Republicans have a problem. Donald John Trump intends to run in 2024 for what he calls his third term after causing an electoral disaster for Republicans last week.
Democrats have a problem. Joseph Robinette Biden, Jr. intends to run for a second term in 2024, notwithstanding the fact that he will be a bit more than 86 years old when he will have to assist Mrs. Biden in packing up to leave the White House.
Americans have a problem. In 2024 they might have to choose between the huckster whose vulgar and divisive behavior has overshadowed his important accomplishments and the oldster, who has managed the economy to double-digit inflation and converted an oil surplus into a deficit.
The Republican wave anticipated for last week proved to be a mere ripple. Democrats retained control of the Senate and at best Republicans will have a wafer-thin majority in the House that will unleash a war between Trumpkins and what passes for moderates to decide on who will be Speaker.
Barack Obama was right when, in 2009, he told Republicans attempting to affect his policies, “Elections have consequences. Tough luck. You lost. Get over it,” Indeed they do, said Republicans, when the Senate they controlled confirmed the nomination of extraordinarily well qualified Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court over the objections of every member of the Democratic minority.
If Republicans do control the House and its committees, they will investigate the FBI, Internal Revenue Service, border control and anything else on their list of nemeses. Some will demand impeachment of Joe Biden as revenge for what Democrats did to Trump. Meanwhile, when asked, Biden could not name a single policy area in which he is prepared to compromise with the opposition. Bipartisanship RIP.
Last Tuesday was a bad night for Donald Trump. Although a few of his acolytes won races, his preferred candidates in Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Nevada and Arizona were, well, trumped just as he announced he would run in 2024. Democrats had shrewdly poured cash into the primary campaigns of Trump’s candidates on the theory that those would be the easiest to beat. They were right. Trump’s rage at again being the thing he hates most, “a Loser,” extends to his wife, whom he accuses of talking him into backing Dr. Oz in Pennsylvania. Some have difficulty accepting the image of Trump, the dutiful husband bowing to his wife’s wishes.
Adding to any unease he might have felt at voters’ rejection of his choices was the spectacular re-election of Florida governor Ron DeSantis, who swept up formally Democratic voters in every demographic category en route to a 20-point victory margin. DeSantis is widely regarded as Trump’s leading rival for the Republican presidential nomination. Trump is unperturbed: he threatens to release “things about him that won’t be very flattering…” and has begun to do so. But he whined his loudest whine when Rupert Murdoch’s New York Post dubbed DeSantis the new leader of the Republican Party and Trump “Trumpty Dumpty”.
It was also a bad day for Volodymyr Zelenskyy, despite his forces’ recapture of the shell of Kherson. Offsetting the joy at what was a substantial military achievement is a cloud no bigger than a man’s hand, and the man is the consequential Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark Milley. While Biden’s National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan was announcing that the administration would not put pressure on Zelenskyy to negotiate, General Milley was supporting Republican demands that Ukraine’s president do just that.
In the likely event that Republicans gain control of the House, and even if they need help from a few Democrats, they aim to end the stream of blank checks flowing from Washington to Kyiv. They object to Ukraine’s expansion of its war aims to include regaining territory lost in 2014, Zelenskyy’s refusal to set out achievable terms for a negotiated settlement, the lack of rigorous auditing of Ukraine’s use of aid funds, and they are offended by the refusal of America’s allies to come up with the cash they have pledged. It will be hard sledding for the Ukrainian president this winter who quite rightly argues that he is doing America’s work by weakening a potential adversary.
The bad day for Trump and Zelenskyy was a good day for President Biden. He avoided drowning in a Republican tsunami. His chances of gaining support for a run in 2024 were increased by Trump’s announcement of his own candidacy, since Biden can reasonably claim to be the man who has proven he can put paid to Trump’s political career in a one-on-one showdown.
Biden will retain control of the powerful state-within-a-state, regulatory agencies. Agencies under his control will continue to refuse to issue drilling permits, shut down coal plants, tighten regulation of drug prices, and attempt to contain the power of Big Tech. Unless the Supreme Court decides he does not have the constitutional authority to do so, he will forgive loans of many delinquent students.
He will also be in a position to indulge his hatred of Elon Musk and his hugely successful Tesla, the electric vehicle manufactured by a work force that has chosen not to unionize. Biden is calling for an investigation of the national security implications of Musk’s efforts to convert Twitter into an unbiased public square, an alternative to the pro-Democratic censorship of other platforms. Musk might not pull off the difficult feat of restoring balance to internet news and comment, but he shouldn’t be faulted for trying.
Which brings us to perhaps the biggest winner last week, a man who has no need for voter approval. Federal Reserve chairman Jay Powell saw inflation come down and, even better, not so much as to require any change in his plan to continue raising interest rates. Over the twelve months ending in October, prices rose 7.7 per cent as measured by the Consumers Price Index (CPI), well below the 9.1 per cent inflation rate clocked only four months ago, and last month’s 8.2 per cent. Investors took that as a signal that the Fed would have inflation under control with less tightening, and drove share prices up some 5 per cent, the best one-day performance since April 2020.
The new congress will not be sworn in until January 3 of next year. Fortunately, that is a time when the legislators will be suffused with the goodwill-to-all, love-thy-neighbor spirit of the holiday season. Then the political focus immediately shifts to 2024, with Republicans hoping Stephen Sondheim had it right when he commanded his audiences, “Come on, be brave. This time a ripple, next time a wave.”