In the special elections held in the US last Tuesday, the Democrats proved one thing: they perform better at the polls than in the polls.
The handful of races elected governors, state legislators and mayors, and gave citizens of some states a vote on matters such as whether to legalise marijuana.
They came on the back of a scary New York Times poll, released a year before the next general election, which showed Joe Biden trailing Donald Trump in five of six crucial swing states won by the Democrats in 2020. That opened up more talk about whether Biden should stand down before a potential rematch with Trump next November.
But what the actual elections then showed is that many people think allowing the Republicans to bring back Trump and his policies is a bridge too far. The incumbent president’s party is supposed to suffer in elections like these, and it did not.
Biden still remains unpopular – his approval rating in another poll, for the Washington Post/Ipsos was just 43% – and most people think he is too old.
But though Biden is in Jimmy Carter territory, the most dangerous place to be for an incumbent president, his opponent does not have the radiance of a Ronald Reagan.
Many Americans actually enjoy the sheer bravado of Trump, his “Trumpiness”, without wanting to make him president again.
He is like one of those huge puppets bobbing atop a giant float in the Thanksgiving Day parade. You go to watch the show, you enjoy it. But you don’t want one of those huge puppets bobbing around in your dining room while you’re carving the bird up.
The Times/Siena College poll that so freaked out the Dems showed Biden even trailing Trump among the so-called Biden coalition that was responsible for his victory in 2020: young people, African-Americans, Hispanics, and working-class whites.
They do not seem impressed by Biden’s old-timey charm – the way he says things like “God love ya” and “I swear on the word of a Biden” that just make them think about his advancing years. For many, Biden reminds them of Gramps falling asleep in the rocker, and they’re scared of that. Never mind that the economy is in relatively good shape, people want some semblance of youth in the belief that dynamism will drive America forward.
But that’s not the only reason Biden is struggling in the polls. Americans also feel poor. Broke, even. Rent is too high. Petrol costs too much. Food too. So who do you blame? The Old Guy With The Stutter.
Yet the other question is this: do you allow Lex Luthor to return to the Resolute Desk, with his overlong red tie hanging over the edge of it?
It is this fear of Trump and what he embodies – together with a demographic shift taking place in America that means large cities, where Democrats tend to prosper, are ruling elections now – that gives the Democrats hope.
After all, they were supposed to be wiped out in last year’s midterms, and in the end they held the Senate and restricted the Republicans to such a narrow lead in the House that we have all been witness to the spectacle of GOP internal haterism that led to the farcical attempts to elect two speakers.
One thing that got the Democrats home in this recent series of by-elections is this: Joe Biden was not on the ballot. Nowhere.
And also, plans by several Republican states to restrict abortion are proving a toxic vote-loser.
Last June, the Supreme Court to which Trump added three nominees ruled abortion to be a matter for the states and not the federal government.
This took a right away from Americans: I had more rights at 26 than a 26-year-old American woman has today. Not good.
One man who found out how women feel about that was Virginia’s Republican governor, Glenn Youngkin. Having taken out the Democrats for the governor’s office in a game-changing rout, he imagined that following that up by wiping them out in the state assembly might make him presidential material – the way forward for the Republicans.
But if that is your ambition, you really don’t do two things in Virginia: you don’t have Kari Lake campaigning with you. She was the crushed GOP candidate for governor of Arizona, who has still not conceded. She is one of the nation’s chief election deniers and a Trumpist fanatic who called his politics, admiringly, “BD” for “Big Dick”.
And more importantly, you also do not campaign on a 15-week ban on abortion.
But Youngkin did both of these; in his very own fan-fiction run for possible Republican candidate for president.
He and Kari and the GOP money machine campaigned hard for Virginia’s Republican candidates. Lots of dollars flowed.
Result: the Democrats now control both the upper and lower legislative chamber. They didn’t before.
Youngkin boasted of his agenda for curbing the power of teachers and giving parents more say about what their kids can be taught. Well, that’s floating north, down the Potomac. Drowned. And so are Youngkin’s hopes of a presidential run. He said later, “I’m not going anywhere.” He got that right.
Elsewhere, Ohio, ruby red and which gave Trump a resounding victory, joined a number of states in approving the recreational use of marijuana. And one more thing: the right to an abortion – the right of a woman to determine her own medical care. This is now enshrined in the state constitution.
It was a bad night for the Trumpers and a good night for American democracy. But not necessarily for Biden, about whom doubts remain.
The next election is almost certainly going to be a re-run of the last one. It’s a prospect that does not excite many, and horrifies a lot of people. Maybe a change is coming.
The US constitution says that you have to be 35 to be president. Not 35 to run for office, just that age when you take the oath of allegiance.
It is perhaps good to keep in mind, then, that the singer Taylor Swift, born on December 13, 1989, will be 35 at the time of the next inauguration.
I am not being facetious. This is how fed-up Americans are. With America. And themselves.