WASHINGTON -- Dismal poll numbers before the election foreshadowed a historic loss by the Democratic Party on Tuesday.
In a radio show before polls closed on election day, U.S. President Barack Obama acknowledged that many states were leaning Republican. "This is probably the worst possible group of states for Democrats since Dwight Eisenhower," he said with a clear sense of dread, referring to the president whose party lost by a landslide in the 1958 midterm elections.
And his nightmare scenario came true. The Republican Party took the majority in both the House and the Senate for the first time in eight years. Obama will have greatly diminished policy options during his two years left in office, and growing political polarization could further paralyze the U.S. government.
But the threat of war and terrorism is not waning, and the world cannot risk a standstill or retreat from the global powerhouse. The fight against the Islamic State terrorist group, or the containment of Ebola, would become even bigger challenges without strong leadership by the U.S. The lack of a "global policeman" could also trigger another Ukraine-like crisis.
Cui Tiankai, the Chinese ambassador to the U.S., said that no U.S. election will affect bilateral ties and that he hopes to keep things that way. But leaders in Beijing are wary of the results, since Republicans tend to take a tougher approach to the Asian giant. They are now calculating what the fallout might be like when Obama turns into a lame duck.
One key issue coming up in the next two years is the fate of the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade pact. The negotiations, which Japan is also party to, are currently at a crossroads. Should the pact fall through, it could cast a shadow on global growth and security.
There is a possibility that Republicans, who have until now been driven by the desire to block Obama's every move, could be awakened by a sense of leadership and turn pragmatic with an eye toward the 2016 presidential election. Thomas Mann, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, points out Obama may now have an easier time garnering support for the TPP, and for intervention in Iraq and Syria.
This fall, former presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton caught up while launching a leadership scholarship program. Bush, who was heavily criticized for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, apparently called Clinton twice a year during his second term for advice on global issues.
Obama's mantra of bipartisanship alone would not move politics forward. The two parties must now join hands for the sake of both the U.S. and the world. The entire country, including the Republicans exultant over their victory, must come together or the world could face serious turmoil in the next two years.