US President Joe Biden and his Democratic Party were doomed to lose the 2022 midterm elections. The question was: how badly? and the question for the Republicans was: How big will they win?
Biden’s party has historically lost congressional elections in the first midterm of their first term, and by big margins.
Former President Barack Obama called his defeat — 63 seats — a “shellacking”. His successor President Donald Trump also got a walloping — 40 seats — but didn’t care to find a word for it.
So how badly would Biden lose? Polls predicted a disaster for him and a “red wave” of support for Republicans.
Biden did quite well instead, defying both polls and headwinds of history: Democrats lost the House of Representatives only narrowly by nine seats, compared to 63 on Obama’s watch and Republicans lost 40 on Trump’s. Democrats held on to the US senate, briefly increasing their tally before one Democratic senator switched party affiliation to Independent.
“Tuesday was a good day for America, a good day for democracy,” Biden said to cheering Democrats at a political event shortly after polls trends clearly demonstrated that he had not only escaped the worst but had done better. “And it was a strong night for Democrats.”
And just so if anyone missed the significance of the verdict, America’s top Democrat said: “For months and months, all of you heard from the press and the pundits was that ‘Democrats are facing a disaster’. Remember that? And all those polls — all those polls, God love them — you know, ‘Historic losses are on the way. A giant red wave. Folks, that didn’t happen.”
The midterm outcome must have been especially sweet for Biden. His personal approval ratings had been bad, compared to many other presidents for this time in their presidency — Obama was at 46 per cent at this point in his presidency, George W. Bush at 63, John F. Kennedy was at 76; Richard Nixon at 52.
Biden is at 40, just one percentage point better than Trump. Though not himself on the ballot, Biden could have had a deleterious effect on other party candidates. That did not happen either.
And whatever happened instead has left the American president feeling stronger than before the polls.
“I feel good, and I’m looking forward to the next couple of years,” he told reporters in Cambodian where he was for the annual summit of ASEAN in November.
Will he run for another term? Biden has said he intends to but will decide after discussions with his family in January.
Many Democrats, especially younger progressives, are reluctant to see him run and want him to make way for someone younger. Even though they acknowledge that “he deserves credit for the midterm miracle”.
At 80, Biden is already the oldest US President while in office. He will be 82 in 2024 and Republicans are likely to use his age against him.
Republicans will have a problem of their own then: former President Trump.
The November 2022 midterms were for Republicans to lose, with history and polls on their side. But, as the cliche goes, they snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.
The expected red wave did not happen.
For one, because of Trump. Smug about his grip on the party and the base, he backed and endorsed flawed candidates. They had only to clear one test to earn his backing: endorse and echo Trump’s false claims about losing the 2020 election to Biden because of fraud.
Most of these Trump-backed candidates lost, and most critically in contests that may have been won by more qualified and better Republican candidates — TV doctor Mehmet Oz in Pennsylvania, American football star Herschel Walker in Georgia, Keri Lake in Arizona and so on and so forth.
Their embrace of Trump served them well in the primaries, which were determined by Trump supporters. But the general election was an entirely different battlefield.
The midterm dealt a massive blow to Trump, in fact; to his brand, politics and his fraudulent election claims.
“If you get endorsed by him in the primary, you’re likely to win. If you get endorsed by him in the general, you’re likely to lose,” Republican Senator Mitt Romney. “So for someone who actually wants to win an election, getting endorsed by him is the kiss of death.”
Trump has become toxic for the Republican party. But he has no intention of moving on and has announced a third run for the White House in 2024.
He may want to win the White House again, but he is likely more in need of political protection the run may provide him against a growing list of legal troubles. He can cite the run to claim the cases are politically motivated to damage him as a candidate.
Republicans had another problem: a wish that came true.
The conservative majority on the Supreme court bench overturned in June the constitutional guarantee of the right to abortion that had been in force for nearly half a century.
Overturning the 1973 Roe v Wade ruling, which gave constitutional protection to abortion for nearly 60 years, had been a top issue for Republicans. And now they had won it.
But these Republicans were out of sync with the rest of the country, including their own ideological cohorts. Polls showed more Americans — 61 per cent, according to Pew — supported abortion rights.
And, unfortunately for the Republican party, the abortion supporters included many from their ranks. And, with everything else happening with the Republican party, they broke ranks and chose their interest over ideology.
Biden likes to credit his legislative achievements for the party’s strong showing.
“The American people overwhelmingly — overwhelmingly support our agenda,” he said and proceeded to list them, “lowering prescription drug costs, making healthcare more affordable, rebuilding America, revitalizing American manufacturing, taking on the climate crisis, and finally — and finally making big corporations pay their fair share. Preserving democracy and protecting fundamental rights.”
Year 2022 went to Biden. 2024?