What does the midterm election change in U.S. foreign policy?
“We saw record voter turnout in the Nov. 8 election,” says Rachel Rizzo, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. – That said, the “red wave” that many analysts predicted has largely failed to materialize. Although Republicans will gain an advantage in the House of Representatives, President Joe Biden’s administration and the Democratic Party may not be too worried.”
The discussion: America votes: Transatlantic trends in the midterm elections was held Nov. 10 on the floor of the Atlantic Council in Washington.
As experts have reminded us: In the so-called midterm elections to the House and partly to the Senate, which in many states coincided with gubernatorial elections, the majority in one or both houses of Congress traditionally goes to the party which is in opposition to the incumbent president. They are called “midterm” because the president is in the middle of his term.
In 2022, however, the traditional situation, experts say, has also been complicated by a split within the opposition Republican Party. Supporters of former President Donald Trump take a more isolationist stance and, in particular, sometimes vote against expanding economic aid to Ukraine, while being more loyal to such figures as Vladimir Putin. They oppose within their own party the classic “Reagan-type” Republicans. They consider the fight against totalitarianism and defense of the values of a free society as the global mission of the United States.
On the whole, experts don’t expect a significant change in U.S. foreign policy after the election: The Washington Post, in its article of November 9, states: “The 2022 election will be remembered for the fact that Republican enthusiasm ran up against Democrat resistance and produced an unexpected result, which, though it might change the balance of power in Congress, suggests neither a call for a dramatic change of direction, nor carte blanche for the Republican Party.”
Rachel Rizzo speculates: “The election results may mean that the Republican Party is now too entangled in its own contradictions to pay much attention to foreign policy and to block President Biden’s plans for the future.” Vivian Salama, national security columnist at The Wall Street Journal, agrees: “Yes, the ‘red wave’ that many expected didn’t happen. The numbers show that Republicans have made some gains, they’re definitely ahead in the House. But not to the extent expected. And this is beginning to raise questions — especially about former President Donald Trump, who continues to be an important figure in the Republican Party. He actively campaigned for some candidates, many of whom lost. In Pennsylvania, for example.” Candidates supported by Trump are also on the verge of losing in Arizona, Georgia, Alaska and other states where final results have not yet been announced.
Vivian Salama recalls that almost at election time, Donald Trump announced “that he was going to have a very, very important announcement – potentially the loudest in the history of the United States – that he was going to make in a couple of days. Most likely, he was going to announce his intention to run for president again in two years. But many are now saying that the Republican Party did not make the significant gains in the midterm elections that they had hoped for because Donald Trump was so heavily involved in them. Is that a sign that he shouldn’t run?” – Vivian Salama wonders.
“Trump lost on Election Day,” states pollster Celinda Lake, quoted by the Washington Post. – Many of the candidates he endorsed and his style of politics lost. Despite their dissatisfaction with the economy, voters actually endorsed Biden’s policies.”
“It’s not a catastrophic fall for Trump, but it looks like we’ve reached a tipping point,” says historian Gary Gerstle, quoted in the same article. – The Republican Party may be pulling away from Trump somewhat, but not in the sense that it’s admitting it. There’s already a quiet divergence that Trump will see in this election because he’s paying close attention to himself.”
Republican experts also emphasize, according to the paper, that new leaders are beginning to emerge more and more in the party: “Some analysts see the results as a shift in the balance of power within the Republican coalition, with Ronald DeSantis the Florida hebournor as the biggest winner. DeSantis won 58 percent of the popular vote and won in traditionally Democratic Miami-Dade County.” Some Republican analysts believe that party members may conclude that Desantis, who is by no means endorsed by Trump, “could break the nation’s 50-50 gridlock and bring a governing majority.” Other experts, however, name a number of other names or say the predictions are premature.
Helping the “good guys.”
“I’m not a domestic policy specialist; I’ve spent most of my career dealing with U.S. foreign policy,” begins modestly Daniel Fried, an Atlantic Council expert, U.S. ambassador to Poland from 1997 to 2000, assistant U.S. secretary of state for Europe and Eurasia from 2005 to 2009, and State Department sanctions policy coordinator from 2013 to 2017. – Obviously, Republicans are at odds over what the country’s foreign policy and strategy should be; they oscillate between Reaganian tradition and protest. You could call it neo-isolationism, but that’s not really the case. Trump and his group don’t believe in America’s leadership of the free world, they don’t believe in the free world. Trump is actually on the other side: he is on Putin’s side, as are many of his most ardent supporters… They actually believe in a “transactional” American foreign policy that tends to favor dictators with whom to “make deals.” This is a return to pre-Pearl Harbor isolationism,” Daniel Fried thinks, and goes even further. – There has always been ambivalence in the United States about our role as leader in the world; it’s not new, and Trump didn’t make it up. Let’s not forget that in the 1930s isolationists were indifferent to the fact that Hitler was already ruling in Europe; many of them thought it was “not our fight,” they were negative about Western European powers and an alliance with them. This tradition has gone nowhere, and if Donald Trump actually announces his candidacy for president and comments on foreign policy, it will put a great strain on the Republican Party. But the good news is that supporters of the Ronald Reagan line still make up a majority in the Republican Party, at least among elected members of Congress.
Because of the outlined features of the foreign policy views of the “Trump” wing of the Republicans, Russian propagandists actively supported the idea of a “red wave” in the American elections, hoping that the Republicans, having gained control of Congress, would reduce military support for Ukraine.
But Daniel Fried believes that the “Reagan-inspired” Republican majority “may well persecute Joe Biden for not being tough enough and not helping the Ukrainians enough.” However, it is more likely that Republicans “will be concerned with the distribution of the financial burden and are likely to press the Biden administration in this regard.”
In essence, Fried argues, Republicans voting against aid to Ukraine are not against its military support, but against the financial and economic support that burdens the American taxpayer. A Democratic presidential administration, therefore, will face the prospect of difficult economic decisions to determine funding sources. Specifically, Fried says, to use seized Russian assets to fund support for Ukraine.
Let’s not forget that there is also a part of the extreme left in the Democratic Party that does not believe in supporting Ukraine. They, too, have a sense that this is ‘not our fight,’ and there are more important issues.” Fried, however, is confident that Democrats will stand in solidarity in Congress.
Daniel Fried admits that as a result of the series of “wars initiated after September 11, 2001, not all of which turned out well, there is certainly fatigue in American society from the international and military involvement of the United States in problems in other parts of the world. This is one of the reasons why the Biden administration and the president personally are so determined not to send the U.S. military to Ukraine.” Explaining to the American taxpayer and voter that international engagement and American leadership is “not idealism or charity, but actually looking out for America’s interests is something this administration, like any other, should do.”
Daniel Fried is optimistic: “Ukraine is winning. Democracy is successfully defending itself against a much stronger – or seemingly so – country. Americans see this struggle. Ukrainian flags hang everywhere in the U.S., not just in such “democratic” regions as Washington or San Francisco… So there’s another side to this – it’s pride in the fact that we’re blatantly helping the good guys. It’s a story that appeals to people. So the Joe Biden administration is tasked with leading the free world, and helping Ukraine is part of that journey.”