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Sensemaker: Democracy’s big night

Sensemaker: Democracy’s big night

What just happened

Long stories short

  • Democrats held back a Republican midterm surge in key US states and districts (more below).
  • Gavin Williamson resigned from Rishi Sunak’s cabinet to avoid becoming “a distraction”.
  • Security officials at a South Florida airport found a handgun hidden in an uncooked chicken.

Democracy’s big night

Putin will have been watching the midterms carefully, from behind the sofa. Nothing scares the Russian dictator quite so much as voters changing facts on the ground, and there’s been plenty of that in the US overnight. Votes are still being counted but it’s not too soon to conclude that

  • the red wave is off;
  • DeSantis is on;
  • Americans want access to abortion; and
  • democracy’s big test is still to come, in Ukraine. 

In turn:

Good but not great. That is the preliminary verdict on Republicans’ performance on a night when they hoped to sweep congressional and state races, and didn’t, and Democrats clung on in important places, but probably not enough of them to keep the House. 

  • Senate. John Fetterman’s Senate win in Pennsylvania despite suffering a stroke during the campaign keeps alive Democrats’ hope of retaining control of the Senate. More on this and the rest of the results in tomorrow’s ThinkIn with Dave Taylor.
  • House. If the Republicans were going to run Washington with a big new House majority in the second half of Biden’s term they would have won Virginia’s 7th district, which they didn’t, and they would have held North Carolina’s 13th, which flipped instead to a Democrat running against a former college football star who’d been backed by Trump.
  • Alternative facts. As of this writing close to 200 Republicans who deny Biden won in 2020 or have questioned the result will be elected to state or national office at least partly on that platform. 
  • Trump. That doesn’t mean Trump is a shoo-in for the Republican nomination. Not by a long chalk (see Florida rules below). He helped the writer JD Vance win a Senate seat in Ohio but cleaving to his stolen election myth seems to have been a turn-off for moderate Republicans and a boost to Democrat turnout in New Hampshire and Pennsylvania, where election deniers lost in Senate and gubernatorial races respectively.

Florida rules. Ron DeSantis won re-election as Florida’s governor by a yawning 20-point margin that 

  • vindicated in electoral if not moral terms his strategy of redrawing Florida’s congressional district map to turn it reliably red;
  • fired up supporters at his victory party, where they chanted “two more years!” because that’s all he would be able to serve if he won the presidency;
  • set him up for a run for the Republican nomination, even if, as seems likely, Trump declares a bid next week.

Abortion counts. Seven in ten voters said the overturning of Roe v Wade this summer was an important factor in their voting decisions, according to the AP’s VoteCast, which surveys voters as they leave polling stations but also compares results with previous years. Six in ten said they were angry about the Supreme Court’s ruling and wanted a federal law guaranteeing access to abortion. Only 4 in ten who said they were pleased.  

No blank cheque. That’s the short answer to the question of how the midterms are likely to affect US funding for Ukraine’s war effort against Russia. So far Congress has approved military aid packages worth $18.9 billion, far more than Europe’s contributions combined. But 

  • the Republican Kevin McCarthy is the most likely next House Speaker and he’s warned he will vet White House funding bids more carefully if installed;
  • Marjorie Taylor Greene, the conspiracy theorist from Florida, has said she won’t vote for another penny for Ukraine, and she was re-elected last night. 

Mercifully Greene is not representative, even of the many House Republicans who understand that Ukraine is the speartip of a global fight for democracy in which the US is intimately involved. This means that with a smaller-than-expected Republican House majority, substantial US funding for Ukraine should continue.

Even so, it’s time for Europe to step up.


War profiteers

Two items from the department of untroubled consciences: India’s foreign minister has said his country will continue buying cheap Russian oil because the arrangement works “to our advantage”. And Turkey, which has condemned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine but expanded trade with Russia significantly since February, has started paying for some of its imported natural gas in roubles. India’s Subrahmanyam Jaishankar was meeting his Russian counterpart for the fifth time this year and saw no obstacle to buying up Russian oil being offered at steep discounts because so many other potential customers are shunning it. Turkey’s agreement to pay for Russian gas in roubles bolsters… the rouble, enhancing Moscow’s ability to buy weapons abroad and prosecute its war. 


Ancient beard lice 

The first known sentence written in an ancient Canaanite language has been discovered, on a head lice comb. The ivory comb was excavated in Tel Lachish Israel in 2017, but the engraving was so shallow that it was only noticed this year. It was deciphered by Dr Daniel Vainstub, a Semitic epigraphist who reckons the inscription dates from around 1700 BC and reads “May this tusk root out the lice of the hair and the beard”. The team that found it has said it was probably supposed to work by casting a spell to eradicate beard lice rather than by physically dragging them out. “The comb inscription is direct evidence for the use of the [Canaanite] alphabet in daily activities some 3,700 years ago,” said Professor Yosef Garfinkel from Southern Adventist University in the US. He explained that given its material it was likely an imported luxury item; a sign that lice were a problem even among the upper classes.

Our planet CLIMATE AND geopolitic

Lines in the sand

Net zero isn’t subjective, says the UN. A group of experts at Cop27, backed by the UN Secretary General, is calling for red lines for industry and governments that announce phoney net zero pledges. They say claims to be carbon neutral shouldn’t be accepted from institutions that continue to support new fossil fuels or deforestation, buy questionable offsets or don’t report transparently on direct and indirect emissions. They also set out plans for a taskforce of regulators to set net zero rules. Antonio Guterres, creator of the group, said using bogus net-zero pledges to cover up massive fossil fuel expansion was reprehensible and rank deception. “The sham must end.” But his campaign against greenwashing may cause trouble for John Kerry, the US climate envoy, whose plan to fund the developing world’s transition with carbon credits could clash with any new UN net zero definition. In other Sharm news: a disruptive Egyptian MP was escorted from a press conference held yesterday by Sanaa Seif, sister of political prisoner Alaa Abdel Fattah, who hasn’t had water since 6 November in protest at his detainment. We spoke to her for this week’s Slow Newscast.

The 100-year life health, education AND GOVERNMENT

University walkout

The list of sectors voting to go on strike across the UK keeps growing. Around 70,000 lecturers, researchers and librarians will walk out of 150 universities on 24 November for a three-day strike over pay, pensions and working conditions. Jo Grady, general secretary of the University and College Union, said universities were “about to experience strike action on a scale never seen before”. Over two million students will be affected, but the National Union of Students said they stood “in solidarity” with striking staff. To watch: teachers and headteachers in English schools are currently voting on whether to strike; the Scottish teacher union will announce the result of its ballot this week; the Royal College of Nursing is expected to strike nationally for the first time; strikes by the Royal Mail postal service are ongoing and the RMT rail union is reballoting members despite calling off a strike this week. 


Juan Carlos

Spain’s former king has appealed an English court’s ruling that he is not entitled to legal immunity over harassment claims brought by his ex-lover. Corinna zu Sayn-Wittgenstein sued Juan Carlos, claiming he subjected her to “a continuous and ongoing campaign of harassment” after their relationship ended. The High Court rejected the former king’s argument that he has state immunity as a senior member of the Spanish royal family, because he abdicated in 2014. His lawyers are now arguing at the Court of Appeal that Juan Carlos is entitled to immunity for the period before his abdication. It is a tawdry tale, of kings, love affairs and billion-dollar deals, told in our February 2021 podcast, The Money Hunt.

Thanks for reading. Please share this round, send us ideas and tell us what you think. Email sensemaker@tortoisemedia.com.

Giles Whittell

Additional reporting by Giles Whittell, Barney Macintyre, Sebastian Hervas-Jones, Paul Caruana Galizia

Photographs Getty Images, Dafna Gazit/Israel Antiquites Authority

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