for the Republican failure, where does that leave him and his party? The rumours and murmurings about Ron DeSantis, as a potential challenger to Trump was demonstrated clearly in his victory. It was emphatic.
The shift towards DeSantis could not be clearer, as he emphatically walloped his democratic challenger. With Florida known as a key battle ground with traditional democrat leanings, and with DeSantis showing almost total dominance, will the Republicans go with him or Trump? In case you forget, apart from surprisingly winning the Presidential elections against Hilary Clinton in 2016, Trump has been a serial loser in every contest he has been involved in. Remember that this is the man who said during the 2016 campaign trail, “We’re are going to win so much”, “you’re going to say, please Mr President , I have a headache, please, don’t win so much. This is getting terrible” “And I’m going to say, no, we have to make America great again”. With the countless lawsuits hanging over his head, he would be a guest of honour in several US court houses. How would he navigate his way between campaign events and court appearances if he becomes the Republican presidential candidate?
Trump has just found out that “you can fool some people some time, but you can’t fool all the people all of the time” This is because some Republicans might have seen the light and may want to get up, stand up for their rights. With his “election denying” candidates losing, does that mark the death knell for the “stop the steal” conspiracy?
Republicans are now going to be locked in a full blown internal war between those who see Ron DeSantis as the new kid on the block and the MAGA right. Will Trump go with DeSantis if the latter is selected? That is the dilemma, because Trump even celebrated the loss of a Republican candidate because he called out his election denying. If Trump loses the nomination, there will be no surprises if he decides to run as an independent, purely to spite the party. Don’t put that past him. Will Republicans risk backing DeSantis and get the wrath of the MAGA base? Or will they risk backing Trump who could potentially take the party down with him? This is the dilemma facing Republicans now. Get your popcorn, cool aid and a front row seat to watch the Republicans tear down the house.
Did “Save our Democracy” and Abortion rights play a role in this elections?
There is no doubt that with the economy stacked against Biden, the sermon about the fight to keep democracy and abortion rights intact definitely played a role here. Does this mean that Americans have chosen to be on the side of history? Is American democracy still at risk, especially when some see Ron DeSantis as an upgraded version of Trump? Did Americans just realise that inflation is transitory, but democracy and abortion could be permanent? Is this the beginning of the end of Trump’s chokehold on the Republican party, or is it the beginning of the implosion of the Republicans? Will Trump declare a “me or no one else” scorched earth policy if he does not get nominated?
In the meantime, there is the small issue of Biden’s fitness to contest the 2024 election, thanks to his age. He did not waste any time to quash any doubts in his apparent “victory speech” to plug his intention to carry on. However, there is every chance that the decision to run will depend on the Republican candidate. Biden would fancy his chances against Trump. Would the democrats fancy his chances against DeSantis? Is Trump a liability to the Republicans? As Republicans and Democrats continue to grapple with these political conundrum, it’s time to remind the former again: There was USA before Trump. There will be a USA after Trump. Americans have it in their hands to determine which USA they want for themselves. Winning or losing of an election is less important than strengthening the country (Indira Ghandi).