Legend has it that there was a focus group somewhere, made up of independent voters. They were asked to raise their hands to signal which of the following they most wanted: would they like to know what was on Hunter Biden’s laptop, or were they more interested in investigating Dr Anthony Fauci – America’s Chris Whitty – and the origins of Covid?
Not a hand went up. And the faces of Fox News “opinion hosts” Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham looked like preparatory drawings for the final version of The Scream.
The 2022 midterms will go down in legend as the one nobody called, nobody saw coming. There was an eclipse of the moon that night, called a “blood moon” and the blood was that of the Republicans. This moon was supposed to augur a red wave but instead it was just a “red trickle”, in the words of House of Representatives speaker Nancy Pelosi.
In fact the assault on her husband, loaded with conspiracy theories featuring a sex worker gone bad, may have been one of the last straws for many voters. Some Republican candidates actually ridiculed Pelosi and this may have triggered independents, who broke for the Dems, to say “enough is enough”.
In the run-up to the midterms, senator Bernie Sanders warned the Democrats that they needed to focus on other issues rather than abortion and what Joe Biden described as a fight to save democracy. I have a lot of respect for Bernie, but a) though he has a big sway on the party he’s not even a Democrat – he sits as an independent, but joined the Dems for his failed presidential runs – and b) he’s wrong. A lot.
Biden was right when he said the 2020 fight against Donald Trump was about “saving the soul of America”, and he was right this time, too. He won then. He won this time, too. The political graveyard is littered with tombstones of those who underestimated Joe Biden.
The Democrats have kept the Senate. Biden will no longer face being removed from power by a Republican Congress, and he will also not be blocked when he seeks to appoint higher court judges. Biden may not get to appoint another supreme court justice, but he and his Senate can pick judges at the appellate level, where most cases land and end. What Joe can do, therefore, is put the rights within Roe v Wade into law to “codify” them.
That the GOP is in this unprecedented predicament is partly down to what Mitch McConnell, still Senate minority leader, called “candidate quality”. There were Republicans running for seats in the Senate and the House who advocated for white supremacy; for there to be no right to abortion even in the case of incest committed against a child; for the idea that Covid was spread initially by Americans of Chinese descent; for the idea that ballot boxes were specifically manufactured in South America to make it easy to steal elections in Texas and on and on. Americans surveyed this pack and said: “no thanks”. This, despite the fact that Joe Biden’s ratings remain underwater.
Interestingly enough, the UK may have proved a warning and a lesson. A friend from Chicago told me that the antics of the Tories and their leadership contests frightened the hell out of more people than was known. The UK is considered a beacon of sanity, and to see Tory craziness made the good steel workers of Michigan think again. They didn’t want that in the US.
And so, as each state ploughed on doing its own vote count, in its own way, America seems to be returning to something that looks sane. That a kind of fever dream has ended or is ending.
What was understood by the electorate is that abortion rights are also tied up with the economy. Women simply want to have the right to determine for themselves when they want to become mothers, in many cases a matter of not only when they want to, but when they can. Biden saw reproductive rights as a holistic package of choices, not just as a slogan, which is what Bernie Sanders saw.
The “fight for the soul of our democracy” is not just a slogan either; it is something that rings strong and true in the hearts of many Americans, whether they know it or not. It is rock-solid American and what sets the nation apart, because America is constantly being invented in the minds and the hearts of its citizens.
This may sound corny and maybe it is, but it is as true as the huge Indigenous American turnout to “vote Blue”. They, too, have their story to tell, and their vision to show and share. As do the mighty Gen Z who showed up to vote for the Dems. Queues were snaking their way out of universities filled with the generation who had one thing that millennials and Gen X don’t have: they like and listen to their grandparents. Joe Biden said that he would ease their student debt, and although this idea is currently stuck in the lower courts, he is trying to put it through. They get him.
And what of Donald Trump, who came down the golden escalator in 2016 to “Make America Great Again”? Trump prides himself on being an aesthete and the candidates he “hand-picked” were curated, just like the water he used to sell and the shirts he flogged. They had his stamp of approval and many went down. Of course, The Donald took no blame for this, because as he explained to an incredulous TV interviewer, if they lost, it wasn’t his fault.
The issue now for the Republicans is what they are going to do about Trump and the 2024 general election, in which Biden is saying he will run. If the GOP takes back the House, as seems likely, its majority will be in single digits, which unleashes what is known as the Crazy Caucus – the Marjorie Taylor Greenes and the Jim Jordans – to do and say as they please. Even victory will be hard for these Republicans.
America is not out of the woods. While Trumpism has been barbecued, for now, nothing will really happen with the MAGA masses until those Fox News hosts turn on him. That picture has now been complicated by Trump’s decision to run again in 2024. Even though Rupert Murdoch owns the Fox network, he cannot change this fact: that MAGA takes their orders from the seances held at night.
Florida governor Ron DeSantis is no longer in the wings, but centre stage. A younger version of Trump, he’s also smarter. He has remade bits of Florida in his image and that is one reason for his success, as well as throwing around the word “socialist”, which scares the hell out of Cuban and Nicaraguan Americans.
“America is an experiment,” House majority leader Jim Clyburn, the man single-handedly responsible for Biden running in the first place, said. And it is. These midterms and their aftermath prove that.