Defying almost universal expectations and well established historical patterns, the Democratic Party retained its control of the U.S. Senate in last week’s midterm elections. The opposing Republicans wrested back power in the U.S. House of Representatives, but will have won only a very narrow majority after several outstanding races are called—and when all is said and done, will likely have an advantage in the House of fewer than 10 seats. This result is so pervasively surprising, given that parties out of power usually rebound in U.S. midterm contests, that it’s prompted an unusual emerging consensus across the American ideological spectrum—that Republicans’ current brand of politics, particularly its association with Donald Trump and his effort to deny and overturn President Joe Biden’s electoral victory in 2020, is becoming toxic to voters. Yet meanwhile, on Tuesday, Trump declared his own intentions for the 2024 presidential campaign from his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida: “In order to make America great and glorious again, I am tonight announcing my candidacy for president of the United States.” What’s happening here?

Bill Scher is a U.S. journalist and a contributor to The Washington Monthly and Politico Magazine. As Scher sees it, the Democrats over-performed against the expectations in American media coverage for a number of reasons—not least a growing concern among voters about the threat to democracy represented by extremist conspiratorial rhetoric among Republican candidates. As Scher notes, many of the Republican candidates running for governor or secretary of state—offices that specifically oversee election administration—lost pivotal races in competitive states such as Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. To Scher, this election is far from a broad validation of the Democratic Party’s priorities and performance; but it does demonstrate the resilience of a left-of-center political coalition in the United States against Trump’s coalition over the last three election cycles. The Democrats face uncertainties and intra-party disputes that will continue to affect them, Scher says, but at the moment, they’re more unified and sure-footed than the Republicans—who may be on the verge of a brutal internal battle over the question of whether Trump continues to lead them.

Graham Vyse: What do you see as the most important implications of the U.S. midterm elections?

Bill Scher: The single most important implication is that Donald Trump’s style of politics generally and election denialism specifically are not appealing to most Americans. That doesn’t mean they’re necessarily supportive of the Democratic Party’s platform—in fact, exit polls showed that many U.S. voters have misgivings about where Democrats stand—but if the choice is between Democrats and Republicans directly associated with a threat to democracy, those voters will tend to favor the Democrats. We’ve now had three election cycles in a row—2018, 2020, and 2022—in which Donald Trump’s influence on the Republican Party has been limiting its voter appeal. This latest cycle has shown that most definitively.

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