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Donald Trump

Donald Trump. Photo: Gage Skidmore / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0, license linked below article

The US elections were a rebuff for the former president but showed no enthusiasm for the current one. Terina Hine argues this reflects the impasse of US politics and a failure of the left

That the Democrats were able to hold the line in the US midterm elections is met with relief rather than jubilation. Relief that the Republicans did not sweep the board as many predicted, and that the party of Donald Trump is in disarray. But the American political landscape is at an impasse and the left almost absent.

The Democrats made greater gains than expected in both the Senate and the House, and although these elections were undoubtedly a major setback for the Republican right and Trump’s MAGA movement, the Republicans do now hold a wafer thin majority in the House. The Democrats (and Americans) face two years of political deadlock.

This election saw thousands more voters turn out than precedent predicted, with almost as many people voting as voted in the 2018 presidential election. Independents (those with no affiliation to either party) lent the Democrats their vote, and with the high turn-out, assured the Democrat victory.

Yet still only a small number of votes in a few states held the key in this election, and that is concerning. The Democrats may have won, but it was very, very close. Next time they might not be so lucky; they may face less divisive opponents, less crazy candidates, and possibly no Trump.

Biden fail

Low poll ratings for Biden were simply not reflected in the vote. Just 44% of voters nationwide said they approved of Biden’s performance as President, 55%, a majority, disapproved. Incredibly this data is from the election exit polls. In fact Biden failed to received majority support in any of the key battleground states his party won, including Nevada, Georgia and Arizona where his approval rating barely rose above 40%.

But these elections were not about the Democrats or Biden, instead they were about widespread resistance to Trump’s Republican Party. Concern about Trump’s endorsed candidates, election deniers, and the right to abortion offset both the President’s and the economy’s poor performance.

In the vast majority of battleground states, the voters who turned out against Trump in 2020 turned out to vote again, making a strong statement about the former president and those who earned his endorsement. As one Republican commented “at the end of the day, our crazy was more repelling than their crazy.” But the Democrats cannot simply rely on Republican self-inflicted damage to win the next election.

After this showing at the polls, Trump’s reelection campaign will be strongly contested by the Republican establishment. Their  primaries favour the candidate with the largest block of support, and at the moment that is Trump. But this may not hold. His nomination launch lacked the energy usually associated with such events (and with Trump), and was marked by a meandering, hour long speech, which even Fox News had to cut short in their coverage, for fear of sending their viewers to sleep.

Too much for Murdoch

Trump’s election denial and 6 Jan escapade was apparently a step too far for the Murdoch empire, and the former president has lost the support of his greatest cheerleaders in the form of Fox News and The New York Post. The fight for the 2024 nomination will be bloody and Trump’s main opponent, Ron DeSantis, has already been on the receiving end of Trump’s nasty attacks. DeSantis remains untested in a national campaign, but this could play to his advantage if he were to win the nomination and was up against Biden in 2024. For although it is clear that the majority of Americans don’t want Trump neither do they want a second term of President Biden. In the midterm exit polls two thirds of voters said they did not want the current president to run again.

Simply holding the line is not good enough for the millions of Americans who so desperately need a reversal to decades of economic decline. The Democrats did little with their majority in both the Senate and House over the last two years, and now their House majority is lost. For those facing the pain of mortgage rate hikes, and rampant inflation, or the impact of floods and fires, this election is no cause for celebration.

Although they won the midterms, the Democrats suffered a further decline in support from across the working class - both from white and non-white voters. They also failed to make inroads into the increasingly coveted Hispanic vote. The young, in part responsible for saving the Democrats this time around, could easily drift away again once their human rights are no longer under threat.

Voters want something to vote for not just against. With little fight from the Democratic left, and the ‘awkward squad’ failing to live up to their name, it will not be surprising if the party continues to haemorrhage support from working class and younger voters. If the ghost of Trump is exorcised, and DeSantis becomes the Republican nominee, Biden’s Democrats will surely struggle.

On CBS, on the morning after the election, asked what he would do differently in preparation for 2024, a smiling President Biden answered “nothing”. He said, “I’m not going to change anything in any fundamental way … there are lot of things that are just kicking in.” But it is fundamental change that is required to fix the broken economy, the climate crisis, and the national disgrace of mass incarceration. Tinkering at the margins will not cut it.

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