People here in Japan are very much interested in the final result of the U.S. midterms, as the outcome could affect Donald Trump’s candidacy for the next presidential election.
The Japanese media is anxious to know whether Trump will run again or not in 2024. Having read the Japanese newspapers for the past several days, however, I have no idea which side — the Democrats or Republicans — really won Tuesday’s elections. Actually, Japan’s major daily newspapers are confused as well or mesmerized at best.
Although most Japanese media reported that the result so far was unexpected, it is hardly surprising. As early as Monday, the day before the election, I wrote that the polls in America have been so often wrong that we should not place too much faith in their predictions.
“The most important thing to remember,” I wrote, “is that pollsters are human beings as well, and they often make errors.” In America, polling firms that fail to predict elections are forced to “exit” or “change their research methods,” while those that get it right often become “emboldened” or “arrogant,” increasing the likelihood that their predictions will fail the next time around.
There are many problems such as politics becoming like a sporting event, news programs turning into showbiz and, with advanced information technology, everything from highly accurate intelligence to gossipy stories are immediately broadcast to the world.
My first experience with U.S. elections was 46 years ago, in 1976, when I was studying in the United States. My assignment was to volunteer for an election, so I assisted in a local campaign for a candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives. Even though I was a complete outsider, the staffers taught me a lot of things, even allowing me to interview the candidate himself.
Since then, I’ve learned a few things about American elections — some were only valid until the 2016 election, but things may have changed yet again during this past midterm voting. Here are some rules of thumb:
Until 2016, fundamentalists, or uncompromising purists like Trump or Bernie Sanders, could not win elections. However, Trump’s victory in 2016 showed that this idea is no longer valid. It may show that America is undergoing a profound social divide.
When rich fundamentalists gain some support, they often create a third party and run for office. If this happens, their political party will split and lose the election. A typical example was Ross Perot’s candidacy and Bill Clinton’s victory in 1992. The Republican Party in 2016 was almost divided but Trump avoided the split by taking over the entire GOP.
A presidential election cannot be won by a candidate who is popular in some parts of the country alone. In order to win nationwide support, it is important to achieve a balance between the presidential candidate and his or her running mate in terms of their support base. In this regard, Trump was prudent in choosing Mike Pence as his running mate in 2016. This rule of thumb will be valid in the future.
What matters most is a healthy sense of balance among American voters.
Jimmy Carter’s victory after the Watergate scandal, Ronald Reagan’s win after the Iranian Revolution, Bill Clinton’s election after the end of the Cold War and Barack Obama’s rise to the presidency after the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq are quintessential examples of this truism in American democracy. I wrote about this before the 2016 presidential election — and I was wrong.
To be fair, Trump’s victory in 2016 was the only exception that shook this rule of thumb. The Biden victory in 2020 barely restored it, but it no longer seems likely that this will remain valid in the future.
Before this year’s midterm, I thought of four possible scenarios: first, a landslide victory for the Republicans; second, Republicans gaining a narrow majority in both houses of Congress; third, a 50-50 split, with the Republicans winning the House and losing the Senate; and fourth, Democrats surviving and retaining both houses.
If we are somewhere between the third and fourth scenarios now, did Trump really win the election? And does he have a chance to win in 2024? A Bloomberg newsletter stated that “There was one surprising loser on U.S. election night who was not even on the ballot: Donald Trump and his extremist brand of politics.”
Is this a reasonable assessment? Many in Tokyo wish to hear what Trump is thinking right now.