The U.S. mid-term elections will have a seismic effect on the trajectory of politics in the country, writes George Grundy.
IT'S BEEN easy to imagine that America has returned to normal, in the roughly 20 months since Joe Biden took over from Donald Trump. COVID has receded, the economy has performed well, Biden has proved a competent leader. Handed control over all three levers of government (the executive, Senate and House), Democrats have reasserted the notion of sane governance after the staggering ineptitude, corruption and lawlessness of the Trump years.
Mid-term elections are traditionally referendums on the incumbent president, an opportunity for electors to put a check on the power of a president. Both Barack Obama and Donald Trump lost control of the House of Representatives two years into their presidency and with inflation high and economic issues at the forefront of American minds, it might normally be expected that the electorate would issue a rebuke to Democrats and hand the house back to the Republican party.
This year, however, that prospect should frighten anyone concerned with American political stability because – and let’s not mince words here – Donald Trump’s Republican party has become an overtly fascistic, anti-democratic cesspit of often batshit-crazy kooks and extremists, the most dangerous organisation on earth.
Over 370 Republican candidates for office – the vast majority of the total number – have questioned the results of the 2020 election or continue to deny that Joe Biden won. Most of these candidates are expected to win their races. Fealty to Trump’s "big lie" has become the litmus test for Republican purity, and no matter who ultimately wins control, one co-equal branch of America’s government will shortly be staffed by hundreds of elected representatives who believe something objectively false.
Trump’s malign influence has caused Republicans to choose some of the most wildly unqualified candidates in American history. Former football player Herschel Walker (a Senate candidate in Georgia) can barely form a sentence, campaigns on total abortion bans despite being responsible for at least two of them, has a history of domestic violence and was called "a fucking idiot on a scale almost impossible to parody" by TV host Bill Maher.
Walker is just one of the dozens of candidates who are so extreme, insane or utterly unfit for office that it is impossible to imagine them playing a role in American public life in any other era. Some of these people are going to win. Holdouts in the sane universe like Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger are leaving office. The lunatics may well take over the asylum.
Further down the ticket, there is also immense cause for alarm. State governors hold enormous power in the administration of America’s elections, and a number of anti-democratic Republicans seem poised to take control. Kari Lake, a former TV presenter, is the favourite to win the governorship of Arizona. Lake has made denial of the 2020 election result a central plank of her candidacy and, like Trump, has refused to say she will accept defeat. A number of Republicans now parrot Trump’s mantra that the only two possible outcomes of an election are "we win or we were cheated".
These people will be in charge of administering the 2024 presidential election, how and where votes are cast and how those votes are counted. With the Supreme Court now poised to hand much greater electoral control to states, under what was until recently a wildly fringe idea called the "independent state legislature theory", American elections are under the greatest threat since the Civil War. There is every chance that November’s mid-term results will also be disputed, and if the House or Senate is close, civil disorder reminiscent of the events of 6 January 2021 is likely.
If the last few years have taught us anything, it’s to believe Republicans when they say the quiet part out loud. If the Republican party wins control of the House of Representatives, we can with 100 per cent certainty expect the following.
- The impeachment of Joe Biden, as well as possibly Kamala Harris and Attorney General Merrick Garland;
- Disbandment of the January 6 Commission;
- A dramatic rollback of civil rights, such as abortion, interracial marriage, even access to contraception; and
- Fervent opposition to any measures to mitigate or control climate change, the most serious issue in the history of humanity.
The House of Representatives controls America’s purse strings. Republicans are likely to hold Biden hostage on matters such as funding for Ukraine’s war with Russia. Vladimir Putin will be watching the elections with much interest.
Republicans have said they will do these things (and countless others). Believe them. Kevin McCarthy, if elected speaker, will have to kowtow to some of the craziest fringe dwellers in a fractured caucus. Committees will be chaired by incendiary extremists like Jim Jordan. Marjorie Taylor Greene, a genuinely crazy person, is now the second most powerful Republican in America, behind Trump.
And behind it all remains Trump, who is expected to use his candidacy for the 2024 election as a shield to help fight off the countless lawsuits that threaten him and his business. Trump remains favourite not only to be the Republican candidate but to win back the presidency, should he contest the election. The former president now has few options except to run, given the legal troubles he faces. His madness has infected an entire section of Americans.
Trump is psychologically unable to accept that he lost in 2020 (even though behind the scenes he admits it), and no Republican wishing to continue a political career is allowed to speak the truth in the matter. If Republicans take back the house, an entire branch of the American government will be run by people forced to give fealty to a lie.
Worst of all is the potential for malicious chaos. Republicans have amply demonstrated that they give no thought whatsoever to the traditional political goal of improving people’s lives. The GOP now works solely to attain political power. Chaos is good. Collectively, they may take the gamble that two years of mayhem will eventually be blamed on Joe Biden. The mindset is there, as is the personnel. All they need now is the power.
There are, to be sure, reasons to be hopeful. Early voting seems to indicate a historically high turnout, something that almost always favours democrats. Candidates like Herschel Walker and Dr Oz are so toxic they may lose what should have been winnable races. But if the Republican party takes control of America’s House of Representatives (or even if it’s close), expect a level of political mayhem that might make Trump’s first term seem sane by comparison.
It's been a nice couple of years, but the crazies are within touching distance of taking back the wheel.
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