Is democracy on hold?

The year 2022 has been marked by historic midterm election results in the United States. Democrat Raphael Warnock’s victory in the Georgia senatorial election ended an election cycle in which one of the main issues was the future of democracy. It was actually the first vote since the January 6, 2021 uprising, called by a president that the elected officials of his party refused to reject.

Also for the first time, many candidates from the same Republican Party campaigned on the Big Lie theory that the 2020 presidential election was stolen from Donald Trump.

It was also the first time voters could have their say after a controversial and unpopular ruling by a highly politicized Supreme Court that ended the constitutional right to abortion.

Finally, never has a former president of the United States, largely unpopular, tried to turn the election that followed his defeat into a “comeback” against a president in power almost as unpopular as him, whose legitimacy he denies.

Disappointing midterm election for Donald Trump

The results show that if the primaries were played at the extremes, the general elections were as often decided in the centre.

In so-called “pivotal” states where Republicans had a chance to win, “deny” Republican candidates (denarii in English), that is, those who questioned the outcome of the 2020 presidential election thus lost the election for key positions (governors or secretaries of state) such as in Arizona or Nevada. Like Herschel Walker in Georgia, they almost all conceded defeat, even though the issue of the electoral process was at the heart of their campaign. And there was neither violence nor uprising to be feared. The right to abortion also won where the question was put to voters, including in conservative states like Kentucky or Montana, confirming the result recorded in Kansas this summer.

In the House of Representatives, the Republicans did indeed win the majority of seats (and the popular vote), but by a historically small margin. The Democrats have lost only 9 seats, whereas the president’s party in power since 1934 has lost an average of about thirty seats in the midterm elections, and never less than ten, especially with a popularity equal to Joe’s. Biden (between 40 and 45%). The only anomaly was 2002, when George W. Bush’s party had benefited from the country’s rally for the president after the September 11, 2001, attacks.

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In the Senate, Democrats, along with independents, have solidified their control and won a seat after flipping Pennsylvania. The victory, like Warnock’s, is another blow to former President Donald Trump, whose candidates he supported almost all lost in the states where there were stakes.

A big Supreme Court decision is coming

However, it is necessary to qualify. The results were often tight, even where there were extremist candidates like Walker in Georgia or Kari Lake in Arizona. Moreover, the local elections produced a patchwork of different results, sometimes very favorable to the Republicans: in the end, a majority of their extremist and denialist candidates were elected.

Election night supporters of Republican Arizona gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake (who will be defeated by the incumbent Democratic governor) in Scottsdale on November 8, 2022. A man holds up signs likening Donald Trump to a Batman who would come to the aid of a country in the hands of a Joe Biden deemed illegitimate.

Olivier Touron/AFP

Republicans improved their results mainly in states they already won, but suffered heavy losses in those where seats were potentially up for grabs. But in the US, elections are decided in a small number of pivotal states that represent less than 10% of the seats in the House. For the remaining 90%, voters have a very small chance of electing a representative of the opposite party.

This election, like the previous ones, raises more generally the question of the democratic representativeness of the US electoral system. The limited choice for voters is due to several factors, such as geographic polarization, but it is also the result of partisan political redistribution (gerrymandering in English), practiced by both parties in the states they control, a majority of which are in the hands of Republicans. Only bipartisan commissions or state supreme courts can, as is sometimes the case, guarantee or enforce fair and representative redistricting.

However, the Federal Supreme Court, itself highly politicized, will have to decide (Moore v. Harper) if the state houses alone are constitutionally empowered to regulate federal elections and without the control of the state courts. At stake are the checks and balances of the power of the state legislative branch, as well as the legal ability of state legislatures to pass voting-restricting laws without any review or challenge by state courts (or even the state courts). the governor’s veto). According to a prominent former conservative federal judge, it will be “the most important decision for American democracy in the history of the country”.

Trumpism, even without Trump?

Moreover, democracy may once again become a central issue in the elections of 2024. Even if Donald Trump emerged weakened from this last election, he has already announced his candidacy for the next presidential election and has become increasingly radicalized. It is not his attack on democracy that is eroding the support of some Republicans, but rather the recognition that he is a losing machine for the party, as in 2018 and 2020. His presidential victory in 2016 should also not be forgotten that he had then lost the popular vote more than any other elected president.

He is also the first president since the Great Depression to lose the House, Senate and Presidency in a single term. The result in Georgia is emblematic: The Republican governor, who had resisted pressure from Trump to cancel the election, was comfortably re-elected. This while the extremist senatorial candidate, supported by the former president, who we have said has lost. As the abortion issue shows, radicalism remains in the minority but strongly mobilizes those who adhere to it.

Marjorie Taylor Greene, one of the most extremist Republican personalities, with a member of the group

Marjorie Taylor Greene, one of the most extremist Republican personalities, with a member of the group “Bikers for Trump” during a rally held at Crazy Acres Bar & Grill on May 20, 2022 in Plainville, Georgia. Elected to the House of Representatives in 2020, she was re-elected in 2022.

Joe Raedle/AFP

Despite a slight erosion, Donald Trump still remains very popular within his base and may well win the 2024 primaries. And even if Trump disappeared, Trumpism could outlive him. His most serious rival at this point, Governor Ron DeSantis, while more strategic, is just as radical, with a form of government based on authoritarianism, nativism and populist Christian nationalism for which he has been compared to Victor Orban.

He gained popularity in the fight against public health protocols during the Covid crisis and was comfortably re-elected (59%), with a majority of the Latino vote for the first time. He is at the forefront of the fight in the culture war, multiplying bills aimed at eliminating discourse about sexual or racial minority identities, to the great detriment of free speech. He also imposed extreme partisan redistricting.

The 2024 campaign has already been launched

The next few months are therefore likely to be violent: an internal war for control of the Republican Party, another intense war with the Democrats and the Biden administration, not to mention the effects of Twitter’s excesses.

House Republicans have already announced that they want to use House investigative powers to investigate everyone: from the president’s son to the FBI to the Justice Department to the Commission investigating the attack on the Capitol on January 6, 2021, and even to immunologist Anthony Fauci, considered to be responsible for an allegedly too strict handling of the Covid-19 pandemic.

A confrontation also threatens on two other very sensitive issues: immigration – with here again a long-awaited decision from the Supreme Court; and the debt ceiling, as the GOP could use the threat of a default on the US sovereign debt to force spending cuts, which would have far-reaching consequences for the global economy, in an already highly unstable one.

It will be understood: the mixed result recorded in the midterm period by Donald Trump and his associates does not mean that the fear for the future of American democracy has been removed…

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