FT Live subscriber webinar on the US midterms
FT journalists and veteran commentator Norm Ornstein explain why Democrats face tough times in Congress in spite of a ‘good’ midterm election night for President Joe Biden. Ornstein, Ed Luce, Rana Foroohar and James Politi explore who might run for president and vice-president in 2024, and how Ron DeSantis might take on Donald Trump after his resounding re-election as Florida governor. Ornstein warns western allies to prepare for a curtailed American role in the world under a more dictator-friendly breed of Republicans
You can enable subtitles (captions) in the video player
...and welcome to this special FT Live on the midterm elections. I'm Edward Luce, the US political commentator. I'm joined by my colleague Rana Foroohar, FT columninst and also fellow contributor to Swamp Notes, our newsletter, James Politi, one of the bureau chiefs here in Washington DC, and our guest today, Norm Ornstein, one of the best, most experienced scholars of American politics and also participant in American political reform and the author of, amongst many books, It's Even Worse Than it Looks.
Well, I don't know what, Norm, your view is going to be on this week's election. Maybe that title won't describe it. But it has been a pretty surprising and a pretty remarkable midterm election. We were all... the conventional wisdom, at least, was anticipating a red tsunami, a red wave, a shellacking, a thumping.
And what we've seen is something quite different, the least different, the least bad performance by a president in the midterms for 20 years, the least bad by a Democrat. Democratic president for 40 years. So Joe Biden, once again, has defied very, very low expectations.
Also an extremely bad night for Donald Trump. Not only did most of his favourite candidates, the more Trumpian candidates, like Don Bolduc in New Hampshire, Doug Mastriano, for the governorship in Pennsylvania, and many, many others across the board, lose, or look likely to lose, but Ron DeSantis, his potential challenger for the 2024 nomination, had a massive landslide to be re-elected as governor of Florida.
Rupert Murdoch also seems to have turned on Donald Trump. The New York Post's headline this morning is Humpty Trumpty. And just to finish off the poem, all the king's horses and all the king's men could not put Trumpty together again. So Norm, let me start with a question, a very direct question for you about Trump is, is this the beginning of the end for Donald Trump?
So when I saw the New York Post headline, my comment was, oh, a lover's quarrel.
Of course, Rupert has dumped many in the past. But this is a really bad time for Trump. And we saw this on Fox and other places, even on Fox, that they were saying on election eve, where they had expected this red tsunami, that Trump was to blame. Trump himself had said, if we win, you can thank me, if we lose, blame somebody else, which was classic Trump.
But we also have to keep in mind what's lurking in the background, here. And it's not just whether Republicans have decided that he is a drag on their chances rather than a boost, but we've got indictments looming, many indictments looming, Georgia, to start with. And from everything we know about what Fani Willis, the prosecutor in Fulton County, Georgia, has said and done, probably fairly quickly there.
The Justice Department has moved slowly but almost certainly we will see indictments there. We know in New York that they've basically taken over his business. And it's quite possible that the Trump organisation will be dissolved.
Trump is on a downward slide into some very bad things and very bad times. But Trumpism is still not dead. And that's the important part of this, Ed. If somehow Donald Trump just disappeared from the face of the Earth tomorrow, the pathologies in the American political system are there. And they're in many ways, more dangerous.
And we can talk about that more. In spite of an election that, as you said, was a stunningly good one, in perspective, for Joe Biden and his presidency, although we're going to talk about the bumps in the road that will follow from that.
But we may still see Kari Lake, one of the most dangerous election deniers, win a governorship in Arizona. We've got some other races that are hanging in the balance. The cultural problems, the divide in the country, is still great enough that I'm not getting the good night's sleep that I had hoped I would even after an election that turned out to be less dangerous than we had thought.
You make a very good point that DeSantis and others are not auditioning to kill Trumpism. They're auditioning to be the new heads of the MAGA movement. And that's - we will get on to - and maybe James and Rana will have views on DeSantis in a moment. But just as a quick follow up, midterm elections for first-time incumbent presidents are traditionally seen as a referendum on those presidents.
And clearly this became more of a split-screen midterm election because of Trump. And the party was in a complete panic on Monday night when it looked like Trump might actually announce his candidacy for 2024 and completely intrude on...
Fair to say, therefore, that the difference between what the conventional wisdom was expecting to happen on Tuesday night, which is this red wave, and what actually happened, which is this far more calibrated, even, outcome, that Trump was the difference, or are there other factors, such as the abortion Supreme Court ruling that played a role here, Norm?
There are definitely other factors. And I think the conventional wisdom believe that with Biden's approval rating in the low 40s, with a number of polls showing that the top issues were inflation, the economy, and crime, that the other things wouldn't matter.
But those other things, starting with the Dobbs decision and the abortion issue, including what now, for a lot of Democrats and independents, was a concern over the radical direction that the Republican party had taken, a substantial turnout among younger voters, more than we had expected, which I think was driven significantly by the abortion issue out there, all of that made a difference and turned it into a different kind of election.
And I think we can talk more about the realities that it's not a uniform, national result, Florida going dramatically further in a red direction, Ohio, where you had a Senate candidate, a Democrat, Tim Ryan, who ran the best campaign of anybody this time against JD Vance, who ran a horrible campaign and who's a horrible person.
But Vance still won pretty comfortably because it's still a tribal world. And Ohio, which was once a swing state, is becoming firmly Republican as well, while we saw dramatically different results in places like Michigan, Pennsylvania, and in Minnesota.
It's not clear that there is a national set of issues themselves that can explain everything. But there's no doubt in my mind that if the Supreme Court had not ruled the way it did on Dobbs, we'd be looking at a much worse result for Democrats, as we look at it today.
So you mentioned Florida. Rana, I know you've also been paying attention to the pretty extraordinary Republican performance there, no longer a swing state. It's very clearly a red state now, as Ohio is.
One of the silver linings, perhaps - and you and I have talked about this and written about this - is, to America's political polarisation, is that the racial polarisation isn't as great. You do have a lot more Hispanics voting Republican. And you even have some African-Americans moving over into the Republican column. But this is particularly true for Hispanics in Florida. What do you think explains that?
So it's really interesting. For viewers who are listening, Ed and I actually did a Swamp Note on this a few days ago. And Ed, you posed, I think, quite correctly, that Hispanics are not a single block and that Democrats really hadn't gotten that. We've seen them vote totally differently in different parts of the country, in the Midwest, in Florida, in Texas. And this reflects the fact that they're coming from different places, from different socio-economic groups, with different kinds of interests.
I've often thought in general that Democrats do better focusing on issues of class rather than slicing and dicing identity. I've thought for years that's made things very divisive within the party and has taken the party in the wrong way and alienated a lot of people. I think that's particularly true when you're dealing with the Hispanic community.
I grew up in the rural Midwest, in Indiana, and there are a lot of Hispanics there that are small business owners, they're migrants. They still believe in the American Dream. They would respond to a message of less regulation, lower taxes, more than they might respond to social issues and identity messages. And I think that Florida reflects that.
I'm also just fascinated - and I would love to hear what Norm thinks about this too - by the meaning of Florida. Florida has become the anti California, the anti New York. It's like the conservative answer to everything that they would believe is wrong with a place like, where I'm sitting, Park Slope, Brooklyn or San Francisco.
It's low taxes, private sector, we don't care if there's another hurricane, we're not going to worry about who can get flood insurance or not, but we're open for business and the money is pouring in. Now whether the latest crypto boom is going to be the beginning of the end of some of that or - I should say bust - is going to be the beginning of the end of some of that, I'm curious.
But there's a kind of, as always, with Florida, a no-holds-barred, live life, be prosperous, and it's almost a libertarian vibe. And Norm, I'm curious if you would say the same.
So Florida is fascinating. We used to think of Florida, when we thought of it as a swing state, of being multiple states. Miami-Dade County, it was a solidly blue area. Then you'd move to the panhandle, Pensacola, which was extraordinarily red. The middle of the state was more red. Miami-Dade County went red this time.
But beyond that, and there's some, perhaps, funny, good news for Democrats in all of this because I think one of the reasons that Florida moved from purple to red is that a lot of Republicans moved from Pennsylvania and Michigan and New York and New Jersey, down to Florida. And that provided enough of a cushion that the Democrats could do better in those states.
Even having said that, that Ron DeSantis won so handily against a former governor who actually was fairly popular when he was governor, is striking, and that Marco Rubio, another example, an incumbent Senator but who - when Trump labelled him 'Little Marco,' it stuck in a lot of ways - running against what ought to have been a perfect Democratic nominee, Val Demings, a former police chief, a member of Congress, who ran quite an effective campaign. And she lost by a big margin as well.
And that's really a sign that Florida has become a Republican state, period, I think for all the reasons you say, Rana. And I think if we look at Hispanics there, which is.. and that's a polyglot. We have Venezuelans and Guatemalans, a lot of Cubans, obviously, that they have turned as much as they have, I think, is a reflection of the fact that Republicans have very skillfully used the word 'socialism' to their advantage.
And Democrats missed a beat in Florida this time. Recall that Ron DeSantis basically kidnapped a bunch of asylum seekers in Texas, dragooned them into or lured them to Florida the same way that the old man would lure a child into a van with candy..
...and then flew them, using a large amount of taxpayer money, to Martha's Vineyard but... and called them illegal immigrants. These were Venezuelans fleeing the Maduro regime and going through enormous hardship to get to the United States to seek asylum.
And that Democrats didn't pound away at that and say, Ron DeSantis, you're giving aid and comfort to Maduro, you want to talk about socialism, was political malpractice, not that it would have made all the difference but it's pretty clear that Democrats, if they're ever going to get back into the game in Florida, are going to have to do something about those Hispanics in Miami-Dade.
Can I ask one question, just on the back of that? Why did the Democrats in Martha's Vineyard not show up and - where immigrants are being shipped off - not show up and say, thank you, we have a labour shortage in this country. We desperately need immigration. Please, hey, we're going to put these folks to work in the hospitality industry, here. Why did they not make just a huge political boondoggle of that?
Democrats are not very good at messaging, as we say. Now you could say they're terrible at messaging. They still did better than Barack Obama's midterm elections, when presumably, they were better at messaging than Bill Clinton, who was great at messaging. So we can't blame everything on that, or wherever they lost on that. But there was a tone deafness there to the opportunities available.
And the same is true, let me say, Val Demings, in a debate with Marco Rubio, took on the crime issue by turning it into a gun issue and did it extraordinarily effectively. And there Democrats are on really solid ground. The overwhelming majority of Americans are appalled by the way guns have been out there and assault weapons killing people. They want background checks. They want bans on assault weapons.
That's the way to hit the crime issue. And they didn't do that at all. And that hurt, I think, in a number of places where - the last thing you want, in a campaign, is to be on the defensive. You want your opponents to be on the defensive. And that's an area where they're going to have to do some additional work.
So a very good point. And with all these instances of Democratic malpractice, to still get this result does bring us back to Donald Trump, I think. And James, you've been travelling a lot around the campaign, trail to the swing states. You've seen Trump. You've seen DeSantis.
If, as expected, Trump still goes ahead, ignores the advice of pretty much every senior Republican, and still goes ahead with his 2024 campaign launch in Mar-a-Lago next Tuesday - and I guess knowing what we know about Trump and his stubbornness and his pride, it's likely he will go ahead - then what would you imagine a DeSantis-Trump full-on battle looking like? Would Trump just blow him away? Does MAGA still... does the MAGA heart still beat with Trump or is that changing?
Well, it's hard to tell at the moment. In a way, we've been here before in the sense that there have been other moments when, after electoral defeats, some Republicans have blamed Trump. And then he's continued to plough ahead because he has such a strong hold on the base.
The latest polling out, from Morning Consult, this morning, showed that Trump still has over 50 per cent of support for 2024 nomination compared to DeSantis, who has edged up, but is about roughly half that, half that level. And you can see how a sustained campaign by Fox and the Murdoch media and the conservative universe to get rid of Trump, in a certain sense, could have an impact on those numbers and really elevate DeSantis.
But I think that there's still a question about whether DeSantis will really survive the first big contacts with Trump. And we saw, there was a first swipe from Trump over the weekend, calling him Ron Desanctimonious. That didn't really seem to stick on Tuesday, but...
Too many syllables, Ron
So that was a bit of a swing and a miss from Trump. But I don't know if the next swings are going to miss in the same way. And also, we don't really know if DeSantis really has it in him to take on Trump.
He's had opportunities, in previous moments, over the course of the year, to really criticise Trump or to take him on, such as the Mar-a-Lago raid, the January 6 hearings. He could have tried to hit him a little bit when he was down and he declined to do that. And he's been biding his time, maybe wisely picking his moment.
But we don't know, really, if DeSantis has the fight in him to go after Trump head on. And he still hasn't formally announced his candidacy. There are super PACs, donors, who are egging him on, trying to get him to make the first move. Maybe he's waiting for Trump to implode a little bit before going after him. Maybe that's the right approach. But we still haven't seen that big, big clash yet. And we don't really know how, once they're in the ring, how it's going to go.
Norm, I'd like your thoughts on that, whether DeSantis has got the mojo. It seems to me, though, while agreeing with everything that James just said, that Trump might be putting him in the race by himself. DeSantis is being attacked so frequently and viscerally, and there's that tone of menace that Trump has when he targets a rival, that DeSantis just may have no choice but to be his rival. He's being attacked.
Norm, I'm might be interested in your thoughts on that but also on your thoughts about Biden's declaration for 2024. He obviously looks stronger now. He continually confounds low expectations. And I think one of the key elements of Tuesday - and others have said this - is that a lot of people hate Trump. Of course, a lot of people adore Trump too. Nobody really hates Biden.
And that's... it was very interesting to see one of Fox's stars, Jesse Watters, saying, well, there isn't this visceral hatred of Biden the way there was of Obama. And I thought, gee, I wonder why?
That's another angle here. On DeSantis, I think the attacks by Trump are good for him and here's why. Remember when Trump ran in 2016 and the Republican establishment was appalled? But what Trump did on the debate stage was to go after all the other Republicans, giving them nicknames, attacking them. And that was appealing to a group of Republicans who wanted a tough guy who was going to rip apart the opposition and blow up the establishment.
Ron DeSantis, despite doing some really horrific things in Florida, has had this popularity there, I think in part because he's seen as being tough. And if he takes on Trump and wins, that's going to be a positive for him with the rest of the electorate.
Having said that, anybody who watched the debate that Trump had with Charlie Crist, or that DeSantis had with Charlie Crist, he was not ready for primetime. He did very poorly. It's not clear to me that if you put him in the national spotlight, that the sort of chicanery that he uses with press conferences in Florida, where nobody is able to ask any questions, where he gets all the police behind him or when he signs a Don't Say Gay bill, having a bunch of little kids sitting around him, when he's under that scrutiny and really being pushed - and that means being pushed by Republicans, his rivals, because it's not just Trump.
I've been actually gobsmacked to watch Mike Pence, out there now trying to make his pitch, basically, as a gentler version of Trump, having had Trump really call for him being hanged, but now saying nice things. But Mike Pence may have a little bit of a following out there. And Nikki Haley is out there.
And Glenn Youngkin, the governor of Virginia, who's trying to be the nicer version of Trump - he's a full-on Trumpist but he has a fleece vest and he looks less menacing - all of them are going to be stirring things up. And whether DeSantis can make it through all of that is a real question mark.
From the perspective of Democrats, first of all, the more they fight amongst themselves and the more they take on Trump, given what James said, which I think is entirely accurate, that for all of the travails of Donald Trump, for all of the reality that even Rupert Murdoch and his cronies are turning on him, Trump still has this deep following in the electorate with Republicans in the electorate.
There's still this outrage and a belief that he had his election stolen. They're going to be rising up when he is indicted. And if he stays in this game you're going to see a deep division among Republicans. That doesn't mean that they won't be united when it comes to actually voting in November of 2024. But from the perspective of Democrats, if they're in an internal battle that becomes really vicious, that's not such a bad thing.
In a moment, I'm going to ask Rana and you about the next Congress. But James, just whilst we're still focused on what the outcome of the midterm elections were, we're going to get another Senate runoff in Georgia between Raphael Warnock and Herschel Walker. Last time, of course, it decided the Senate. Those two runoffs going to the Democrats meant the Democrats had majority control.
It might boil down to - depending on what happens in Arizona, where they're still counting and in Nevada, where they're still counting - it could once again boil down to a Georgia runoff to decide which party controls the Senate. And now, clearly, you're going to be going down there and covering this. But tell me, what is your hunch about this Walker-Warnock run off? And will Trump get involved again because I suspect viewers will need no reminding, his involvement in the last runoffs caused Republicans to lose, becoming a very familiar story.
Well, I think a lot will depend on whether it will be a decisive election for... a decisive runoff for control of the Senate. I think that if it's not decisive, if the Democrats have already gotten to 50, I think that most likely, Warnock will rather comfortably hold his seat just because you won't get that sense, from the Republicans, that this is the only way that they can... this is their path to gain control. You won't get as much national attention. And on that score, I think Warnock will do better.
What I found... but on the other hand, if it will decide the fate of the Senate, I think that there's just going to be a massive amount of money, a huge effort. It'll be the Republican chance to reset the narrative in terms of what happened in this election. And I have to say, even though Herschel/Walker is a real classic - in some ways, classic Trump-backed candidate, it's very striking that he's at 48 per cent, 49 per cent.
In Georgia, it's a very fiercely-divided, ideological... this is the real battleground of American politics at the moment. Everyone feels very strongly about winning and prevailing. And I think Republican voters are willing to... they're willing to go with Walker if it means that they can overcome, win a Senate Majority.
Of course, if it's not decisive, then I think plenty of Republican voters will stay home. They don't really like Walker as much as they like Brian Kemp, the governor. But they would take him, I think, if it's a decisive race.
OK, let's move on to the next Congress. So Rana, assuming that Republicans do end up with a House majority, a very slim one, presumably, of 5-6, and that Kevin McCarthy becomes speaker, a very weakened speaker, I would presume because that slim margin will strengthen the far right, the Freedom Caucus, the Jim Jordans, the Marjorie Taylor Greenes, et cetera, what, if anything, other than performative impeachments, can we expect from a Congress like that?
That's a great question. In some ways, I think that there's going to be a continued bipartisan consensus over China. I think that that's actually interestingly, for a midterm, China was a campaign issue in about one fifth of the swing states, which is... that's something that comes up during presidentials but it's not such a big midterm issue.
Next week, you're going to see the US-China Commission coming out on Wednesday with another report. It's going to be hawkish. It's going to be very bipartisan. And so I'm going to be interested to see, to the extent that we are moving into a more localised and more regionalised world, that decoupling is continuing, how does the rhetoric and the policy of that play out?
And this is something that you and I discussed a bit in a past Swamp Note in the Ohio election, right, because that was Vance versus Tim Ryan. And both of them were saying, look, we need to reindustrialise the US. We need to... Vance being belligerent, America-first MAGA, Ryan taking a more constructive approach, but basically the same policies around trade. I think that you're going to see everybody rowing in that direction. It's just the tenor of it that will be different, depending on who you're talking about.
That's a very interesting point. In particular, I think it is worth emphasising that Ryan's defeat to Vance, whatever it's, seven points, correct me if I'm wrong, Norm, was considerably narrower margin of victory than Mike DeWine for the governorship, which is something like a 26-point margin for the Republican governor.
So Norm, Kevin McCarthy, you are one of the leading experts on Congress in the world. Kevin McCarthy, is it a safe bet he'll be speaker, assuming they have the majority? And if so, what will he have to do to keep his speakership?
So we know that the several of the Freedom Caucus members have already indicated that they're going to try to reinstate a rule that would keep Kevin McCarthy on a very short leash, that would allow for a vote at any time to remove a speaker if they don't like what's going on. And that's a shot across his bow.
But I've been around Congress for more than 50 years. And I've never seen a leader as weak or as craven as Kevin McCarthy. And that's saying something because there have been plenty of contenders for that position.
He achieved his position, not because of his tactical brilliance, his depth of knowledge, but because he was one of these people who kept tabs on all of the members, knew the birthdays, would send cards when their kids graduated from school or won a medal in an athletic competition. He is a glad hander. And it is trying to appease everybody, that is his trademark.
And even if the majority were larger, the reality is that the Republican party in Congress has been taken over by the radical, election-denying MAGA faction. The Freedom Caucus started in 2015 because the existing rightwing caucus, the Republican Study Committee, wasn't right wing enough.
We've already seen a couple of groups form that believe that the Freedom Caucus isn't right wing enough. And the pressure on him from that faction, with no margin for error in what he's trying to do, will be intense.
What he's already done is to try to appease that group by giving a lot of slack to the craziest of his members, Marjorie Taylor Greene, Matt Gaetz, and some of the others. He is going to give them prominent positions. He's going to focus on doing these hearings, not just about Hunter Biden but about Afghanistan and about the Justice Department.
He's not going to be able to be in a position to be responsible, if responsibility is what's important. And as you and I have talked before, Ed, and as I've written, my greatest fear is that if you have a divided government, you don't have the power to enact legislation yourself. You can use the investigative tools to drive the other side crazy and to bring them to their knees.
But your biggest power is the negative one of being able to block things. And that includes blocking spending. And it includes this odd device of the debt ceiling, which in 2011, when the Tea Party group came in with a midterm that was disastrous for Barack Obama, we came this close to a default, which would shake up the international financial community and the international economy in ways well beyond the United States. That would be a tsunami that would hit a lot of different shores.
And I'm not sure that they're going to be able to avoid it. And what we have to keep in mind is, next Congress, where we are very likely to have that narrow Republican majority in the House, potentially in the Senate, that's the 118th. We will still have the 117th with a narrow Democratic majority in the House and a 50/50 Senate, where they still control it, until January 3.
The Democrats are going to have to find ways to head off the worst-case scenarios that back in 2011, the Republican speaker, John Boehner, managed to keep us from going over the cliff into default. Kevin McCarthy couldn't do that. And so there's going to be a big burden on Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer during this period of time.
If the Republicans somehow take the Senate, in early December, with that race in Georgia, then there will be no confirmations of judges or executive appointees for Joe Biden for two years. And if he wants and needs somebody in a cabinet post, for example, if it's vacated, they're going to try and hold that hostage and blackmail him into doing things that he doesn't want to do.
So they're going to have to work night and day, through December, to be able to head off some of the worst things. And whether all of those Democrats in the Senate - you need every single one - who want to take time off before they start the next time around, are going to be willing to do that, is another challenge.
Biden's got plenty of headaches ahead. It was a wonderful night for him in many respects. But we cannot ignore the traumas and dangers ahead that come even with a two-vote Republican margin in the House.
Ed, can I just amplify one thing that Norm said? Because I completely agreed with your point about the financial market fallout of the debt-ceiling issues. And I think there is always fallout.
This time around, it's going to be hyper amplified by the fact that there is already a huge issue in international markets about trust in the US government. And you're seeing that in the volatility of the T-bill space. You're seeing that in growing concerns about the US fiscal position, particularly in the midst of decoupling, in the midst of who knows what in Taiwan. So I think it would have, actually, a really amplified effect this time.
That's a very, very good point. And I've heard that as they're looking at the lame-duck session between now and early January, Schumer and Pelosi, and James, I want you to respond to this, are thinking, really, of three priorities. First is to try and raise the debt ceiling now. The second is to try and prefund some of the Ukraine military and financial assistance because the MAGA wing of the Republican party is Putinista. A lot of it is pro Putin.
And then third is slightly more esoteric, but maybe more important than the first two combined, is to reform the Electoral Count Act so that some of the discrepancies that led to, or could lead to another January 6, 2021, are just ruled out. James, are you hearing these things? And do you think that passage of any one or all of those three, in the lame-duck session, is realistic?
I think I could see some sort of, in an optimistic scenario, I could see some sort of package coming together along those lines. But the problem is that there won't be much time left because I think they will want to wait until after the Georgia runoff to make some kind of calculation, actually, about what they want to do and how they want to do it, what kind of compromises need to be made.
And on the debt ceiling, I don't think that there's a consensus, really, within the Democratic party about whether you want to be responsible and go ahead and raise it and take it off the table, or whether you want to use it as leverage, in a certain sense, to be able to depict the Republicans as the extremist brinkmanship champions of Congress. And I think that that's a decision that Biden and the Democrats are going to have to make.
I think that it's in a way, it's not just about the debt ceiling when it comes to economic and financial issues for Biden. If we faced any kind of even other financial meltdown, I think that it would be very difficult for the White House and the administration to respond to it if... you couldn't see a scenario, like the Wall-Street bailout, where Janet Yellen goes begging for McCarthy to pass a rescue bill for the financial sector, and that he would say yes.
It would be much harder for anything like that to happen. Even something like the auto-sector bailout... would be very difficult to see if there was a recession. And so I think that from the economic point of view, Biden will have much less flexibility to respond to any kind of crisis.
I think that's absolutely correct. Now just bearing in mind, we've got about 16, 17 minutes left. But we do have questions coming from viewers. And I'm going to throw them in here and there.
I want to ask both Norm and Rana the big, Biden question on whether there's a deeper bench of potential successors for a competitive Democratic primary emerging. Gretchen Whitmer is performing exceptionally well in Michigan. Michigan, for the first time in decades, has a Democratic trifecta. They won back control of both chambers there, as well as her being re-elected. She's quite a strong figure.
People mentioned Gavin Newsom in the Senate. Of course, there's Amy Klobuchar. Goodness knows, maybe even Bernie Sanders would try again. But the question to both of you, starting with Norm, is, will Trump, sorry, will Biden declare his candidacy? Will he run again? And...
...run again? So will he and should he, Norm?
So I'm hearing from a lot of Democrats who are saying, well, he should just take himself out of it now. He's at a good point. I doubt very much that's going to happen.
The history that we have with presidents either in their second terms or who say they're not going to run again, that lame-duck status weakens you in a lot of respects. Now he's going to have all these issues that we know with a divided government.
But I would be sceptical, barring a health challenge that emerges, that he's going to announce anything one way or the other. And one of the reasons is that if you're not running, then everybody else comes right out of the woodwork to jockey for position and you have big, internal tensions that emerge.
The Democrats have a dilemma, here. If Joe Biden were to run again-- and what happens in 2023 is going to have a lot to do with whether he's even in a position to be able to do that-- he would be 86 at the end of his second term. That's pushing it, even in an era where 60 is the new 30 and 70 is the new 40. But 86 ain't the new 50.
At the same time, you have an heir apparent. And the reality is that Kamala Harris, who is the first woman of colour to be vice president, is not a strong presidential candidate. And if you have a bitter dispute among Democrats and in the aftermath of the Dobbs decision on abortion, you bypass a woman and pick a man as your presidential candidate at a time when you need a base that's enthusiastic, you're going to have a problem with a portion of your base.
If you pick somebody who isn't a person of colour, at the same time, you're going to have a problem with another portion of your base. And you're going to have a lot of other contenders out there, including some very attractive ones. Pete Buttigieg, a judge who ran the last time, has been a star for Democrats, appearing on Fox, basically flaying the opposition, there. And he's done quite well as the transportation secretary.
You have Cory Booker, who ran the last time, who's an attractive person. I would say if Catherine Cortez Masto somehow pulls out this victory in Nevada, along with the fact that you have a Hispanic governor in New Mexico who's quite attractive, who just won re-election again, there are going to be a lot of potential contenders but you're going to have a bitter internal contest, which is not anything that you want either.
So both parties have succession issues, here, with Trump on the ropes, with Biden in his 80s. I would be surprised, though, if Biden took himself out of the running before late next year at the latest-- at the earliest.
EDWARD LUCE: That's interesting. Rana, let me just pick up something that Norm just said about Kamala Harris's weakness and what that might portend, in terms of the identity dimension, to a new Democratic nomination contest. That is, of course, the Achilles heel of the Democratic Party as well as its strength.
RANA FOROOHAR: Right, right.
EDWARD LUCE: What do you feel about that?
RANA FOROOHAR: Well, it's interesting because Kamala gets right at both the identity issues and the failure of Democrats to really hold working people. Kamala really identifies much more with the middle of the road, corporatist wing of the party. And that's where she came up. And she took some flack in the beginning for that.
I was hopeful that she would be a stronger candidate. I don't think she is. I would go with Norm and say that I think Biden should run. I think that he is absolutely the guy that still, even as he presents today-- and barring, as you say, any other kind of big, health issue-- that can win right now against, I think, either Trump or DeSantis.
But I would love to see him do it with a different veep. I would actually go with Pete Buttigieg because I think that he hits some of the diversity issues, actually. He's a he's a married, gay man.
He's a veteran. He hits to a lot of fields. He's a good messenger but he's also really strong on policy. I think nobody wants to see Biden going into this next election without a really safe pair of hands that represents something meaningful about the Democratic transition to a younger generation of politicians.
EDWARD LUCE: James, do you do you share that? It seems like both Norm and Rana think that he should run and will run. Now I know as a reporter, you're more cautious about answering should questions. But can you give your take?
JAMES POLITI: I think the Pennsylvania results was very important for Biden. I think that he campaigned there. He's from there. His wife Jill, is from there. He said it's close to his heart. It's the place that you went like 20 times over the past three months.
And to see Fetterman, who was kind of in a bit of trouble the last few weeks, actually win pretty comfortably, I think will be a huge boost to Biden as he looks at 2024. And I felt like it was reflected in the way he talked about it yesterday, saying watch me, I'm going to go for it. And he said he was going to talk about it with Jill between Thanksgiving and Christmas, once they had a little bit of downtime.
And so it looks like he's definitely feeling emboldened. On the other hand, it's also true that the exit polls showed that 66%, or more than 2/3 of Americans, think that he should not run and don't want him to run. And so I think that he has left a bit of an opening to make a decision the other way around.
And he'll have to consider the fact that he is still quite unpopular and that it could be a bit of an uphill struggle. And if he decides to run he might he's going to have to face a lot of criticism in 2023 and beyond that maybe he's actually not up for it. And his legacy might end up losing to Trump or losing to DeSantis at the end of the day, which could be quite bruising because for now, he's the one who beat Trump and did better than expected in the midterms.
EDWARD LUCE: I give you a first prize for understatement.
RANA FOROOHAR: Can we just state one thing about the Pennsylvania election, too? I found it so heartening that you cannot show up and be a total carpetbagger, like Mehmet Oz, and win. And it also speaks to the fact that even someone like Vance, that had Trump support, closer than you might have thought.
So I like the fact that voters are tuning in a little bit to authenticity. Here you've got the celebrity doctor that's campaigning against a guy that had a stroke mid campaign. And it was looking pretty dicey, probably because of Biden's support, but also, I think, because the voters just saw through someone like Mehmet Oz. They made the right decision.
EDWARD LUCE: --good point. A lot of people have been remarking, and I think correctly, in the last few days, that quality of candidates matters and the human connection matters. And whilst a lot of people were focusing on Fetterman's stroke and his difficulties with communicating, actually, the fact that he got back up, went back out there, and showed he had fight, tenacity, and therefore deserving of empathy, I think might have been underestimated.
But Norm, the thought did occur to me, in the last day or two, that the break-in and assault on Paul Pelosi, and Nancy Pelosi's husband, the speaker's husband, in the last few days-- in the closing days of the campaign-- and the fact that many Republicans, starting with Trump, expressed no sympathy for her, in fact, used to use that event as a way of further dissing Pelosi, that might be an underappreciated factor.
We all, of course, we're unusual. We pay attention to politics 365 days a year. But we're a rare breed. We're like stamp collectors. Most people don't pay that much attention to politics until the closing stretches of a campaign. And this happened in the closing stretch. Are we underestimating the backlash against how Paul Pelosi's assault was depicted?
JAMES POLITI: I think you're exactly right, Ed. It's a jolt to Americans, with the fear and the threat of violence emerging through our political process and the tribalism that we have is enhancing that. And I'm concerned, as so many are. And that may have had a significant impact out there and the way in which Republicans have responded to it, the encouragement of violence, which is a problem that we have continuing ahead.
And frankly, it's reinforced, for me, the reality that the Republican Party is no longer a traditional political party. It's a cult. And if he had given sympathy to Paul Pelosi or said, we need to rally behind Nancy Pelosi, as a Republican, you're going to face attacks. So we're in a very different place.
Before we go, Ed, I'd like to make two more points. We were talking about Pennsylvania. Viewers, listeners, should keep their eyes on Josh Shapiro, who won overwhelmingly as the governor of Pennsylvania, who actually is another one of those young, up-and-coming people. He's not going to be a presidential candidate in two years. But there's some talent on the bench there as people move forward.
And then we haven't talked enough about the other implications of a even narrow Republican majority in the House, including, I think, what will be of interest to readers, foreign policy. We're going to have Republicans in the House who are going to try to interfere as much as they can with Biden's foreign policy.
They're going to use the Afghanistan hearings to try and tie down Tony Blinken and others in the State Department. They're going to use the power of the purse to cut back on diplomacy, not just aid to Ukraine. We're probably going to see Republicans in Congress go overseas and try to undermine Biden's ties to our alliances. There are obviously, as you said, a bunch of Putinistas there.
So there are headaches that emerge, even with an election that was far better than expected for Democrats. And they're going to have to do some very heavy lifting, here, to make sure that they can keep everybody on track and moving forward with the policies that they want, when they're going to be undermined, to some degree, from within.
EDWARD LUCE: We have got four minutes left. So I'm going to ask each of you to give a one-minute answer to the following question. And Norm, thank you for pointing out-- FTV does. We're a global newspaper. And this isn't just an American event. This has a great implications for everyone else.
So each of you, starting with James, what should America's allies and partners take from this election? What do you think is significant for them?
JAMES POLITI: I think what's significant is that there is a backlash to Trumpism. So the 2024 election will not necessarily yield a return to Trump. There's a big, red ocean out there. But there's also a very big blue ocean out there.
And I think that that's very important to keep in mind. And American democracy is unsettled but it's continuing to churn and produce outcomes that maybe give some hope that the decline isn't a permanent feature.
EDWARD LUCE: Rana.
RANA FOROOHAR: That's a great question. I think that allies, overseas readers, listeners, sometimes don't understand deeply enough that there is rhetoric that has to be put forward in the US at this moment. Some of the America-First stuff, even the Buy-America stuff, from the Biden administration, which is much fuzzier around the edges than you might imagine-- it's basically Buy America and 60 allies-- that the rhetoric is important for Democrats who have lost working people.
And if you don't want to see Trump in office, you have to be a little more patient with some of the rhetoric and look at the real policies underneath it. And I'm hopeful, I'm hopeful, that this is a moment, particularly with the US and Europe that there could be a little more coming together. I would love to see Macron, on his upcoming state visit in December, really get together with Biden. Let's do some horse trading.
Let's get on the same page with climate. Let's look at the low-hanging fruit. Let's quit bashing the US for EV subsidies-- Hello, Germany, plenty of auto subsidies there, plenty of agricultural subsidies in Europe-- let's get real about politics and policy and get on the same page.
EDWARD LUCE: Norm, the last word to you.
NORM ORNSTEIN: So we can breathe a sigh of relief, momentarily, that the march towards the Orbanization of America has been halted for now. But we also-- for those all around the world, if Trump is fading, Trumpism is not. And Trumpism includes America first, a disdain for alliances.
The lure of dictators is a very strong with them. We have to guard against that as best we can. But everybody should prepare for the possibility of a future where America's role in the world is curtailed. The Reagan wing of the Republican Party is not consequential anymore.
And that means that our allies have to do more, anticipating the possibility that we may not have the same kind of strong, American leadership that the world, I believe, needed and has come to rely on.
EDWARD LUCE: Well, thank you. I saw one made a comment-- and I apologise for not getting through so many of them-- but one, saying, we wish this could have gone on for two or three hours, this fascinating discussion. I agree with that.
Thank you to all four of you, James, Rana, Norm, and his dog, Henry, who deserves a shout out.
RANA FOROOHAR (LAUGHING): Henry.
EDWARD LUCE: Thank you, all of you. That was a really, really substantive, useful discussion, which I greatly enjoyed.
RANA FOROOHAR: Thanks Ed.
NORM ORNSTEIN: Thank you, Ed.
JAMES POLITI: Thanks Ed.