Shadow Government

A front-row seat to the Republicans' debate over foreign policy, including their critique of the Biden administration.

U.S. Midterm Results Are a Net Plus for National Security

As Trumpism deflates, internationalist Republicans will press the Biden administration on China, defense, and trade.

By , the CEO of the United States Studies Centre at the University of Sydney.
Former U.S. President Donald Trump speaks to the media during an election night event at Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Florida, on Nov. 8.
Former U.S. President Donald Trump speaks to the media during an election night event at Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Florida, on Nov. 8.
Former U.S. President Donald Trump speaks to the media during an election night event at Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Florida, on Nov. 8. Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Just before the 2022 midterm elections, I argued in Foreign Policy that a Republican victory in the House of Representatives would not be all bad for U.S. strategic competition with China because of the Republicans’ attention to defense spending and trade policy and the broad bipartisanship around the Biden administration’s alliance-centric strategy for the Indo-Pacific. The actual result looks to be even better than that, even if we won’t know the final outcome for a few days or weeks. Yes, a Republican House may well go after Hunter Biden and outgoing Rep. Liz Cheney—and generally provide bread and circuses for their base that makes U.S. President Joe Biden look weak and Congress look dysfunctional to U.S. allies. But the public spectacle won’t change the fact that Republican control of key House committees will also give the Biden administration’s hawks and realists a helpful boost. While watching Jacobin show trials on cable TV, foreign-policy experts should remind themselves of what the author Mark Twain said about the music of German composer Richard Wagner: “It’s not as bad as it sounds.”

First, as I noted in my previous assessment, the likely Republican leaders of key House committees and subcommittees for defense, international relations, and trade are all internationalists and realists who will push resources for defense and scrutinize progress on capability-building and ambitious initiatives with allies, such as the Australia-U.K.-U.S. agreement (known as AUKUS) to build nuclear-powered submarines and advanced defense capabilities. This will discipline a Biden administration where many policy areas, particularly trade and extended deterrence, face obstruction from left-wing protectionists and arms control purists in the administration.

But on top of that, the likely election result—a Republican-controlled House, with the Senate still up for grabs as of this writing—will add a bit more wind to the sails of the administration’s effort to organize for strategic competition with China.

Just before the 2022 midterm elections, I argued in Foreign Policy that a Republican victory in the House of Representatives would not be all bad for U.S. strategic competition with China because of the Republicans’ attention to defense spending and trade policy and the broad bipartisanship around the Biden administration’s alliance-centric strategy for the Indo-Pacific. The actual result looks to be even better than that, even if we won’t know the final outcome for a few days or weeks. Yes, a Republican House may well go after Hunter Biden and outgoing Rep. Liz Cheney—and generally provide bread and circuses for their base that makes U.S. President Joe Biden look weak and Congress look dysfunctional to U.S. allies. But the public spectacle won’t change the fact that Republican control of key House committees will also give the Biden administration’s hawks and realists a helpful boost. While watching Jacobin show trials on cable TV, foreign-policy experts should remind themselves of what the author Mark Twain said about the music of German composer Richard Wagner: “It’s not as bad as it sounds.”

First, as I noted in my previous assessment, the likely Republican leaders of key House committees and subcommittees for defense, international relations, and trade are all internationalists and realists who will push resources for defense and scrutinize progress on capability-building and ambitious initiatives with allies, such as the Australia-U.K.-U.S. agreement (known as AUKUS) to build nuclear-powered submarines and advanced defense capabilities. This will discipline a Biden administration where many policy areas, particularly trade and extended deterrence, face obstruction from left-wing protectionists and arms control purists in the administration.

But on top of that, the likely election result—a Republican-controlled House, with the Senate still up for grabs as of this writing—will add a bit more wind to the sails of the administration’s effort to organize for strategic competition with China.

First, the deflation of former U.S. President Donald Trump—and Trumpism in general—will help U.S. diplomats abroad, who are contending with a damaging narrative that their country’s democracy is broken. In Australia, for example, coverage of U.S. elections has recently even eclipsed coverage of Australia’s own national elections. It has been very hard for Australians to ignore the ugly spectacle of the Jan. 6 insurrection, election denialism, Trump’s outrageous attacks on democratic norms, and extremists campaigning for posts that regulate the democratic election process. At a time when threats from China are pushing allies closer to the United States, it is unnerving for friendly governments to contemplate increased dependence on a United States that seems to have lost its democratic bearings, with a radical shift in Washington’s foreign policy potentially just one presidential election away.

There is a strong anti-Trump wall on the electoral map—and Congress has emerged more unified than divided on the most important foreign-policy questions of the day.

In a United States Studies Centre survey published last month, approximately half of Australians said they were “very concerned” about the direction of U.S. democracy, which is a problem when Western alliances are based not only on a common threat perception but also on common values. China’s official narrative against the United States regularly features Jan. 6 as evidence that democracy is not the best form of government, despite surveys showing strong support for democracy and its principles over China’s model. The midterm elections will likely change that narrative and make it easier to be a U.S. diplomat around the world. Voter turnout, the diversity of elected officials, the pushback against the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision on abortion rights, and especially the underperformance of Trumpist candidates in the polls will all be reassuring to the United States’ friends, regardless of whether they prefer Republicans or Democrats in charge in Washington.

Second, the likely size of the Republican victory in the House seems just right to empower the relevant committees to push the Biden administration on defense and trade—but not so overwhelming that it would bring even more disrupters seeking to undercut U.S. engagement and long-term strategy. If Rep. Kevin McCarthy is elected House Speaker, he will find fewer members than he might have expected in his ranks who will be pushing to cut support for Ukraine or questioning the U.S. commitment to NATO. Should Democrats hold the Senate, it will further block any excesses by the “Make America Great Again” crowd in the national-security space. Strong bipartisan support for strategic competition in Congress reflects the sentiments of the American people in surveys by the U.S. Studies Centre and other organizations—and it has now been ratified by the midterm results.

None of this is to say that the Biden White House will enjoy dealing with a Republican-controlled House, that U.S. allies will stop worrying about the extremes in U.S. politics, or that these extremes will go away. But if there is a pattern connecting the last three nationwide elections—2018, 2020, and 2022—it is that there is a strong anti-Trump wall on the electoral map and that Congress has emerged each time more unified than divided on the most important foreign-policy questions of the day.

Michael J. Green is the CEO of the United States Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, a senior advisor at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a distinguished scholar at the Asia Pacific Institute in Tokyo, and a former senior National Security Council official on Asia policy during the George W. Bush administration. Twitter: @DrMichaelJGreen

Join the Conversation

Commenting on this and other recent articles is just one benefit of a Foreign Policy subscription.

Already a subscriber? .

Join the Conversation

Join the conversation on this and other recent Foreign Policy articles when you subscribe now.

Not your account?

Join the Conversation

Please follow our comment guidelines, stay on topic, and be civil, courteous, and respectful of others’ beliefs.

You are commenting as .

More from Foreign Policy

Russian President Vladimir Putin chairs a commission on military-technical cooperation with foreign states in 2017.
Russian President Vladimir Putin chairs a commission on military-technical cooperation with foreign states in 2017.

What’s the Harm in Talking to Russia? A Lot, Actually.

Diplomacy is neither intrinsically moral nor always strategically wise.

Officers with the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) wait outside an apartment in Kharkiv oblast, Ukraine.
Officers with the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) wait outside an apartment in Kharkiv oblast, Ukraine.

Ukraine Has a Secret Resistance Operating Behind Russian Lines

Modern-day Ukrainian partisans are quietly working to undermine the occupation.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and French President Emmanuel Macron wave as they visit the landmark Brandenburg Gate illuminated in the colors of the Ukrainian flag in Berlin on May 9, 2022.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and French President Emmanuel Macron wave as they visit the landmark Brandenburg Gate illuminated in the colors of the Ukrainian flag in Berlin on May 9, 2022.

The Franco-German Motor Is on Fire

The war in Ukraine has turned Europe’s most powerful countries against each other like hardly ever before.

U.S. President Joe Biden holds a semiconductor during his remarks before signing an executive order on the economy in the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington, D.C.
U.S. President Joe Biden holds a semiconductor during his remarks before signing an executive order on the economy in the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington, D.C.

How the U.S.-Chinese Technology War Is Changing the World

Washington’s crackdown on technology access is creating a new kind of global conflict.