It wasn’t how the midterms were meant to go for the Republicans.
The unwritten rule of US politics is that an incumbent president – even one who has caught the heart of the nation – will take a battering in Congressional elections at the half-way point of their term.
Call it inevitable dissatisfaction when big promises fail to materialise. Call it a commitment to checks and balances. With few exceptions over the past decades, midterms tend to be the time for the opposition to thrive.
But this November just past, that fabled Red Wave failed to materialise.
Yes, the Republicans gained the House. It was a small win. Just ask Kevin McCarthy how hard it will be to keep his party in line after it took him 15 ballots to get elected Speaker.
The GOP also failed to take the Senate – in spite of several close contests. The Democrats even increased their presence in the upper chamber with John Fetterman’s win in the critical swing state of Pennsylvania.
In spite of a narrow loss in the House, it was unquestionably a good night for Biden.
It would be too easy at this stage for liberals and leftists to get complacent. The Speaker election saw their side of the aisle uncharacteristically united behind Hakeem Jeffries while they watched the GOP tear itself apart.
The Republicans are also likely to face a bitter and divisive contest for the 2024 presidential nomination. With Trump refusing to leave the stage quietly, but his rivals showing no sign of letting him retake the crown without a fight, the primaries will most certainly be an ugly affair.
The Democrats will avoid this drama in the likely even Biden runs for re-nomination uncontested.
But the party would be foolish to assume this will lead them to an easy victory in 2024.
Trump’s base of support remains fanatically loyal to him, and Biden’s approval ratings are far from ideal.
Last time, Trump had a poor record to defend, while Biden could cling to hid political gravitas and decades of Congressional experience to be seen as a safe alternative.
While it would be unfair to write off Biden as a disaster of a president, we would be far from alone to call him underwhelming.
Without a strong message to take to swing voters in 2024 – explaining why their lives are better as a result of Biden’s administration – the Democrats once again risk a repeat of 2016. Campaigning on not being Trump is not enough.
The spectre of Trump’s first win should haunt Democrats forever. Biden needs to give a positive vision for what another four years under him would look like.
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