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10 November 2022, Gateway House

U.S. in gridlock post mid-term elections

U.S. President Joe Biden was vulnerable on several issues with a low approval rating. Yet the Democrats defied expectations in the U.S. midterm elections, and there was no red wave. Why? Possibly because women, Donald Trump and political dramatisations affected the final outcome.

BUSINESS CONSULTANT

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The U.S. midterm elections were tranquil and without violent disruption by extremists, and there are no reports of interference by foreign actors. In short, the Republican Party severely underperformed in the midterm elections and did not live up to expectations, in either the House Representatives or the Senate.  Assessments were exaggerated by both polling data and the media.  There was no vaunted red wave. At this writing, the Republicans may soon have a very slim majority in the House, if they can secure a net gain of five seats.  Control of the Senate may not be determined until December 6th during a runoff in the state of Georgia between Democratic Senator Raphael Warnock, and Trump-supported former football star, Herschel Walker, who played for the Dallas Cowboys among others.

President Biden was vulnerable on a number of issues and his approval rating was 39%[1] the day before Election Day. First, inflation has been running at an annualized rate of over 9% and gasoline prices more than doubled on Biden’s watch.  While the president of the United States cannot control day-to-day global oil and grain prices, prices for other staples and services are up across-the-board. And were inflation at the low eventual target set by the Federal Reserve at 2%, Biden would take credit for it. A major contributing factor to inflation was the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan signed into law by Biden in March 2021, a massive spending package for individuals, local and state governments. Although the Fed is technically independent, it is hard to separate it from the White House in the mind of the electorate. During 2021, and in a strange twist of affairs, the Fed was buying bonds, while the core rate of inflation was at 5.2 per cent. [2]

Second, violent crime continues to be a major fear of voters. As reported by the Pew Research Center,[3] both the FBI and Centers for Disease Control report a 30% increase in the murder rate from 2019 to 2020. Major cities such as New York, Los Angeles and Chicago have Democratic mayors, often identified with being soft on crime, undermining police work, and of late establishing cashless bail. Once contained in certain areas, violent crime is now seen as systemic in major U.S. cities.

Third, energy policy has been mismanaged. Biden’s sanctions and war against fossil fuels has contributed to the rise in oil prices and made the U.S. vulnerable to autocratic regimes such as Russia and Saudi Arabia.  One of Biden’s early major acts in office was to cancel the permit for the Keystone XL Pipeline,[4] which was to move tar sands oil from Alberta, Canada to U.S. refining points.  Further, restrictive permitting has worked against energy investors opening up new fields or building new refining capacity. The U.S. has now regressed from being a net exporter of energy to releasing significant amounts of crude from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve.[5] Making matters worse, in July Biden positioned himself as a supplicant with Mohammad bin Salman, the Saudi crown prince asking a country he had called a “pariah” to help the U.S. by increasing crude output – wanting others to do what we would not do ourselves. The Saudis not only rebuffed Biden, but also then collaborated with Russia to increase the price of oil.

Fourth, U.S. immigration policy and border security have been ineffective. For the fiscal year ended September 30th, approximately 2.8 million undocumented immigrant border crossings occurred. [6] Nonetheless, Vice President Kamala Harris, in an interview in September on Meet the Press, said the border was “secure.”

Fifth, the ignominious withdrawal from Afghanistan was a high visibility policy and operational failure of the Biden administration that undermined relations with U.S. allies who were not consulted, and it seems to have emboldened President Vladimir Putin of Russia and President Xi Jinping of China.

So against this tapestry of policy failures, how could the Republicans possibly not sweep the House and Senate?

The data and exact cause may not be known for a while. However it is reasonable to say that the issue of abortion and the repeal of Roe v. Wade in June by the U.S. Supreme Court were a gift to the Democratic Party that did not fade by the midterm elections – a rallying cause for women of the electorate.

Additionally, in the electorate there is both the influence and fear of former president Donald Trump, whom many observers expect to announce a bid for president in 2024 on November 15.  In spite of the prominence and win by Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida, Trump is widely regarded as the de facto leader of the Republican Party, indeed the tip of the spear. Various of Trump’s allies, however, did not fare well in gubernatorial and Congressional elections in Pennsylvania, Maryland, New Hampshire, and Virginia, for example. [7] A high visibility defeat was that of Pennsylvania’s Dr. Mehmet Oz, a major Trump ally.

Finally, in the closing days before the midterm elections, Biden said that democracy itself was on the ballot, meaning that the forces of the January 6th assault on the Capitol who  wish to subvert elections, are still a threat. The President also referred to the “Make America Great Again” (MAGA) Republicans as “semi-fascists.”[8] There is no telling now how much these dramatizations affected the outcome of the midterm elections. But by the time they go viral through mainstream and social media, they have potential to damage the Republican brand.

Control of the House by a slim majority means that the next speaker, possibly Republican Kevin McCarthy, will need support from the ultra-conservative wing of the House Republicans.  Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia  and Representative Jim Jordan of Ohio will be leading voices from the right.  If the Democrats take the Senate, they will control judicial appointments as well as foreign policy. Some gridlock, especially over domestic policy should be expected – however it should not be made easy to change course in a country of 332 million people.

Frank Schell is a business strategy consultant and former senior vice president of the First National Bank of Chicago. He was a Lecturer at the Harris School of Public Policy, University of Chicago and is a contributor of opinion pieces to various journals.

his article was exclusively written for Gateway House: Indian Council on Global Relations. You can read more exclusive content here

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References

[1] https://graphics.reuters.com/USA-BIDEN/POLL/nmopagnqapa/

[2] https://www.cfr.org/blog/how-fed-bond-binge-predictably-stoked-inflation

[3] https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2022/10/31/violent-crime-is-a-key-midterm-voting-issue-but-what-does-the-data-say/

[4] https://www.nrdc.org/stories/what-keystone-pipeline#whatis

[5] https://www.energy.gov/ceser/strategic-petroleum-reserve

[6] https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/immigration/migrant-border-crossings-fiscal-year-2022-topped-276-million-breaking-rcna53517

[7] https://www.politico.com/news/2022/11/09/trump-endorsed-candidates-2022-election-results

[8] https://thehill.com/homenews/administration/3616105-biden-says-extreme-maga-philosophy-is-like-semi-fascism/

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