MIDTERM ELECTIONS NEW STARTING POINT FOR STRONGER AMERICA
Reviewing the results of the US midterm elections, distinguished American political scientist Walter Russell Mead expressed optimism about the prospects of his nation’s future in a Wall Street Journal column dated November 14. Noting that the American national anthem ends with this question—”O say does that start-spangled banner yet wave/O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?”—Mead declared that “the midterms reaffirmed the American order.”
“For all its troubles,” Mead noted, “the US remains a deeply stable society whose fundamental institutions command the respect of its citizens. Government of the people, by the people and for the people hasn’t perished from the earth.”
The Senate candidates Donald Trump backed in Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, New Hampshire, and Pennsylvania were all defeated, and the dream of a majority win for the Republican Party in the Senate went up in smoke. In the House, where the Republicans were expected to win by a wide margin, they managed to garner 222 seats—only four more than a majority of 218.
Incumbent president’s parties historically lose a lot of congressional seats during midterm elections. Although a crushing defeat was predicted for the Democrats this time around, they did far better than generally anticipated, despite their loss of a majority in the House. Many political pundits attribute the less-than-stellar performance of Republican candidates to Trump, some calling him the biggest loser. In fact, Trump has come under strong criticism for having persistently refused to admit defeat in the 2020 presidential election and endorsing insufficiently qualified candidates who followed him loyally in a number of constituencies. In a nutshell, the experts have concluded that it was Trump who caused voters to leave the GOP.
The midterm elections in 2022 can in some ways be said to have awakened the GOP, which has long been unable to openly criticize Trump, afraid of his charismatic power to attract voters. The trust and expectations for America’s brighter future and a longing for post-Trump, post-Biden leadership are two sides of the same coin today. A wave of significant generational change will unavoidably occur in US politics sooner than later.
“Trump Is a Three-Time Loser”
President Biden turned 80 on November 20 and Trump is 76 now. The rivalry between them is bitter. While Trump announced on November 15 he would run for president in 2024, Biden has indicated he will also consider running, asserting that only he can beat Trump. The 2024 presidential race could become a race between two elderly candidates—one 82 and the other 78.
Can the US afford that? The world is on the edge of Vladimir Putin possibly resorting to the use of nuclear weapons in his invasion of Ukraine. Amid the unprecedented heightening of tension, national leaders have no time to lose in making the right decisions in an emergency. Can Biden make wise decisions quickly? Does he have enough vigor, strength, and intellect to sustain himself and his nation? This is in virtually everybody’s thoughts. Unless he is in top shape in all abilities, not just addressing an emergency, a US president cannot confront the likes of Xi Jinping and Putin in protecting the US and the entire democratic world.
Biden’s shaky gait, feeble voice, and occasional lapses of memory are more than worrying. During the November 11 summit of ten southeast Asian nations in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Biden referred to Cambodia as Columbia. Two days before, on November 9, he said Russian troops were pulling out of Fallujah, Iraq, unable to remember Kherson, Ukraine. Biden’s seemingly diminishing physical and mental power cannot be hidden. I think it too dangerous to entrust an aging leader working near his limit with the security of the US and its allies.
A public opinion survey conducted on November 10-14 by Morning Consult, a nonpartisan US digital media and survey research outfit, showed 65% of respondents not wanting Biden or Trump to run again. In another survey, 60% said they would vote for a third presidential candidate. Clearly, American voters have had enough of Biden and Trump.
But the problem lies with Trump, who is still widely popular among the core of the GOP, with his staying power having become an enduring problem for his party. But if he could somehow be stopped from running again, Biden would be, too. Trump is said to still have an enthusiastic base of support, but his beloved daughter Ivanka recently posted on Instagram that she is not planning to be involved in her father’s political activities, including campaigns. Fox News and CNN aired Trump’s long-anticipated announcement live but cut away after he announced his candidacy.
It is getting increasingly difficult for Trump to find donors for his 2024 presidential campaign, especially megadonors. Stephen Schwarzman, CEO and co-founder of private-equity giant Blackstone, who had donated an estimated total of US$3.7 million up to 2020, announced recently: “It is time for the Republican Party to turn to a new generation of leaders, and I intend to support one of them in the presidential primaries.” Ken Griffith, founder and CEO of hedge fund Citadel, went so far as to call Trump a “three-time loser,” declaring on November 15 that he would support Florida Governor Ron DeSantis.
Decline of Democratic Party No Surprise
The three losses referred to by Griffith are the 2018 midterm elections, Trump’s 2020 reelection defeat, and this year’s midterms. DeSantis won a landslide victory in Florida’s gubernatorial election despite being harshly condemned by Trump. Four years ago, DeSantis defeated his gubernatorial opponent with a slim margin of just 0.4%, but it was a landslide this time, with a nearly 20 percent margin. Voters highly valued DeSantis for refusing to walk in step with Trump.
The circumstances surrounding the Democratic Party are scary when it comes to who would replace Biden. Ordinarily, Vice President Kamala Harris would be the favorite, but there is a problem: turning a blind eye to her lack of ability and favoring the diversity of American society, Biden went ahead to select Harris, female and non-white, as his running mate. Everybody in the executive branch, including the vice president, is expected to be wise and tough in all fields with ample ability and faculties to govern effectively. What the Democratic Party is faced with today is a result of the wrong choice it made by playing to one wing of its base. The party’s decline therefore is no surprise.
By comparison, the Republican Party is blessed with a rich reservoir of strong potential candidates. Yoichi Shimada, a professor at Fukui Prefectural University and a senior researcher at the Japan Institute for National Fundamentals (JINF), a privately financed public and foreign policy think tank I head in Tokyo, has this to say about DeSantis:
“The Florida governor spent his first four-year term hoisting a conspicuously conservative flag, rejecting the notion that he should take a moderate route in order to broaden support among independents. Refusing to flinch from blistering liberal attacks, he steadfastly rejected the masochistic view of history that prevailed in Florida’s school education and attached importance to parents’ rights to children’s education. As regards the energy issue, he brushed aside every single claim by the so-called energy activists.”
That the Republican Party has an assortment of promising and young politicians of a new generation, such as Virginia governor Glenn Youngkin (55) in addition to DeSantis (44), is reassuring, I believe, not only for the US but for Japan as well.
Starting next January, Republicans will hold the key to an effective management of congressional proceedings by securing the posts of the House speaker and chairman of every House committee. One of the congressmen to watch is Representative Michael McCaul, who was instrumental in introducing the Taiwan Policy Act designed to, in essence, upgrade the self-governing island to an American ally. The US government is expected to take a tougher package of measures against China going forward. I believe firmly that consolidating forces with a Republican-led US would be in line with Japan’s national interests.
(Translated from “Renaissance Japan” column no. 1,026 in the December 1, 2022 issue of The Weekly Shincho)