The Impact of the Midterms at Home & Abroad

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The 2014 midterm election results are in. And with a Republican House and Senate, President Obama may have his hands full.

Can House Speaker John Boehner and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell wrangle a fractious party? What do we know about where the country is headed in the last years of President Obama's final term?

Theda Skocpol, a professor of government and sociology at Harvard University, examines what the election results say about the American electorate and the political direction of the country as both parties prepare for 2016.

“I don’t think a great deal will be accomplished over the next two years,” says Skocpol. “But there will be some areas of policy where the president and the Republican Congress can come to some kind of understanding.”

Though the focus during the midterm elections was on the GOP gaining control of the upper house of Congress, Skocpol says there are deeper issues at play.

“The issue really remains of extremists in the House of Representatives,” she says. “Now there are a set of fairly extreme new senators to join Ted Cruz in the Senate. A lot of the drama will actually be inside the Republican Party.”

Skocpol says that as 2016 approaches, Republicans and Tea Party members will both be jockeying for the presidential nomination, which could create internal divides within the Senate majority.

“You’re going to see competition to see who can be the most extreme in terms of catering to the right wing of the Republican Party,” she says.

Though the Senate was closely watched this cycle, Skocpol says some of the most important and surprising victories came at the state level with the selection of several Republican governors.

“Scott Walker’s re-election was a big deal because he’s followed some of the most extreme policies,” she says. “Also Thom Tillis eked out a victory in North Carolina over Kay Hagan. One is a governor and one is a Senate race that has really signaled where the party has moved.”

How The World Views the Midterms

When the United States holds a national election, the rest of the world watches. Edward Luce, U.S. columnist for the Financial Times, explains what midterms mean for America's place in the world.

“I think those who are paying attention know that gridlock stems equally from both parties, if not more from the Republicans,” he says. “But in terms of President Obama’s foreign scope to pursue an active and effective foreign policy, and his willingness to do so, there is already deep skepticism about that around the world. I think Tuesday night’s results in the midterm elections will only reinforce that.”

In Europe, there is still some hope that a Republican-controlled Congress will give President Obama the authority to independently negotiate a trans-Atlantic trade deal. However, Luce finds that prospect to be highly unlikely.

“I think the Republicans would be loathe to give Mr. Obama such scope to negotiate a deal without their input,” he says. “Especially having just won what they see as a wave election, and an election that they see as a mandate to repudiate President Obama’s agenda.”

In addition to America’s allies in Europe, Luce says that opponents in places like Moscow, Beijing and Caracas are also paying attention to the results of the 2014 midterm elections.

“There will be nuances depending which parts of the world are looking at this,” he says. “But overall, it’ll be seen as a sort of ‘For Whom the Bell Tolls’ moment for President Obama two years before his presidency official comes to an end.”

In the near future, one of the most important issues on President Obama’s foreign policy agenda is an Iranian nuclear agreement—an agreement that might be complicated by the 2014 midterm results.

“There’s a deadline for [the nuclear] talks to reach agreement later this month,” says Luce. “Congress would of course be involved with that too.”

In exchange for dismantling part of its nuclear enrichment program, Luce says that President Obama will need to ask Congress to start reducing sanctions on Iran.

“Will this new Congress be more likely to cooperate with that than less?” he says. “I would have thought they’ll probably be less likely to cooperate.”