On November 6, 2014, the German Marshall Fund cohosted a panel discussion with National Public Radio (NPR) Berlin and Deutsche Bank to discuss the results of this year’s U.S. midterm elections. The panelists included the Honorable Glenn Nye (D-VA, 2009-2011); Martin Klingst, senior political correspondent for die Zeit; Dr. Norbert Röttgen, chairman of the Bundestag’s Committee on Foreign Affairs; and Xenia Wickett from Chatham House. The U.S. Ambassador to Germany, John Emerson, opened the discussion with some perspectives on U.S. elections, and Ari Shapiro, international correspondent for NPR in London, moderated the event. The discussion centered around three main points: the significance of the landslide results, their impact on the 2016 presidential elections and their implications for U.S. foreign policy.
The extent of Republican success in the election on Tuesday came as surprise to many. However, Ambassador Emerson put the results into perspective by reminding us that most midterms are ‘change elections’ and may not necessarily be a game-changer for foreign policy. He conceded that this could matter in 2016, since the electorate tends to dislike double majorities and Republicans will have to prove their ability to cooperate and govern. The panelists offered different takes on why Democrats suffered widespread losses, admitting that while history and voter demographics are important, voter disillusionment with Obama’s administration was a major factor.
In terms of foreign policy, speakers described a Republican agenda likely to include some form of immigration reform and a focus on energy and trade. Although climate change will not be a high priority, the panelists agreed that Obama will use an executive order if necessary. There was a consensus that a Republican Congress will bring little to no change with regard to a host of foreign policy issues, including ISIS, Russia and Ebola, primarily due to continued partisanship in U.S. politics. Even so, Wickett concluded that this election will not change the fact that U.S. foreign policy is on a trajectory that no longer seeks to be the sole enforcer, but rather works with others for more comprehensive engagement.