The biggest loser in the US midterms? Donald Trump

He is now clearly a drag on the Republicans in any free and fair election

Sean O'Grady
Wednesday 09 November 2022 15:18 GMT
'Definitely not a Republican wave': Lindsey Graham on midterm elections

There are plenty of votes to count yet, but even at this distance there’s no doubt who the biggest loser was in these US midterm elections – Donald J Trump.

Rejoice! American democracy and the freedoms of the West are a little bit safer than they might have been. The great Republican Party, which at its best has produced outstanding statesmen and women, is a step closer to its salvation and rehabilitation, beginning to escape the gravitational pull of Trump.

The feeling of relief isn’t just confined to Democrat partisans in America, but to his party’s underground resistance movement – and the whole world that still needs the US to be that shining city on a Hill. Trump’s candidates, often flawed and unsuitable, mostly flopped, at a critical juncture. It’s a disaster averted.

Even if Trump declares an intention to run in the coming days, it seems likely he’d lose in 2024, and indeed might pull out before then anyway, on health grounds or some other pretext. Meantime, he’d have maybe established a "kingmaker" position, thanks to the base, and raised some extra funds to pay his legal bills. And yes, of course he’s that cynical, selfish and manipulative.

So much for the “red wave” that Trump was expecting to take so much credit for. The mood of the public was clearly against Trump-endorsed candidates, and equally clearly towards those Republican figures, sometimes rivals, that Trump derided and insulted.

If Trump is the big loser, then Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida is the biggest winner nationally. Trump defied Ronald Reagan’s old dictum that conservative shall not speak ill of conservative, and slandered “Ron DeSanctimonious” at a rally – a move that only underlined what a coming threat to Trump’s authority deSantis represents.

Yet DeSantis romped home, cementing the party’s hold on the Latino vote and capitalising on the Biden administration’s woes, while distancing himself from Trump. Much the same goes for Brian Kemp, another (subtly) anti-Trump Republican who managed to stave off another spirited campaign by Stacey Abrams and hold power in Georgia.

In this key swing state, though, the virtually hand-picked Trumpian Senate candidate Herschel Walker failed to decisively beat Democrat Raphael Warnock, as they are now likely go to a runoff ballot in December, under Georgia’s unusual rules. Similarly, TV personality Dr Mehmet Oz didn’t do that well from a Trump endorsement, particularly when set against the lukewarm backing he enjoyed from his media patron, Oprah Winfrey.

There were notable Republican gains, not least Sarah Huckabee Sanders, governor-elect in Arkansas and, possibly, the Trumpophile election-denier Kari Lake in the Arizona gubernatorial. But the lesson for the 2024 presidential election is clearer: the only Republican candidate who can lose to Joe Biden is… Donald Trump – who, lest it be forgotten, did lose to Sleepy Joe in 2020.

A successor to Joe Biden, someone like the charismatic Governor Josh Shapiro of Pennsylvania (who saw off an extremist Trumpite), would be a tougher opponent for any given Republican. But as things stand, a re-run of the Biden-Trump contest – a depressing prospect anyway – would end in defeat and renewed election denial for Trump (unless some of the election-denying secretaries of state now elected fix the results for him).

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Even with inflation at 40 year highs and recession looming, Biden did relatively better in these first-term midterms than did Bill Clinton in 1994 or Barack Obama in 2010. In that sense, it was a triumph for Biden.

Trump is now clearly a drag on the Republicans in any free and fair election. His actions in office – culminating in the January 6th insurrection – terrify Americans worried about the future of their precious, fragile democracy.

The abortion issue also helped galvanise many voters, especially women, to vote against Trump-backed extremists. Whose appointments, after all, tilted the balance on the Supreme Court so that Roe v Wade could be overturned? Trump’s Conservative nominations for the Court enabled that denial of civil liberties, angering many who might otherwise have voted Republican – or not bothered to vote at all.

For that reason, too, Trump must be held responsible for such an unpromising set of results. His time has passed. Republicans, America and the world no longer need Donald Trump – if they ever did.

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