Several right-wing Indian thinkers would be disappointed by the US mid-term election results. They would have hoped these polls would be a springboard for Donald Trump’s triumphant march back to power in 2025.
For, they would expect a Trump presidency to be good for a Modi-led India. (It would be — though Biden has not been half as bad as the initially much-delayed phone call had seemed to forebode.) But a MAGA (Trump’s slogan Make America Great Again) surge proved elusive. In fact, Trump-backed candidates generally took a bigger beating than other Republicans.
More significantly, the right-wing media turned on Trump. That may indicate that Rupert Murdoch and other powerful erstwhile backers, and possibly a segment of the deep state, have decided it’s time to dump the now-badly tainted Trump. If MAGA Republicans didn’t hold the Trump line, why should they? There are alternatives, most notably (for the moment) Florida Governor Ron DeSantis.
Ironically, right-wing media analysts generally proved unable to see which way the wind was blowing almost as much as liberal media analysts proved they were out of touch with Middle America in 2016.
I doubt if Trump will throw in the towel. He can’t, for that could pave a path to jail. If he’s sensible, he will now put forward a proxy/successor on whom he can depend. To me, the obvious choice is his daughter, Ivanka. Her husband, Jared Kushner, remade a great deal of the US’s foreign policy while Trump ruled.
Ivanka is charismatic. The photo she posted on polling day displayed a svelte, alluring girl-next-door charm. If big backers plump for her, her raw charisma would trump the moral plank of a Liz Cheney and the earnestly discursive style of Tulsi Gabbard — two other women who could be presidential candidates next year.
Some have speculated that Donald Trump Jr would be Trump’s political successor. But he can be nasty, without his father’s savvy. He doesn’t inspire confidence that he’s up to the job. My sense is that Ivanka would be a better bet.
Some Indians would also wish to see Trump’s last secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, in the White House. He would be 61 in 2025. Ivanka would be 45.
The real takeaway from the US midterms is that that country is neatly divided in half, across states other than Republican bastions such as Texas. Many results — for Senate, Congress, even Governor — across the sprawling country were decided within one or two percentage points. At times, a 55 per cent win seemed pretty much exceptional.
Not only is the divide pretty even, but it is also sharp. Many backers of each side are pretty strongly committed. Ideological moorings seem to have deepened. This extends the trend of the 2020 elections, even in very different circumstances (Covid-19, abortion, inflation, employment, Ukraine). Issues were different this time but the parties remained evenly poised, despite the expectation among some analysts a few months ago that abortion rights would bring forth an unstoppable wave of women’s support for Democrats.
It seems that a lot of voters were at least as concerned about inflation and economic trends in general. That would have caused them to vote against the party of the incumbent president — hence, for Republicans — as is the established pattern for mid-term elections.
The fact that this was the least mid-term surge away from the incumbent party in many decades could encourage President Joe Biden to seek a second term, despite apparent age-related issues. He has been somewhat noncommittal in recent months.
A second takeaway is that younger voters mobilised. They evidently accepted non-binary sexual orientations more than older voters might have. The US now has an openly lesbian governor (in Massachusetts), and two transgender state legislators — in Minnesota and New Hampshire.
Repercussions on the Ukraine war
These results will reverberate across the Atlantic — and the Dnipro. Russia’s President Putin must have hoped for a boost for Trump, even more than right-wing analysts in India. Berlin and Paris too must be pleased — relatively.
It’s the new right-wing governments in Rome and Stockholm — and old ones in countries like Hungary — that may have preferred a better Republican showing. They want less to do with the war in Ukraine than that other right-wing European government — in Poland. The better-than-expected mid-term Democrat performance will encourage Biden to stay the course.
It will not be easy, though. Now that Republicans will control both houses of the Congress, US funds for the Ukraine war will be in relatively short supply.
No doubt, Ukraine’s impressive moves since September to gain ground on battlefields in northeastern, and on the right bank of the Dnipro in southeastern Ukraine were driven in part by the knowledge among Ukrainian commanders and strategists that they must do as much as they can before the supply of funds and arms from the US (most likely) dwindles after these mid-term elections.
On the other hand, the Biden administration may feel emboldened to increase pressure on India to cut back its recently much-increased energy imports from Russia. Given how things have played out since February, however, we can trust External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar and his colleagues to continue to walk the war-engendered strategic tightrope quite deftly.