Why the World Is Watching the U.S. Midterms

HHistorically, US midterm elections barely register outside of the United States the way presidential elections do. Who is elected governor of one state or senator of another is of little relevance to international audiences, except perhaps for foreign governments, passionate politicians, or particularly nerdy Americanophiles.

This is no longer the case. Since the Trump era, US elections on all sides have become a matter of international concern, and observers inside and outside the country will find it hard to remember such an important midterm contest. than the one held on Tuesday. These midterm elections were the first elections to be held since the 2020 presidential race, when false claims that the election was stolen circulated widely in Republican circles, culminating in the Jan. 6 Capitol uprising. 2021. Dozens of candidates ahead of the November 8 midterm elections trumpeted former President Donald Trump’s false claims that the 2020 election was stolen. Across the country and leading up to the ballot, these races are widely seen as a litmus test for the durability of Trumpism, as well as a stress test for American democracy.

At the beginning of Wednesday, these two tests remain inconclusive. The Republicans’ anticipated landslide victory in the House of Representatives never materialized, though the party is still favored to secure its coveted majority. While several of Trump’s biggest endorsements, such as TV doctor-turned-Senate nominee Dr. Mehmet Oz and far-right gubernatorial candidate Doug Mastriano ultimately flopped, others, like the Senate candidate JD Vance, prevailed. A number of battlefield races, some of which have been marred by right-wing conspiracy theories about problems with voting machines, are still too close to call.

For international observers, the outcome of hundreds of individual midterm races matters less than what they collectively indicate about the future direction of US policy. “The big reason the world is watching the midterms is to try to understand what’s going on in American democracy and whether, when the United States appears on the world stage, it will be a partner to its partner and an ally of its allies,” says Leslie Vinjamuri, director of the United States and Americas program at Chatham House in London. “It has become increasingly blurred.”

Certainly, American politics is virtually unrecognizable even to its closest allies since the Trump presidency. If international media coverage of the midterm elections is any indication, the most important issue for many foreign observers, particularly in Western Europe, is the health of American democracy and its potential for even greater setbacks. On the day of the vote, the German daily The Tagesspiegel published an editorial that presented the vote as a test of the courage of American democracy, as did writers from the French daily Release and that of Spain El País. Emily Tamkin from Great Britain new statesman also questioned whether this contest, filled with candidates echoing Trump’s voter fraud lies, could be the last real US election.

Read more: What happens if a candidate challenges the results of a midterm election?

Such a question might have been unthinkable just four years ago, when the overriding concerns facing US allies were whether Trump would pull the country out of NATO or enter a trade war with some of his closest allies. . Much of the concern these days revolves around whether the US election can go ahead without contest or violence and what impact, if any, its domestic political upheaval in recent years could have on the rest of the world.

“The question people are asking is, is the United States going to be a reliable partner? DC, who spoke to TIME from Germany. “The perception is, with shifting majorities, it gets harder.”

But there are also pressing political concerns driving global interest in these middle ground, particularly with regard to Russia’s ongoing war in Ukraine and the climate crisis. While Ukraine has enjoyed bipartisan support in Washington to the tune of $60 billion, additional funding has become markedly more politicized ahead of Tuesday’s vote. Congressman Kevin McCarthy, who is tipped to replace Nancy Pelosi as Speaker of the House if Republicans take control of the lower house of Congress, suggested last month that there would be no “check in white” for Ukraine with Republicans in charge – a position he has since walked back to. But others within the party have doubled down on this more nationalist stance, foreshadowing a potential split within the Republican Party, which has already seen support for Ukraine wane among its voters. In a campaign speech Last week, QAnon conspiracy theorist and Republican Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene promised that under the GOP, “not another penny will go to Ukraine. Our country comes first.

Foreign policy remains largely within the realm of the presidency, but the direction of travel on these issues is important nonetheless, especially if taking action on them requires congressional approval. On climate change, for example, “It’s very clear that the Republican Party is full of climate deniers,” Vinjamuri says, noting that while the Biden administration has managed to pass a major climate package in the Climate Reduction Act. inflation, it is unlikely to do so again in a divided or Republican-controlled Congress.

Read more: ‘It’s all on the line’: How the midterms will shape Biden’s 2024 plans and his legacy

Although midterm elections generally act as a referendum on the ruling party, these elections are as much about President Joe Biden, who remains relatively popular on the world stage (albeit unpopular at home), as his predecessor. So far, neither Biden nor Trump have confirmed whether they will run in the next presidential election in 2024. But the outcome of the midterm elections could impact those decisions. Trump, who on election night said he would claim all the credit for his endorsements who won their races but none of the blame if they lost, could announce his candidacy as early as next week, if he does choose to run. While Biden has said he “intends” to run for re-election, exit polls indicating that a majority of voters do not think he should run again may cause him to reconsider his decision.

Regardless of their rulings, these midterms offer the world’s clearest proof that the Trump era of American politics was not an aberration. The question facing America’s allies is how it chooses to use this information. When it comes to US involvement in the world, particularly in terms of its support for NATO and Ukraine, Europe “quickly reverted to a bit of complacency,” Vinjamuri says. After these mid-terms, that might start to change.

More election coverage from TIME

Write to Yasmeen Serhan at [email protected]

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