US midterm elections: Republicans may regret their continuing obsession with Donald Trump and his Maga maniacs – Henry McLeish

Today, the 240 million Americans who are eligible to vote will decide the fate of the US Congress – all 435 members of the House of Representatives and 34 of the 100 members of the Senate – with a further 36 governor races across this vast and politically unstable country.

But the United States lags Europe in voter enthusiasm. In 2018, the 53 per cent turnout in the midterm elections was the highest recorded in 40 years, but well behind the record of 66.8 per cent in the 2020 presidential election. This year, the number of early votes cast has surpassed the 2018 figure. Good news for the Democrats!

Since the Second World War, the sitting president’s party has lost an average of 26 seats in the House and four seats in the Senate. History is not on Joe Biden’s side. He may be a few hours or days away from losing one or both houses of Congress, becoming a “lame duck” President for the next two years. This would leave him effectively unable to pass legislation in the House or secure approval for public appointments in the Senate, with a Republican-controlled Congress able to frustrate and delay finance bills and disrupt progress on matters of international significance, including the war in Ukraine, climate change, Nato, overseas trade and energy procurement. But a great deal will depend on turnout in key seats such as Pennsylvania, Georgia, and Nevada where the races remain tight.

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The President’s low approval ratings, the economy, and crime levels are telling features of recent polling in what has become for the Republicans a fact and policy free campaign. The Harvard Business Review has commented that the sole pursuit of victory and politics as war have become the defining features of US elections. The Grand Old Party’s search for political revenge is an unnerving feature of ‘Maga’ Trumpism, and has been evident in the final days of the campaign when their priorities, election denial and the mockery of Paul Pelosi, husband of House Speaker Nancy, were centre stage.

Last week House Republicans released a 1,050-page report laying out their priorities for what they expect will be their takeover of the House of Representatives. After accusing the FBI of being politicised under Joe Biden, the document proceeds to outline the investigations they will undertake in office. In her daily column, historian Professor Heather Cox Richardson said that “their priorities will be to investigate Joe Biden’s son, Hunter, Dr Anthony Fauci, the evacuation of Afghanistan, immigration policies and Merrick Garland and the Department of Justice”. Richardson added “the report makes clear that the Republicans have no intention of actually trying to deal with inflation and are instead going to push the investigations that keep their grievances before the media and feed their base”. This is revenge politics.

Progressives in America remain bemused and baffled as to how a once-great party has become a compliant tool of Trump, an apologist for his factional politics and contempt for the rule of law.

Election deniers will be on the ballot in 48 of the 50 states and they make up more than half of all Republicans running for congressional and state offices. Three hundred Republicans seeking those offices have denied or questioned the outcome of the last presidential election, according to a Washington Post analysis. Many candidates, when asked if they would accept the outcome of the midterm elections, essentially say “only if I win”. Trump continues to damage the credibility and integrity of the election process, helped by the spineless acquiescence of Republican leaders.

Tom Nichols, in an article for Atlantic magazine headlined “The Dark Heart of the Republican Party”, wrote that Trump supporters’ attack on the US Capitol on January 6 last year was “not an outlier”. "Laughing over a hammer attack on an old man, the GOP has completed its transition from a political party to a brutal mob,” he said. This was a reference to the politically motivated attack on Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s husband which attracted jokes and mockery from Republican leaders and candidates.

Former US President Donald Trump looks on as the Republican nominee for governor of Arizona, Kari Lake, speaks at a campaign rally in Mesa (Picture: Mario Tama/Getty Images)

Nichols added: “Republican leaders – and here I will leave aside Donald Trump, who is in a class of hideousness all by himself – have said far worse things over the past five years. But a parade of Republicans somehow thinks that an unhinged, hammer-wielding intruder putting an old man in the ICU is funny.”

This is shocking and deeply depressing for those who believe that politics, regardless of country, colour or creed, should be about respect, tolerance, empathy, and common decency. Particularly vicious was the response of Kari Lake, a former Fox News anchor, right-wing Maga fanatic and gubernatorial candidate for Arizona, who joked about the attack on Paul Pelosi. Victory at all costs, politics as war, exacting revenge, a denial of humanity and casting doubts about election integrity, are danger signs that America can ill afford to ignore.

For the last days of the campaign, President Biden has returned to a theme relevant to the midterms and the 2024 presidential election: “saving democracy” in America. Trump was also on the campaign trail. Speaking at a rally in Iowa, he said: “And now, in order to make our country successful and safe and glorious, I will very, very, very probably do it again.” Another tease about running for President. Trump aides have confirmed a declaration will be made after the midterms. Whether Trump wins the Republican nomination is an open question, as his influence may be waning.

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But amidst the gathering of the darkest clouds for the Democrats, there may be a silver lining. After two years of Republican-inspired revenge politics and the antics of the Maga maniacs, President Biden may, if he decides to stand, find he is triumphant once again in a country that still seems willing to step back from the edge and reclaim democracy. God Bless America!

Henry McLeish is a former First Minister of Scotland

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