It’s nice to be wrong sometimes. For months I’ve been banging on about a coming storm in the US. Having been so dramatically released at the Capitol in Washington DC on 6 January last year, would the genie that refused to accept election results really be content to creep back into its bottle come the midterms on 8 November? I was pretty sure the answer was no.
But the red tsunami of Republican victories that promised – or threatened – to engulf American democracy turned out to be more of a ripple. The Democrats will retain control of the Senate. Results are still trickling in, and the Republicans may well end up with a slim majority in the House of Representatives. That is all well and good – as it should be in a democracy. Which party ends up controlling Congress is not the point. The point is that the Trump-endorsed, election-denying candidates flopped. Bigly.
The New York Times has been tracking the fortunes of hundreds of election-sceptics (those who cast doubt on Joe Biden’s victory over Donald Trump in the last presidential election) and outright deniers across the country. The hopeful headline is that out of around 100 of these Republican candidates, fewer than half have been elected, even in races where they were projected to win.
They include Lee Zeldin, who lost his bid to become governor of New York, and who voted against certifying the 2020 election results the day after Trump supporters stormed the Capitol. And Doug Mastriano, a retired colonel who ran for governor of Pennsylvania. He was among the crowd on 6 January, having spent thousands of dollars chartering buses to bring supporters to Washington that day. He and Zeldin not only lost their races but congratulated their victorious opponents.
Had he won the governorship Mastriano would have had the power to appoint Pennsylvania’s secretary of state, who effectively oversees the administration of elections, leading to fears that the democratic result of the next presidential election could be simply overruled by a partisan administration were it not to go the Republicans’ way. In Nevada Jim Marchant, a candidate with links to the QAnon conspiracy theory, promised to “fix it” so that Trump would become president again in 2024. He led a coalition of candidates for secretary of state in various swing states who were similarly defeated at the ballot box. All had been endorsed by Trump.
So a plot – that doesn’t seem too strong a word – to subvert American democracy seems to have been averted, for now. The big loser appears to be the election-denier-in-chief. Trump has hinted that he will announce today (15 November) whether he intends to stand for the presidency again in 2024. If he does it will no doubt be to the dismay of the Republican establishment, who will probably conclude from these midterm results that Trump is not the vote-winner they thought (or in some cases feared) he was.
But remember this: nearly 75 million Americans voted for Donald Trump in 2020. And the majority of them, in poll after poll, maintain he was cheated out of a second term. That belief will not have magically vanished because of a poor showing by Republicans in the midterms. Loyalty to Trump among the Republican base may be enough to secure him the presidential nomination even if (as was the case in 2016) the Republican establishment doesn’t want him as their candidate. Or, if Trump is defeated in the primaries, other Republican candidates may feel the need to perpetuate the stolen election narrative – the “Big Lie” – to secure the nomination. And if that candidate then loses in 2024, what next? The genie is still at large.