Here's why Joe Biden is smiling today, even after U.S. midterm setbacks

Here's why Joe Biden is smiling today, even after U.S. midterm losses. Republicans — and Donald Trump — emerged from the election with unexpected bruises in a surprisingly close fight.

Republicans (and Trump) emerge from election with unexpected bruises in surprisingly close fight

Former U.S. president Donald Trump, left, watches a video of President Joe Biden during a Republican rally in Miami on Sunday. Both Trump and Biden took some lumps in Tuesday's midterm elections. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Joe Biden might someday look back fondly on the first two years of his presidency as akin to a carefree ride in his beloved convertible Corvette.

Because the next two could be bumpier.

His party's potential loss of the U.S. House of Representatives in Tuesday's midterm elections would mean both personal and professional turmoil. It likely means a hostile legislature that blocks his legislative agenda and investigates his son, his family businesses, his administration officials, the FBI, even Dr. Anthony Fauci.

Here's the most surprising part, however: Biden sounds elated. 

That's because an unusual thing occurred on the way to Democrats' widely anticipated drubbing — it never arrived. 

"The press and the pundits [were] predicting a giant red wave. It didn't happen," Biden said Wednesday.

There's a standard ritual for presidents the day after their first midterm: they admit to taking a beating, and solemnly vow to draw some lessons from their defeat.

But when a reporter asked Biden what he'd do differently now, he replied cheerfully: "Nothing," then went on to list his legislative achievements.

WATCH | Biden weighs in on Donald Trump's potential presidential run

Biden on Donald Trump's potential presidential run

5 months ago
Duration 4:07
U.S. President Joe Biden said if Donald Trump were to run for president in the next general election, efforts would need to be taken toward 'making sure he, under legitimate efforts of our constitution, does not become the next president again.'

It was a closer race than the generations-long norm for the midterms, where the opposition party almost always dominates with an average gain of 27 House seats since the Second World War.

Republicans netted far fewer seats than average for an opposition party; they may barely win the House and may not win the Senate at all.

The incumbent president's party appeared to lose its razor-thin majority in the U.S. House of Representatives while remaining unexpectedly competitive.

It defied historical trends in the process.

This was not the type of midterm pounding habitually administered to incumbent presidents from Lyndon Johnson, to Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.

Biden's assessment of the results found bipartisan agreement: "Definitely not a Republican wave, that's for darn sure," Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham lamented on NBC.

Republicans have likely won back the U.S. House of Representatives; the Senate could go the other way. (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

Trump's troubles

The results are laden with silver linings for Biden. And they include lumps of coal for his opponents, including his chief nemesis, Donald Trump.

Republicans actually lost previously held governorships and legislative seats. Several election-deniers lost races to control the voting process in swing states.

The anti-abortion side lost referendums. Trump's hardest-core allies lost or under-performed, as in the Wisconsin gubernatorial race, and Georgia and New Hampshire Senate races. Mainstream Republicans did better.

Case in point, Georgia: Trump-backed Republican Herschel Walker, the football legend, got way fewer votes in a Senate race than a Republican foe of Trump, Brian Kemp, got in the state's gubernatorial race.

Democrats retained control in multiple swing states: Wisconsin, Minnesota, Michigan and Pennsylvania, and unexpectedly won new power in some state legislatures. 

Wisconsin's re-elected Democratic governor listed issues that contributed to his win, then concluded with the bigger picture: Voters mostly rejected conspiracy-theorists and election-deniers.

"You showed up because you saw our democracy was on the brink," Tony Evers said in his victory speech. "And you decided to do a damn thing about it."

In Michigan, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer celebrated her own re-election, and a victory by the pro-choice side in a referendum that will preserve abortion access in her state: "We are thrilled."

Trump has been hinting he'll announce another presidential run next week. He took in the midterm results at his Florida residence, seen here. (Ricardo Arduengo/Reuters)

Pro-Trump conspiracy-mongers tried and failed to gain control over election administration in Michigan and several other states where they lost races for governor and secretary of state. 

Perhaps the most disquieting news of all for Trump: one of the night's most-dominant performances was put up by Ron DeSantis, the Florida governor now emerging as his only early rival for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination.

Which explains the immediate chatter among conservatives about whether it's time to turn the page on Trump, who's presided over a losing streak since his one stunning victory in 2016.

Some Republicans sounded eager to twist the knife into Trump's political career.

As the ex-president contemplates announcing a comeback bid any day now, some conservative news outlets and columnists began touting DeSantis or anointing him as their party's future.

"This is truly a pivot point for the Republican Party," Geoff Duncan, a Trump critic and Republican lieutenant-governor of Georgia, told CNN.

"This is a time that Donald Trump is no doubt in the rear-view mirror." 

Internal GOP rivalries could have global ripple effect

Republican leaders in Congress will have to manage such internal divisions — over policies, personalities and tactics. They'll be stuck managing an unpredictable caucus.

A number of Republican backbenchers are angling to fight their own leadership.

For example, they want to impeach Biden, despite party leaders discouraging such talk. Some, like Marjorie Taylor Greene, have already filed impeachment motions.

Those internal dynamics of the GOP could have global ripple effects.

Some backbenchers want to cut off funding for Ukraine's war. Or use the threat of a U.S. debt crisis to force policy concessions from Biden, with potential repercussions for global markets.

A number of election deniers looked to become the top election officials in key swing states, including Arizona Republican Mark Finchem, who was in Washington during the Jan. 6 riot. (Brian Snyder/Reuters)

Where the Democrats' record stands 

This will be an unpredictable couple of years; challenging for Republican leaders, and rough for the president and his family.

Democrats will no longer pass the bills they dream of. Their legislative agenda will likely stall at high noon on Jan. 3, 2023, when Republicans take over the House of Representatives.

That would leave Biden's legislative scorecard as follows: A massive pandemic-relief bill, a jobs recovery, historic climate spending, some drug-price control, a wave of funding for infrastructure, some gun control, and new tech research.

That agenda also brought historic spending, record debt and high inflation, which undermined Democrats' efforts to hold Congress. 

American voters have now likely frozen his party's ability to do much more. The list of unfinished business for Democrats? Immigration reform, election reform, paid parental leave, expanded public health care and statehood for Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico.

Red alert: the likely Republican House intends to hammer Biden officials with investigations, including ones into the president's family. (Leah Millis/Reuters)

As for his own plans to run again, Biden said Wednesday he'll spend the coming weeks discussing it with his wife and make a decision early in the new year. 

He added, cryptically: "I plan to do it now but, you know…"

Focus now on Senate results

Eyes now turn to the U.S. Senate.

Democrats have a solid chance of holding it, although the results might remain unclear for days or even weeks, depending on recounts, with the potential for déjà vu from 2020: Georgia will, once again, have a run-off election later this year that decides the Senate.

Democrats need to win two out of three seats in either Georgia, Arizona or Nevada, where votes are still too close to call.

If Democrats do hold the Senate, they can keep working on a top priority: confirming judges nominated by Biden and reshaping the judiciary after a decades-long shift to the right.

And if that happens Biden will have one more reason to smile. Even in defeat.


Alexander Panetta is a Washington-based correspondent for CBC News who has covered American politics and Canada-U.S. issues since 2013. He previously worked in Ottawa, Quebec City and internationally, reporting on politics, conflict, disaster and the Montreal Expos.


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