The Republicans did not land a spectacular victory in the “midterms”. This could completely reshuffle the cards in the party. How big will ex-president Trump’s influence be in the future?
Are the Trump years over? The midterm elections in the USA have stirred up a lot among the Republicans. Polls had predicted overwhelming success for the party. But these didn’t materialize – and that’s a problem, especially for ex-President Donald Trump. He is the one who sets the tone in the party. And he probably wants to announce his presidential candidacy for 2024 next week. But now his biggest rival, Ron DeSantis, has emerged stronger from the midterm elections.
Republican heavyweights, at least shortly after the election, were reluctant to judge the party’s position and forecast Trump’s future. But of all things, clear words were found on the right-wing US television station Fox News. “Ron DeSantis is the new leader of the Republican Party,” commented columnist Liz Peek. “Republicans are ready to move on without Donald Trump.” The 76-year-old is the biggest “loser” of the election.
Firmly expected with a “red wave”.
During the so-called midterms on Tuesday, all seats in the House of Representatives and a good third of the 100 seats in the Senate, the other chamber of the US Parliament, were up for election. Numerous governorships and other important offices in the states were also voted on. Many Republicans had firmly reckoned with a “red wave” and expected the Democrats to lose massively. Instead, the race was so close that even hours after the polling stations closed, the result was still not known. Many of Trump’s prominent protégés with extreme political positions lost or lagged behind in the counts.
Which party will set the tone in the Senate and the House of Representatives could only be decided in a few days or weeks. In any case, the race in the contested US state of Pennsylvania held a particularly difficult defeat for Trump. There, in the vote for the Senate seat, his protégé Mehmet Oz lost to the Democrat John Fetterman, who was even able to take a seat in the Senate from the Republicans. In Georgia, the ardent Trump supporter Herschel Walker now has to go into the runoff for the Senate seat. And there were also severe setbacks for Trump protégés elsewhere.
Trump must have imagined things differently when he announced a “very big announcement” for November 15 – just one day before the elections. The 76-year-old has been flirting with a candidacy for a long time. His plan may well have been to announce this fully strengthened after a wave of success for the Republicans in the congressional elections. Now he’s hit. This is not least due to his rival DeSantis. In the midterm elections, the governor of Florida managed a very strong result for his re-election.
“A man or a mouse?”
DeSantis is 44 years old, making him significantly younger than Trump. He studied at the elite universities of Yale and Harvard. He also appears less shrill in his public image. But like Trump, he loves high-profile campaigns and always has a knack for the party base. “Is re-elected Florida Governor Ron DeSantis a leader or a follower, a man or a mouse?” asked The Atlantic magazine after the election. And added: DeSantis must now use its strength.
With a view to running in the 2024 presidential election, other Republicans besides DeSantis should now feel encouraged to step out of cover. From the more moderate corner of the party, Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin and ex-Vice President Mike Pence could be candidates. At least Pence, who had stood by Trump adamantly for a long time and only later broke with him, dared to move forward a bit.
The day after the midterm elections, the Wall Street Journal published an excerpt of Pence’s forthcoming memoir. In it he distances himself from Trump, for example by describing how he “followed his conscience” during the storming of the Capitol on January 6, 2021. Well-chosen words, published at an interesting time.
Spread hate and lies without consequences
Another Republican who is likely to be a focus in the coming months is Kevin McCarthy. Before the election, he was considered the favorite for the powerful office of Speaker of the House of Representatives and thus the successor to Democrat Nancy Pelosi. But the result of the vote has weakened his position. It is still unclear whether the Republicans will really have a majority in the House of Representatives. And whether McCarthy can hold together a narrow majority of a few seats is unclear.
Because in the elections, Trump loyalists such as the conspiracy theorist Marjorie Taylor Greene were re-elected to parliament. These far-right MPs have already been able to expand their influence under McCarthy, who is currently the Republican minority leader, and spread hatred and lies without consequences. Should McCarthy actually become chairman of the chamber, he would have to decide how he wants to shape the content of this role.
Whether the extreme positions represented by many Trump supporters were permanently punished with the bad result is more than open. Because even after the attack on the Capitol on January 6, 2021, the party did not break away from Trump – on the contrary. After a brief moment of shock, she continued to follow him. And the positions of Republican hopeful DeSantis hardly differ from those of his political foster father Trump.
In the past, the situation immediately after a midterm election was often very unstable, and the power structure between Republicans and Democrats had to be rebalanced. By the time parties sort out their presidential candidates in primary elections, surprising candidates often step into the limelight. Before Trump, for example, threw his hat into the race in 2014, he had played no part in polls. Instead, at the time, Jeb Bush, Mitt Romney and Chris Christie were considered favorites for the 2016 presidential candidacy. Later, none of them stood a chance against Trump in the primaries.