In the battle for the US Congress, the Republicans wanted to celebrate a triumphant victory. Instead, they must tremble. They have already lost the Senate and there is still no decision in the House of Representatives. Even a sensation is still possible.

Actually, things were looking good for Kevin McCarthy that night. Polls predicted a landslide victory for the Republicans in the congressional elections – and McCarthy, faction leader in the House of Representatives, saw golden times coming. For the party and for yourself. He expected to rise to Speaker of the House and then be able to herd President Joe Biden before him. No Republican is above him, not even Donald Trump. At least if it were about who holds the highest office in the state. McCarthy would be the US No. 3, after Biden and Senate leader Chuck Schumer. An order that Trump, of course, doesn’t care.

This train has not yet left for McCarthy. But the Californian, to stay with the image, is still standing on the platform and waiting. On the evening of the election, the 57-year-old tried to offer consolation to his party friends. “Tomorrow we will wake up and then we will be the strongest force in the House of Representatives,” he promised.

That was early Wednesday morning. Now it’s Monday and the Republicans are still waiting. The disappointment of election night grows into an embarrassment. Even in the best-case scenario, they will end up with only a handful more seats than the Democrats. Especially since they have now defended their de facto majority in the other chamber of Congress, the Senate. Even the sensation is possible – that in the end they also manage to defend the majority in the House of Representatives.

The Republicans still have better chances. But that’s largely because the Democrats hold more seats from reasonably balanced constituencies — so they’re at greater risk of losing them. Most observers agreed that the Republicans would easily fight for a majority. But then one Democrat after another won his election, with Abigail Spanberger as one of the first. Her victory in Virginia’s 7th district was a signal that the Democrats were not going to have the bad night they expected.

The trend continued – until eventually even constituencies that were believed to be safe wobbled among the Republicans. For example, the third district in Colorado. There, the moderate Democrat Adam Frisch took on the Republican Lauren Boebert, who had presented herself as a Trump ultra in recent years and was noticed, among other things, with heckling at Biden’s State of the Union speech in March. She is symbolic of the party – she may still win her election, but her shrill Trump program was punished one way or another.

If Republicans do make it past the 218-seat mark, what will they do with their majority? Even during Trump’s presidency, it became apparent how difficult it is to bring the party with its various wings into line. There are the remaining moderate Republicans, who are generally willing to compromise with the Democrats. Although they are a dying breed, they have recently contributed to large legislative packages on infrastructure or stricter weapons legislation. But then there are also the radicals from the Freedom Caucus and the Tea Party movement, who are geared towards fundamental opposition and are hardly willing to compromise, even within their party.

Then there are the numerous MAGA Republicans, as the Democrats now call them. This refers to the Trump supporters who carry his motto “Make America Great Again” (MAGA) in front of them and above all owe their election to him. They, too, have only limited interest in constructive parliamentary work. Lawmakers like Marjorie Taylor Greene are saying they want to start impeachment proceedings against President Biden. Although it is still unclear why actually. It is already clear that around half of Republican lawmakers support Trump’s lie about large-scale election fraud in 2020.

Incidentally, one of these Trump loyalists is Kevin McCarthy. After the storming of the Capitol on January 6, 2021, he initially turned away from Trump. But when it gradually became apparent that he was still the strongman of the party, he drove to Trump in Florida and asked for Trump’s renewed blessing. And got him.

Even before the election, leading Republicans threatened to use the debt limit as leverage against Democrats to cut health insurance and social security benefits. What sounds like a technical question is actually a threat of a fiscal nuclear bomb. The US will have to raise its debt ceiling in the coming years to finance legislation that has already been passed. If they don’t, the worst-case scenario is national bankruptcy, which could plunge the whole world into financial chaos. McCarthy agrees too. After all, he needs the votes of the radicals in his party to be elected speaker of the House of Representatives.

If the Republicans go full confrontation, they could cut themselves in the flesh. Because the election result has shown that the mostly decisive swing voters in particular reject the radical, anti-democratic Trump policy. If the Republicans continue like this, it could take revenge in two years’ time at the next election.