Democrats celebrating narrow defeat

Gen X voters, who turned up in big numbers in polling booths, saved the party from what is predicted to be a complete rout

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By Chidanand Rajghatta

Published: Thu 10 Nov 2022, 11:42 PM

Results of midterm elections in America are yet to be fully tabulated and certified, but Democrats are already celebrating what is expected to be a narrow defeat — if it eventually comes to that. If that sounds paradoxical, it’s because political pundits and pollsters had predicted a blowout Republican victory and a bloodbath for Democrats, and at first look it is anything but a rout for the latter.

The anticipated “red wave,” much less a red tsunami, was barely a pink ripple brushing against the blue wall that was expected to collapse under a Republican assault. In fact, it is Republicans who are reeling from the setback of not crushing a vulnerable ruling party that was in control of the trifecta — the White House, Senate, and the House of Representatives.

Midterm elections are typically a referendum on the White House incumbent. Even at the best of times, presidents have faced headwinds in midterm polls. Ronald Reagan, with a 62 per cent approval rating, lost 26 seats in the House of Representatives in the 1982 midterms. Bill Clinton lost 52 in 1994, and Barack Obama racked up a record 63-seat loss in 2010. Trump himself lost 40 seats in 2018.

What hope did a doddering Joe Biden, shaken up by an unrelenting 8 per cent inflation and low ratings, have, particularly after pre-poll surveys showed voters were more concerned about kitchen table issues and rising crime, rather than the “there is an existential danger to democracy in America” alarm that he sounded as a campaign message.

As it turns out, voters have heeded the warning to a certain degree. They have denied the Grand Old Party a commanding majority in the House and Senate that would have crippled the Biden presidency and turned him into a lame duck over the next two years. Initial assessments suggest that it is the young Gen X voters who turned up in strength at polling stations, which makes sense because they have everything at stake in the future and do not carry the despair or prejudices of the old.

The situation is still dicey, with the Republicans potentially winning a narrow majority in one or both chambers. But in delivering what appears to be a split verdict, voters have indicated that they abhor extreme positions on both sides while strongly repudiating Donald Trump’s toxic brand of politics.


It is a good day for democracy and a good day for America, a relieved Joe Biden declared from the White House lectern hours after the surprising results. He might as well have called it a good day for the world too. Global stability is to a large degree premised on the view of America as a strong, solid, sturdy democracy with a steadfast, reliable, and predictable political system.

This is what gives the US dollar the primacy that makes it the world’s reserve currency. Any collapse of the well-ordered, albeit imperfect system, will have a deleterious impact on global politics and economy. The rest of the world can muddle through crises, but it has a big stake in America’s stability.

Does this mean the United States has averted the danger of a political meltdown that even led to talk of an imminent civil war? Hardly. American democracy is imperfect; US elections even more so. The country is not just politically polarised but also cartographically fractured. The 535 lawmakers (435 Representatives and 100 Senators) who are sent to Washington are elected in a narrow and partisan manner from constituencies, many of which are “gerrymandered” — a term credited to former politician named Elbridge Gerry, who carved out a voting district that ended up shaped like a salamander to include voters of a particular political persuasion.

Both Democrats and Republicans have perfected this science of redistricting to obtain their desired outcome. Scores of lawmakers are reelected with metronomic regularity with only a few seats shifting loyalties. On the Senate side, the least populated states such as Montana and Idaho have the same number of Senators as the largest, such as California, giving Middle America a disproportionate share of power.

Unless these structural flaws are fixed, largely rural, white middle America, which is a red redoubt, will continue to be in political conflict with small, heavily populated urban centres, which are Democratic strongholds.

But for the next few months at least it is the Republican Party that will witness an internal civil war as moderates in the party, long leery of Donald Trump and his MAGA forces, try to take down the former president, blaming him for the midterm fiasco. They are rallying behind Ron Desantis, who chalked up an impressive victory to win a second term as Governor of Florida, for long a vital battleground state. His spectacular win by nearly 20 points has put him on track for the Republican nomination for the presidency in 2024.

This has enraged a famously thin-skinned Trump who, in openly threatening DeSantis, has indicated he will bring a wrecking ball to the GOP if he is challenged. Standby for Don v Ron.

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