A Message In A Mess

An American Bald Eagle looks fierce in front of the Stars & Stripes flag

17 November 2022

A Message In A Mess 

by J.R. Thomas

The Midterms have arrived and departed and all the pundits were wrong. Including yours truly. 

The predictions were that the Republicans would win a few seats in the Senate (it was never going to be easy; these were seats last contested in 2016 when Mr Trump pulled many a vote to the Republicans; some of those were expected to fall away; they did).  At the time of writing the only seat to have actually changed parties is Pennsylvania, an unexpected win by John Fetterman, formerly lieutenant governor, avenged victim of a nasty campaign; Fetterman suffered a severe stroke in the summer and is still far from recovered. Suffice it to say that he behaved with dignity and his Trump backed GOP opponent Mehmet Oz did not. 

Two senate states are yet to declare – Alaska which is safe Republican, and Georgia where nobody scored a clear majority and there is a run-off on 6th December.  Last week the Democrat beat the Republican by 35,000 votes; the third candidate, a Libertarian, scored 81,000 votes.  On the face of it that might suggest a Republican win on the 6th, but with almost 4 million voters last Tuesday it is too tight to call.  The Republican was Trump backed, and trying to discern strands of voter behaviour – we’ll come to this factor – might suggest he will loose.  But then, Mitch McConnell, Republican Senate leader, backed him too.  Assuming the state stays Democrat, that will give the Democrats 49 Senate seats, plus two independents who usually back them (hello, Bernie Sanders!); and the Republicans 49.  So an effective majority of one and the casting vote of Vice President Kamala Harris will not be needed.  But…  Those who follow this column, or Senate politics, will recall that there were two senators who although Democrats could not be relied on in various contentious matters.  They are still there. And if the Republicans win Georgia it will be the game as before: deadlock. 

This is not what Mr Trump forecast or was hoping for, but for moderate Republicans, a deadlocked Senate would be a great result.  It might also be for many Democrats; a matter which we will also come to.

Next door, in the House of Representatives, not much cheer for Mr Trump either.  The House was controlled by a narrow Democrat majority prior to the election and all 435 seats were up for election.  To control the House a party needs 218 seats.  At the time of writing the Republicans have won 217 and the Democrats 204, so 14 seats yet to declare. Unless there are some astonishing results that should give the GOP at least 219 seats, the Democrats 206, but 10 are too close to guess.  If you really want a guess, maybe 3 more will be Republican victories giving a narrow victory and Republican leader Kevin McCarthy, a clever operator and no friend of Mr Trump, Speakership of the House.  And out, presumably, will go Nancy Pelosi, after 19 rather undistinguished years as Democrat leader and time to time Speaker. What this will signify perhaps is, at last, generational change; McCarthy is 57 compared with Pelosi at 82, the President about to be 80, The Donald 76, Mitch McConnell 80, Chuck Schumer, Democrat leader in the Senate, 72, Dick Durbin, the majority whip, 78, and Bernie Sanders may be perennially youthful, but he is 83.  Incidentally the other Senator for California alongside Ms Pelosi is Dianne Feinstein, aged 89 and not in the best health.  Ten members of the House are over 80; oddly enough, the oldest member of the Supreme Court is 74; the justices are youthful compared with both Senate and House.  None of which is to say that there is anything wrong with being old, but maybe there is when most of the country’s senior elected leadership is ageing, not energetic, and perhaps getting a little cranky.  These are troubled times and some innovation and energy, allied of course with experience, could be an essential thing in shepherding the Republic through its current trials and making it once again a respected world leader.

So what does the results of this half-way test (or quarter-way as President Biden would no doubt insist) suggest for the 2024 elections?  It undoubtedly strengthens Mr Biden; heavy losses in both houses would have not only snookered the rest of his presidency, but greatly strengthened the hands of those who do not want him to run again in 2024, when he will be 82.  He wants to run; it is difficult to block an incumbent president from that.  It does seem a bit unlikely though; Joe’s memory failures are getting worse and whilst the editor likes to keep a high tone in these august pages and avoid vulgar gossip, we must mention the latest Bidenism; referring to his host at the ASEAN meeting as the President of Columbia, to the surprise of the Prime Minister of Cambodia, whose hand he had just shaken.  We’ve all done it.  But that was twice in three days.  Dr Jill Biden, the First Lady, may well become influential on her husband’s thinking in the next few months.  Which will not solve the Democrats problem in trying to find an electorally appealing candidate.

The elections have weakened Mr Trump in his mission to serve his second term.  That is also a problem for the Democrats, by whom Mr Trump is seen as a vote winner.  It is true some Trump backed candidates did well. In Ohio and North Carolina Trump officially endorsed candidates outperformed; but those were strong candidates running in fairly safe Republican country who would have won anyway.  What is very noticeable is that in marginal seats Trump endorsed candidates did worse than the general trend across the country.  In Arizona and Pennsylvania, predicted wins for the GOP turned out to be losses; and in Georgia what should have been an easy win has gone to the run-off.  There are three reasons, in these and other contests:  the candidates were poor quality; the Trump endorsement seems to turn off some moderate Republicans; and a Trump endorsement tends to get Democrats out to vote.

The Trump era is not over yet and strong supporters control the party apparatus in many states.  But the magic is fading away; The Donald is no Longer A WINNER, as he has claimed so often.  In fact he may well be A LOSER.  Another contest between Joe and Donald?  That may send shivers down the spines of liberal thinkers everywhere; and indeed of many voters.  Who would win that?  Maybe Donald, simply on the grounds he is not so old as the incumbent.

But if the Republicans really want to win, the curtains are drawing back; the wizard is revealed as an angry orange haired man on a golf course; and the Democrats are in a bind that will be difficult to escape with honour and elegance.  Best of all, there is an opportunity to pass the GOP leadership to a new generation.  The one spectacular result of these elections?  Ron DeSantis in Florida, re-elected Governor with 60% of the votes – in what used to be a marginal state.  Ex naval commander, great speaker, Hispanic, intelligent, energetic, aged 44. The answer to the Republican dream seems clear; how to get there may yet be the issue.

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