After a surprising set of results following the US midterms last week, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and President Joe Biden both faced equally testing weeks which may point to emerging political trends either side of the Atlantic. Biden and Sunak – the latter fresh into his role following the recent rapid collapse of Liz Truss’ premiership - have had to contend with a political narrative dominated by weak economies, rising inflation, and rivals waiting in the wings for an electoral comeback.
The US midterms was encapsulated by the failure of an expected Republican ‘Red Wave’ to materialise, with the Democrats retaining control of the Senate and a slimmer than expected loss in Congress. With the results mostly finalised this week, Republican candidates failed to perform as expected, a combination of poor candidate selection and the marmite endorsement appeal of former President Donald Trump.
Such a lacklustre result for the opposition party in a midterm election has already divided the Republican Party, even more so considering their inability to capitalise on the incumbent President’s all-time-low approval ratings and rising inflation across the country.
Whilst President Biden went to the G20 in a much more jubilant mood, US politics is arguably more divided than ever. In Congress, the margins will be tight and the political battle lines so severe that any meaningful legislation is unlikely to pass smoothly. The midterms were fought on controversial issues, including abortion and electoral integrity, highlighting that the polarised nature of US politics had not disappeared as fast as Biden would have hoped in his two years of relatively stable governing.
US elections also remain as expensive as ever, with midterm electoral spending expected to top over $16billion. Whilst some final results won’t emerge for a few weeks, including the critical run-off election for the Senate in Georgia in early December - the fall out is already starting to be felt.
With the Republicans still licking their wounds, Donald Trump confirmed his intention to stand for re-election as President this week, despite the lacklustre performance of Trump-backed candidates in the midterms. It seems inevitable he is on a crash course collision for the Republican nomination with former ally and Florida governor Ron DeSantis, who’s re-election was one of the only positive stories to emerge from last week for the GOP.
The significance of the US midterms to Westminster might not be readily apparent. But actually, under the surface they might offer some crumbs of comfort for Rishi Sunak, following the fallout from the Autumn Statement this week.
It’s clear that whilst the UK’s political landscape is no way near as polarising as the States, the same issues matter. The cost-of-living crisis, rising inflation as well as other controversial issues including rising immigration, dominate political headlines.
As the Conservatives continue to receive a battering in the polls, and the Prime Minister only receiving a slight uplift since taking over the job, Sunak knows his position and that of his party remains weak.
But as part of an incumbent government looking to defend its role in handling the pandemic and the ensuing economic fallout, Sunak will hope that his party can copy the Democrats in defying electoral expectations.
With Tory infighting showing no sign of abating, even after the events of the summer, the Prime Minister – much like the President - has just over two years to convince the general public they remain the right man for the job. If both can do so remains to be seen.