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Trump discovered the depth of his appeal was an illusion in the midterms – but is it the end for him?

What happened in Pennsylvania? What happened in America? How did a president with a record low approval rating manage to come through an election smiling?

This midterm election bucked the trend. On Tuesday, the American people defied a historical precedent that the party of the sitting president gets whacked in the midterms.

To be clear, Joe Biden‘s Democrats did lose the House of Representatives, and as I write, the Senate is too close to call. But the margins were so tight. It was not the Republican wave the polls and precedent had anticipated.

It will take time to get a clear understanding of what happened. In states across the land, county boards of elections will upload the lists of voters who voted (a separate system to the one which uploads vote totals). Once this is done we will know a lot more about turnout by age, race, sex, and location.

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‘I’d like to welcome the fake news media’

But one thing is clear, even before all those statistics: in most cases, voters rejected inexperienced candidates, they rejected extreme candidates, they rejected dishonest candidates, they rejected election-denying candidates. In short, they rejected Trump candidates.

Donald Trump was the big loser on Tuesday night. Democratic values were tested (just sit through any of his rallies), but in the end, this time, the system’s failsafe worked: more people were motivated to get out and vote. The process saved the principle.

Pittsburgh’s Schenley Plaza park, where I had watched hundreds gather to watch former president Barack Obama speak three days ago, has returned to normal. The stage has gone. The students are back in this university quarter of the city.

“So it’s like, if they didn’t come out and vote, I feel like it just would have been all red. I don’t know. I feel like we just had a really strong impact on it,” 20-year-old Sydney told me.

Image: Sydney, left, pictured with her friend, Shruti, believes the mid-term results spell the end for Donald Trump.

Image: Shruti told Sky News a younger candidate than President Biden might have a stronger impact.

It’s her second election. She’d voted in the last presidential one, in 2020. But this is her first midterm election.

“Abortion, and guns,” she said when I asked what specifically drew her out.

Her friend Shruti interrupted: “I think the topic of inflation is really big right now too. And I think that with Obama coming over here, coming to Philly too, I think that was really important. He’s so charismatic. And I think it did a lot for all the voters here.

“And I know Oakland’s voter turnout here was a lot higher than expected. I think that was surprising, like underestimating the young voter turnout, because it was actually really high here in Oakland.”

“So I think that was really impactful and interesting – the younger and educated [voting]; how it impacted, because it opened the voting [gap] really well here,” Shruti added.

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Trump ‘red wave’ fails to show

‘Going younger’ than Biden

Did they think this was the end for Mr Trump? Yes, said Sydney. Probably not, said Shruti.

What about Mr Biden, I asked. His popularity rating is so low. He’s 80 this month. These midterms have buoyed him to run in 2024. Good idea?

“I think going younger might have a strong impact,” Shruti said. “It depends on how much support that candidate would get. I think that we should be looking elsewhere.”

Image: 19-year-old voter Trevor McCutcheon

At a nearby table, I met 19-year-old voter Trevor McCutcheon who is a bit of a rarity in liberal Pittsburgh.

“I’d say I’m definitely like a moderate Conservative; someone that would normally vote for the Republican Party,” he told me.

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I wanted to talk more about what went wrong for the Republicans. After all, with a gaffe-prone, unpopular president and soaring inflation, it was an open goal that the Republicans missed, surely?

Trevor thinks it was all about the local candidates endorsed by Mr Trump. They were not up to it. He cites the Republican candidate in Pennsylvania, TV personality and doctor, Mehmed Oz.

“I think Mehmet Oz was a weak candidate to begin with for the Republicans – someone from out of state, someone who, politically, I believe he was a Democrat not that long ago, kind of switched on a lot of his ideas, someone that’s a TV personality, that has been quoted saying things that aren’t necessarily true related to medicine kind of decreases his credibility,” Trevor said.

The Republican primary election here in Pennsylvania, at which the party chose their candidate, was a close-run thing. Mr Oz, endorsed and funded by Mr Trump, clinched it from establishment politician David McCormick.

“I think the primary elections definitely played a role,” Trevor said.

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Image: Mehmet Oz

“He was the Trump back candidate in that election, and it was decided by 1,000 votes, between him and David McCormick, and then when you get on to the midterms, just look what happened. I don’t think all moderates are in love with Trump as we saw from the 2020 election.”

Mr Trump lost both the popular vote as well as the arcane electoral college process too in the 2020 election. But since then he has hijacked the Republican Party with a combination of money, the false claim that he won and his ability to somehow persuade people that he is one of them.

His base was thrilled. The Trump rallies are a remarkable spectacle of his cult-like following – the branding, the messaging, the show-like production. But underpinning it all is a con – his lie that he’d been robbed in 2020.

This week, Mr Trump discovered that the depth of his appeal was an illusion, just like the claims of fraud in 2020. But is it the end for him? What about his huge following who trust him and who rely on him?

“I definitely don’t think it’s the end of Trumpism by any means,” says Trevor.

“I know a lot of people that still love Trump, but I think moving forward, the Republican Party, at least for 2024 should maybe think about nominating someone else just because of how unpopular he is with large groups of people.”

All eyes are now on Tuesday and Mr Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida. Will he announce that he’s running for president in 2024? If he does, will the Republican Party stand behind him?