US Midterm Elections 2022: Joe is Still Sleepy, but Donald is Damaged Goods

10 mins. to read
US Midterm Elections 2022: Joe is Still Sleepy, but Donald is Damaged Goods

“The genius of the United States is not best or most in its executives or legislatures, nor in its ambassadors or authors or colleges or churches or parlours, nor even in its newspapers or inventors … but always most in the common people”.

Walt Whitman (1819-1892)

“American democracy is off the ventilator”.

Sir Simon Schama, Professor of History and Art History at Columbia University, speaking this week.

The 118th US Congress will face 119 problems

Almost exactly two years ago, the American people spurned ‘The Donald’. There is no doubt that the election was averagely fair and that the American people elected their 46th president, who will turn 80 years old on 20 November and is showing clear signs of cognitive impairment and infirmity. Joe Biden was never particularly articulate, even in his prime, but according to Nigel Jones in the American Spectator this week, he regularly shakes hands with the air − at a moment when the US faces some of the most dangerous challenges in its history, at home and abroad.

The US is experiencing the highest rate of inflation in four decades, the biggest collapse in real disposable incomes in living memory and the worst crime wave since the 1990s. There is a severe “border crisis”, with thousands making their way from Mexico to the US every day. The incumbent president is the least popular since polling was first conducted under Harry S Truman (33rd President) in the 1940s. Abroad, Vladimir Putin is threatening nuclear war and it is feared that China is about to invade Taiwan.

Nearly two years into the Biden administration, Americans, like their counterparts in Europe and the UK, are facing a cost-of-living crisis, as prices, especially of food and fuel, rise faster than wages. Homeowners face huge increases in their monthly mortgage repayments – just like in the UK. Many Americans who voted for a progressive alternative to Donald Trump in 2020 have questioned their affiliations in the light of falling disposable incomes.

And yet, for all that, the expected ‘red wave’ (in the US Republicans are ‘reds’ and Democrats are ‘blues’) turned out to be a red ‘ripple’. The Republicans made advances, but nowhere near as far as they expected or hoped. And the Republican party emerges from these critical mid-term elections − in which all 435 seats in the House of Representatives were up for grabs, as well as 35 seats in the Senate and the governorships of 36 states and three territories – as a party divided between its pro and anti-Trump factions.


Some results of the midterm elections on Tuesday (8 November) are still awaited but the overall picture is now clear.

The Republicans seem likely to have taken back control of the House of Representatives from the Democrats, albeit with a wafer-thin majority. As of this morning, the Republicans have 211 seats (up seven) and the Democrats 192 (down nine), with 32 seats undeclared. That probably means that Nancy Pelosi will be hanging up her clogs as Speaker of the House in January, giving way to congressman Kevin McCarthy.

The Senate is once again on a knife edge, with the Republicans and Democrats having 48 seats each. But the Democrats are likely to hold sway there because Vice President Kamala Harris, who presides, has a casting vote. One Senate seat for Georgia will go to a run-off election that will take place on 6 December because there was a dead heat. This Georgia Senate race between Democratic Senator Raphael Warnock and Republican former National Football League player Herschel Walker has been a focus of national attention. The popular wisdom is that Republicans usually fare better in run-off elections; but Walker, a Trump apologist, now looks accident-prone.

So, the red wave did not hit the Senate either. John Fetterman, a Democrat, won Pennsylvania despite the odds, defeating Republican Mehmet Oz, the first Muslim to run for the Senate. Fetterman is regarded as a progressive who supports legalising marijuana, while Oz is another election conspiracy theorist. Key Senate races in Arizona, Georgia and Nevada are still unresolved at the time of writing.

The gubernatorial elections were a mixed picture, but mainstream Republicans outdid Trump-Republicans: “We can fix politics later, but we can fix crazy right now”, declared New Hampshire’s Republican governor Chris Sununu, elected for his fourth term. That was a jibe at some of the conspiracy theorists on the Trumpian right. Georgia’s Brian Kemp was another mainstream Republican who was easily reelected. And it seems that things do not look promising for Arizona’s Kari Lake, another pro-Trump candidate who believes that the 2020 presidential election was “stolen”.

The great American public did not buy the Republican party’s offer, even if they are not entirely sold on the Democrats’ offer. Turnout was exceptionally high by US standards, suggesting increased levels of political engagement.

Looking ahead, the Biden administration will find it difficult to get controversial measures through Congress from January onwards, but it still calls the shots. The 118th Congress of the United States will convene on 3 January 2023 in an atmosphere of great uncertainty.

Trump and DeSantis to go head to head

Trump was not standing in these elections, but his brand of republicanism was on the ballot in many states. One of the few Republicans to emerge triumphant was a conservative Republican who now looks like a challenger to ‘The Orange One’. Ron DeSantis secured a second term as governor of Florida with a much-increased majority. He gained 59.4 percent of the vote, while his Democratic opponent got 40 percent. So, there was a red wave in Florida.

When DeSantis took a bow before an adoring crowd to mark his reelection as governor, the crowd shouted not “four more years” – the length of the gubernatorial term – but “two more years”. Clearly, DeSantis’s supporters expect him to run for the White House in 2024 – and to win, in which case he would have to relinquish the governorship of the Sunshine State.

In order to win the Republican nomination for the presidency in 2024, DeSantis will have to outmanoeuvre another Florida resident – one Donald J Trump. Trump is expected formally to announce that he will run for president on Tuesday next week (15 November). Do not expect him to box by Queensbury Rules. He has already intimated to the Wall Street Journal that, if DeSantis declares that he will run for president, he will dish some dirt on him by revealing something that “only the Governor’s wife knows”. Whether that will be a game changer remains to be seen: I am sceptical that any personal revelations will make much difference to DeSantis’s standing.

Both Trump and DeSantis have similar platforms. Both are champions of low taxes, and both detest the woke agenda that they claim has poisoned US schools and universities. Both rail against left-wing ideology which embraces eco-extremism. DeSantis talks about “Marxist misfits”. While Trump is accused of being a narcissist, DeSantis is accused by his critics of being authoritarian.

The two are of different generations – Trump is 76, while DeSantis is just 44. But DeSantis is of the establishment while Trump is an outsider. DeSantis was educated at Harvard and Yale and served in the US Navy. Notoriously, Trump was sent by his despairing father to a boot camp and never wore a uniform. Trump is a New Yorker, born in Queens; DeSantis is a native Floridian. Trump glad-hands his adoring fans; DeSantis is said to lack warmth. Trump can be funny; DeSantis does not make jokes. Trump has christened DeSantis “Ron DeSanctimonious”.

The problem for DeSantis will be that Trump still commands about 20-30 percent of the Republican party’s core supporters who will always follow The Donald, with messianic fervour, to the promised land. As soon as DeSantis declares himself an official candidate for the presidency, he will become an anti-Trump Republican: “I can tell you”, Rick Wilson, a life-long Republican campaign organiser told the BBC last week: “There is nothing the MAGA Republicans hate more in the world than an anti-Trump Republican”i. If DeSantis is on the ticket, the Trump diehards might not vote at all.

That said, many Republicans do not want to hear any more about the 2020 election “fraud” – they want to move on. DeSantis would have little problem raising the money for a presidential campaign and will probably have the will to maintain it. But, in televised debate, DeSantis would not perform as well as Trump, whose biting sarcasm can be lethal.

Yesterday came evidence that Trump’s support base might be cracking. The New York Post, once a champion of Trump’s cause, described the former president as a “toxic influence” who has “sabotaged” the party. The Post, which Trump once called his “favourite newspaper”, ran a front page depicting the former president as Humpty Dumpty sitting on a wall with the headline “Trumpty Dumpty”. In a 500-word email to supporters last night, Trump hit back. He wrote: “Governor Ron DeSanctimonious [is] an average REPUBLICAN Governor with great Public Relations”.

If Trump can keep DeSantis in his box, then the presidential contest of 2024 could well turn out to between Biden and Trump once again; but Trump’s odds next time round would be slimmer than last. Biden says he is going to decide whether to seek a second term after consulting his family early next year. If he decides to run, it is unlikely that a Democratic challenger could displace him on the presidential ticket.

A Trump-Biden contest in 2024 (a clash between an 82 year-old and a 78 year-old) would not only provoke a bout of déjà vu but would also reinforce the perception that American politics is stuck in a rut. A DeSantis-Biden contest would be much more interesting.

Trump will burn like a Viking funeral ship – but who will burn with him?

While the Republicans are putting on a brave face and there are attempts to disguise the divisions between the two factions, the fact is that not winning decisively at a time when the Democrats look so vulnerable is a disaster.

Admittedly, I have not been in the US of late given my self-imposed “travel diet” (which might be relaxed next year). But a reliable source − my friend Adrian Kempton-Cumber (late of this parish) who is nurturing his music business in downtown Houston – is on the scene. In fact, his hotel was functioning as a polling station on Tuesday, so he got to speak with the locals as they voted.

He reports that the atmosphere in Houston has been surprisingly subdued. The white middle class is struggling financially and is fed up with persistent crime. While Texas is one of the richest states in the Union, a huge number of Texans are living from “paycheque to paycheque” without savings or substantial assets to fall back on. The cost of food in the supermarkets has skyrocketed. A loaf of bread costs nearly $3.

CNN conducted a poll on the issues of most importance to American voters. The list, in order of importance, was as follows: inflation; abortion; crime; gun control; and only lastly, immigration. Inflation (aka the “cost-of-living crisis”) dwarfs all the others.

Surprisingly for some, the Latino vote is veering to the right – something that was quite apparent in Florida. There has been a huge increase in the number of new registrations amongst the young, reflected by long queues at polling stations located in universities. Split-ticket voting is widespread – that is where, for example, a voter backs a Republican congressman but a Democratic governor (or vice versa). And Democrats do better in states where people incline towards less restrictive abortion laws.

All this makes the forecasting of election results trickier. We can expect to be surprised.

Market reaction

On Wednesday, The Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) tumbled more than 600 points after the Republican red wave failed to materialise, and control of Congress remained uncertain. A cryptocurrency sell-off also dragged the markets lower, with bitcoin dropping to a new bear- market low. The declines followed news that cryptocurrency exchange Binance is backing out of plans to acquire its rival FTX.

On Thursday, however, US equity markets enjoyed their most dramatic one-day surge since 2020, given that the consumer price index (CPI) number, at 7.7 percent on an annualised basis, was better than expected. This suggests that the Fed may not have to raise rates as fast and as high as feared. The S&P 500 was up 5.5 percent. Interest-rate-sensitive stocks were most favoured, with Amazon gaining 12 percent and Meta 10 percent. Meanwhile, bond yields plummeted, with the yield on 10-year and two-year Treasuries falling by 30 basis points.

It is just possible that by 2024 the cost-of-living crisis will be no more than a bad memory.

i The Name is DeSantis, BBC R4. Available at:

Comments (1)

  • paul says:

    Yes how wise a travel diet, I was all hyped up to go to Bulgaria for some hot springs before
    Chritmas, but for the first time in my life I had the time and money but not the energy. I long to visit the USA, but I am not allowed as I am unvaxed….we will forgive but we will not forget.
    my bank is offering me 4.5% for a 7 year fix so they dont think this inflation dragon is dead for some time, of course if you are a conspiracy enjoyer like myself you may consider that the only way to get the planet to return to sound money and some kind of golden age is to let the fiat system inflate to oblivion.

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