Analysis – The ‘red wave’ that wasn’t promises to complicate the rest of Joe Biden’s term. But for his rival, Donald Trump, the future is even more uncertain after the resounding victory he predicted turned into repudiation.
After a surprising election night, President Joe Biden has managed to avoid his worst-case scenario – for now.
Democrats still look likely to lose control of the House of Representatives, presenting the president with serious challenges over his next two years in office.
But as counting continues in the US midterm elections, the ‘red wave’ Republicans had been predicting has so far failed to materialise.
And with several key states still too close to call, Democrats still have a shot of retaining the Senate.
Donald Trump, who has heavily hinted he will announce another presidential run next week, had been hoping to capitalise on a strong Republican showing.
Instead, one of the best performances on election night was that of his potential rival for the Republican nomination, Ron DeSantis.
The Florida governor was re-elected for a second term in a thumping victory he described as a “win for the ages”.
With several of Trump’s hand-picked candidates struggling to win their seats, some Republicans will be asking whether the former president offers the party its best path forward.
Either way, it’s likely to set up a fierce internal battle as focus quickly turns to 2024.
What do the results mean for Biden?
While spirits in the White House may have been lifted by last night’s results, losing the House of Representatives would deliver a substantial blow to Joe Biden.
Republicans may not have picked up as many seats as they had been hoping for – some had predicted a rightward shift of 25 seats or more – but a Republican majority in the chamber would still hamper the president’s ability to prosecute his agenda.
He will find it even more difficult to get legislation passed and is likely to face a series of congressional investigations, including into his son Hunter Biden.
Some Republicans are also planning on trying to impeach the president.
Although, too narrow a victory could have other implications.
The Senate is still too close to call, with a Democratic win in the crucial swing state of Pennsylvania keeping alive the party’s hopes of holding onto the chamber.
In a 2020 rerun, control could again come down to Georgia, where the top two candidates face a runoff election next month after neither received more than 50 percent of the first-round vote.
Expect an intense, divisive and expensive campaign as both sides throw everything they have got at the peach state over the next four weeks.
In the meantime, the early results more broadly are likely to buoy Joe Biden who has faced calls from within his own party to make way for a new candidate to contest the 2024 election.
The president’s party tends to lose significant ground at the midterms, including Barrack Obama’s “shellacking” in 2010 and George W Bush’s “thumping” in 2006.
So far, the Democrats have performed better than expected.
Although, with low personal approval ratings, and an 80th birthday fast approaching, questions around the Democratic nomination are far from settled.
Is Trumpism on its way out?
Donald Trump sought to project confidence at an election night party at his Mar-a-Lago property in Florida, before taking to his social media platform to celebrate what he described as a “great evening”.
“The Fake News Media, together with their partner in crime, the Democrats, are doing everything possible to play it down,” he said on Truth Social.
“Amazing job by some really fantastic candidates!”
However, a number of the former president’s highest profile, hand-picked candidates have either lost their races or appear to be struggling as counting continues.
In the closely watched state of Pennsylvania, celebrity doctor Mehmet Oz lost his Senate contest to Democrat John Fetterman, while election denier Doug Mastriano failed to win the governor’s race.
In Georgia, Republican Herschel Walker has so far failed to best his opponent, Democrat Rafael Warnock.
While Brian Kemp, the incumbent governor who drew Trump’s ire by resisting his pressure to overturn the results of the 2020 election, was easily returned.
And in Arizona, gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake – who became one of the most outspoken backers of Trump’s 2020 baseless stolen election claims – is still trailing Democrat Katie Hobbs.
There were some bright spots for the former president, including the election of JD Vance, the best-selling author turned venture capitalist, to a Senate spot in Ohio.
A Republican-controlled House could cause all sorts of chaos for the Biden administration, which would be compounded if they take the upper house as well.
But this wasn’t the resounding victory Trump had been hoping for as he prepares to launch his 2024 bid.
In an email to supporters this morning, he continued to tease the prospect of an official declaration on Tuesday local time.
“I’m going to announce something huge at Mar-a-Lago, and I want you to be there,” the message screamed.
Some in his party are urging him not to go through with it.
“I think what he should do is endorse Ron DeSantis, who was the huge winner in this election,” Republican strategist John Feehery told the ABC.
“I know he’s not going to do that, I think that he has a lot of vested interests in running again.
“But this election was bad for him.”
With the midterms now mostly out of the way, a series of investigations into the former president, including his role in 6 January and his handling of classified documents, could soon come to a head.
Trump could be looking to announce his candidacy ahead of any potential indictment, in the hope it would further complicate efforts to prosecute him.
And many doubt his ego would allow him to abandon a presidential bid when he continues to falsely assert that the last election was stolen from him.
Economy and abortion are key issues
While predictions of a ‘red wave’ may have been overstated, the significance of abortion rights was likely downplayed.
It’s difficult to drill down into which exact issues swayed votes at these elections, but according to a leading exit poll, voters’ concerns about the economy barely topped abortion, 31 percent to 27 percent.
Democrats built momentum in the immediate aftermath of the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v Wade, but optimism seemed to fade as the economy took a turn for the worse.
And in several states where reproductive rights were explicitly on the ballot, voters decided to strengthen protections.
In Kansas, which memorably rejected a push by state Republicans to weaken constitutional protections for abortion in August, voters doubled down by re-electing Democrat Laura Kelly as governor over a Trump-backed challenger.
Michigan, California and Vermont voted to amend their constitutions to enshrine abortion protections.
Two years is an incredibly long time in politics and both sides will be looking for lessons in how these midterms played out.
In what sometimes feels like a never-ending election cycle in the US, 2024 will be here before we know it.