The mid-term elections are elections that take place in the middle of the incumbent President’s term, two years following the Presidential elections. The elections are significant as it allows the electorate to express their opinion of the performance of the President. Many view the mid-term elections as a referendum on the performance of the President.
The Founding Fathers of the United States designed the constitution in such a way that it puts the USA in a perpetual cycle of elections, the aim being that the federal government is in a constant state of scrutiny, negates the possibility of an ideological disconnect between the representatives and the electorate, and prevents the government from having too much power.
Furthermore, the mid-term elections often provide a divide in control of Congress, with the founding fathers possibly hoping that the result would be increased bipartisanship.
During the midterms, all 435 seats in the House of Representatives and around one-third of the seats in the senate are up for election. The outcome of the mid-terms will often dictate the country’s direction for the next two years and have serious consequences for the President and their party to enact their legislative agenda.
The historical evidence points to the incumbent party performing poorly in the mid-term elections, which can lead to gridlock and political conflict over policies, forcing the President to negotiate with Congress to pass bills.
In the lead-up to the 2022 mid-term elections, the expectation among many was that the Democrat party would lose control of both houses of Congress. Election forecast polls from FiveThirtyEight and many other outlets predicted the Republicans would gain control of both houses of Congress.
Indeed, many right-wing political commentators anticipated a ‘red wave’ brewing on the horizon and sweeping over the USA. However, what resulted sharply contrasts these predictions; the result is considered a surprising and big win for the Democrat party and the Biden administration.
The 2022 mid-term election cycle was marred in numerous controversies and set on the backdrop of one of the most politically active supreme courts in decades. In a sharp turn to the right courtesy of the three Supreme Court nominations during the Trump administration, the Supreme Court justices have struck down Roe v Wade, expanded the right to carry firearms in public, and strengthened the role that religion plays in day-to-day life.
The fall of federally protected abortion rights sparked protests across the nation and possibly the reason the Republicans performed more poorly than expected.
On the other hand, the loss of the federally protected right to an abortion mobilised women and young people, resulting in a surprising string of impressive results for the democrats.
America could be moving into its post-Trump era, candidates endorsed and funded by Donald Trump failed to capture any seats, and the recent war of words between Trump and the new republican golden boy Ron De Santis, the governor of Florida, has earnt him criticism from members of the MAGA movement and of the Republican party itself.
De Santis has recently increased his visibility, possibly eyeing up the republican presidential nomination. He is viewed as the best candidate to beat the Democratic Presidential nominee, but the presence of the enigmatic Trump could split the vote and cause issues for the party.
Senate nominee Blake Masters benefitted from the support of Trump’s Super PAC, MAGA inc. but failed to secure the senate seat from the democratic incumbent Mark Kelly. He described his ideological standing as an ‘American first conservative’, but outlets such as politico labelled him as a ‘hard-line nationalist.’
The extreme political viewpoint expressed by Masters, including views on immigration and abortion, could have contributed to his loss and lack of ability to appeal to the more moderate Republicans in his state. This shows the current issues with the primary elections in the present time.
Mehmet Oz was a celebrity tv doctor accused of promoting pseudoscience in the past and was also backed by Trump and his super PAC. However, he failed to win the senate seat of Pennsylvania and lost to John Fetterman, who served as Pennsylvania’s LT. Governor until his swearing-in as a Senator.
During the campaign, Fetterman suffered a stroke, Oz subsequently tried to shape the narrative that Fetterman was unfit to hold public office.
Additionally, the race was characterised by the Oz campaign mocking Fetterman’s health, which drew criticism from many who thought it was distasteful and unexpected due to Mehmet’s role as a doctor.
The former President was the subject of an FBI raid at his Mara- Lago resort, where copious amounts of classified files were found to have been illegally taken from the White House and stored on his private property.
While Trump denies the charges and calls it a political hit, it is hard to refuse the evidence. Not shy from controversy, the former President initially agreed to release his tax returns during the 2016 presidential elections.
However, Trump reneged on his promise, and the public only saw the tax returns when investigators released them recently, showing that Trump paid more tax in foreign countries than he did in the states during his term in office.
To predict how this will affect the 2024 elections is impossible for a man who seemingly thrives on controversy; he can ride any scandal that should derail any other presidential bid. With a solid core base of supporters, the campaign already has a guaranteed number of votes foundation to rely on, enabling the trump campaign to focus their efforts more tactically in areas where his support is weak.
The problem with primaries
The electorate has the opportunity to indicate to their party their candidate of choice to run for congressional elections through the primaries. The rules of the primaries vary from state to state; states may choose to conduct a closed primary, whereby only members of the party can vote in that party’s primaries. States could also run open primaries in which the voting is open to all people regardless of party affiliation.
Primary elections have been the subject of substantial conversation over the advantages and disadvantages of running nominations in such a way.
The characteristics of primary elections could help to explain the poor performance of candidates backed by Trump. The nature of primaries, especially if closed, promotes the participation of members loyal to the party, leading to nominations of candidates deemed too radical or inexperienced for the general citizen to vote for.
This demonstrates the trend of polarisation and divergence between the Republican and Democrat parties. Where Republican candidates placed themselves further to the right, the democrat candidates saw an opportunity to set their policy position more moderate to appeal to the median voters and those alienated by radical right-wing positions from some candidates.
The nomination of extreme candidates that cannot appeal to voters is ironic, as one of the reasons primary elections were introduced was to give more power to the people.
In democracies like the UK, we are not given the opportunity to nominate a candidate for a seat in a general election. The system of primary elections in the US gives the people more of a choice along the political spectrum of who would better represent their political interests.
Polarisation- the most critical issue of American politics since the turn of the century?
Polarisation is the increasing ideological divide between politicians, people, and different groups. The 2008 financial crash could be viewed as the catalyst for the rapid increase in the divergence of ideologies in America.
The situation of economic crises will often breed populism and ideological convergence. People become disillusioned with the political establishment when an individual’s situation is negatively affected.
Polarisation could also explain the election of Trump to the Presidency and the societal situation surrounding the election cycle. His anti-establishment and populist rhetoric appealed to voters who felt disenfranchised by Washington.
Trump’s personal characteristics could also explain his election to the Presidency. The lack of polish or political ad-libs made him stand out from career politicians. Trump painted these career politicians as disingenuous, self-interested, and not looking out for the people.
Trump recognised the growing anti-government sentiment and used the slogan to appeal to voters who were frustrated with the status quo. He promised to ‘drain the swamp,’ referring to corrupt and self-interested career politicians and bureaucrats.
The growing divergence of ideologies can also lead to incidents of political violence, the storming of the capitol building on January 6th.
Presidential elections 2024-who will be the nominees?
With the 2024 presidential election looming on the horizon, potential bidders for the Presidency will increase their visibility nationwide. But curiously, we are not seeing many democratic bidders placing themselves in the running.
Already we can see potential Republican nominees carefully manoeuvring themselves into the media spotlight. Florida governor Ron de Santis had the best mid-term results for the republican party; he won the governorships in a key battleground state by a significant margin. Embracing the culture war and covid-19 skepticism has appealed to a significant number of Republican voters.
With Trumps slip up in the mid-terms, de Santis could be the current favourite for the nomination. Yet you cannot count out Ted Cruz, Mike Pence, or Mike Pompeo. All political heavyweights in their own right.
The Republican party is facing a problem with Trump and de Santis, candidates who could split the vote of the less moderate Republican voters. As a result, the war for the nomination is shaping up to be competitive and brutal.
On the other side of the aisle, the Democrat party will likely field Biden again, yet he finds himself in the peculiar position for an incumbent, Democrats don’t want him to run again. Numerous gaffes and slip-ups have left Democrats wondering if he is able to not only run a successful Presidential campaign but also run the country for another four years.
One must also examine whether Biden has the political gravitas to compete with the Republican candidates, who have questioned Biden’s ability to run the country. The inevitable war of words will soon start, with Biden, the likely recipient of the most damaging.
China and Russia are threatening US dominance, and the next President must have a robust foreign policy on Russia and China to maintain US power. Russia has become bolder, first with the annexation of Crimea and now with the invasion of Ukraine. The west’s reaction was weak. Countries were reluctant to impose the most severe sanctions, emboldening Russia to push their luck further.
Trump tried to curb China’s growing influence by starting a trade war, citing the US-China trade deficit and theft of intellectual property. Trump’s decision to introduce protectionist policies could have been a manoeuvre to weaken China and reassert control of core infrastructure.
The Chinese policy of counter-intelligence against government institutions and core infrastructure has been an issue for the US. Shoring up these areas should be a key policy for Biden and the next administration.
Biden’s foreign policy halfway through his term has similarities to Trump’s. Biden allowed the withdrawal from Afghanistan to go ahead after Trump approved it during his tenure.
The withdrawal was a disaster for Biden, a failure broadcast worldwide. This allowed the Afghanistan government to fall and the Taliban to take over. Leaving some to question what the point of the last 20 years was.
The Russia-Ukraine war has quickly become a proxy war between the US and Russia. This situation must be carefully manoeuvred to avoid escalation forcing direct US involvement. The two nuclear superpowers going head-to-head would put the world at the highest risk of nuclear war since the Cuban missile crisis.
But Putin is playing a dangerous game of brinkmanship, he is testing the nerves of the US, banking on the unwillingness of the US political establishment to involve themselves in a war that could have catastrophic consequences.
Already, we know the foreign policy ideas and capabilities of Biden and Trump. Yet, other candidates, especially de Santis, still need to establish a position, and he has remained somewhat opaque about his foreign policy ideas up to now.
Trump had many big foreign policies wins during his time as President, but he also angered many allies because of his withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement, UNESCO, and the United Nations Human Rights Council.
The director of the FBI said that China is the ‘greatest long-term threat to our nation’s information and intellectual property, and our economic vitality is the counter-intelligence and economic espionage of China.’
The next President, whomever it may be, must set long-term foreign policy goals to counter the threat to their power on the world stage. Approaches may differ between presidents, but the end goal will always be the same: the security of the US hegemon.
To achieve this, foreign policy must shift from focusing resources on eliminating violent non-state actors, like terrorist groups, and instead use the extra resources to counter Russian and Chinese.