It continues to intrigue me that sometimes we can get more emotionally involved in US elections than our own.
The well-documented US mid-terms are a classic case in point. There has been a good deal of analysis before, during and after the elections on this side of the Atlantic and a lot of satisfied noises about the hefty defeat endured by the President and his Republican party.
The much anticipated re-election of the “Governator” in California aside, the Republicans have been left reeling by what many consider an anti-war vote that has swept the Democrats to victory. Despite a brief hic-cup caused by former presidential candidate John Kerry’s supposed misreading of a campaign speech, immediately seized upon by George Bush peddling his usual anti-American line, the Democrats haven’t really needed to break into a sweat to achieve this victory.
Most of the donkey work has been done for them by government policy, not just on Iraq but on domestic issues as well.
There is little doubt, however, that the President and his party have been badly scarred by the on-going war on terror. Unthinkable as it seemed when Bush defeated Kerry, many Americans are now publicly voicing concern about where the President has led his country in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere in his pursuit of al Qaida and Osama bin Laden.
The fact that his defence chief Donald Rumsfeld fell on his sword so swiftly is very telling. A long-time Bush family friend and architect of much of the war on terror campaign, Rumsfeld appeared bullet-proof (even if those around him were not so fortunate). The informed speculation was that he would remain firmly at his President’s right-hand side until the bitter end.
Now that the end, for Rumsfeld at least, has arrived sooner than anyone (himself included) expected, many are questioning how the President will cope without such a staunch personal and professional ally.
More intriguing, perhaps, is whether the protest vote of the mid-terms and Rumsfeld’s departure will provide the President with the get-out clause that simply hasn’t been available to him up until now?
By “taking notice of what the people say” and by saying goodbye to Rumsfeld – without forcing him to endure the humiliation of being sacked as a blatant scapegoat – George W could have been thrown the lifeline he needs to complete a slightly more dignified u-turn and scale down of operations in Iraq, Afghanistan and wherever else the war on terror is being waged.
Then again, he is just as likely to plough on regardless. Predicting what such an unpredictable President is likely to do is something most analysts have long since given up on.
It is also questionable whether the mid-term protest vote will be carried forward to the next presidential election.
Our own electoral experience in recent years suggests that the government of the day can more or less expect a bloody nose during its lifetime at various local elections and by-elections. But when it comes to the main fight, the General Election, it invariably starts as firm favourite and any defeat would form something of a major upset.
So for all the Democrats’ understandably triumphant proclamations and posturing this week, the real battle is now already under way. It will be a big task for them to carry these successes forward.
Bush may have lost his buddy and the battle for the House and the Senate. But he and the Republicans know that the war has only just begun.
(As an aside, The Guardian’s coverage of Donald Rumsfeld’s departure offers http://www.guardian.co.uk/quiz/questions/0,,1943315,00.html. It provides a fitting epitaph to his time as Defence Secretary.)