While America’s presidential race captured the world’s attention, the future of US politics was being forged more quietly in the battle for Congress.
The net result of those races will keep the legislative branch looking much the same.
The Democrats narrowly kept their majority in the House of Representatives. The Republicans are likely to keep their control of the Senate, though two run-off races in Georgia mean we don’t yet have final numbers.
But in the world of US politics, even stagnant institutions still welcome new characters. With those characters come new ideas.
And new ideas lead to change.
Below are four nascent leaders dominating the media narrative — and what they tell us about politics in a post-Trump world.
Marjorie Taylor Greene
About half of Donald Trump’s supporters believe, at least partially, in a theory known as QAnon.
That is, they believe that high-ranking Democrats are engaging in satanic rituals and cannibalism, not to mention running an international child sex-trafficking ring out of a Washington DC pizza parlour.
QAnon theorists follow an anonymous figure called “Q”, who leaves cryptic clues in internet forums about Trump’s next moves in the “war”.
Greene, a new Republican Representative from Georgia, believes it too.
In a 2017 Facebook video leaked to US media, this owner of a small construction company called Q “a patriot” and said there’s “a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to take this global cabal of Satan-worshiping paedophiles out”.
Greene was one of a dozen, if not closer to 20, Republican congressional candidates who supported QAnon in some capacity, reports the New York Times.
The difference is that most of those candidates were long-shots and failed to get elected.
Greene won an uncontested seat in a reliably Republican district, even while local Republican leaders condemned her beliefs.
She is quickly gaining national attention — the currency traded for power in the modern congress, where old establishment rules around seniority and decorum continue to crumble.
Green’s ascendency proves that the promotion of conspiracy theories, including ones deemed terrorist threats by the FBI, doesn’t rule out a Republican from election.
Trump’s ‘birtherism’ claims that former US president Barack Obama was born abroad no longer look like a fluke.
How the party deals with Greene now could shape America’s right for years to come.
The Republican House minority leader said in a Fox News interview that Greene’s past comments would not stop him from giving her committee assignments.
Trump — who has never formally condemned QAnon — has publicly praised Greene’s electoral win, as have high-profile Republicans like his chief of staff Mark Meadows and Senator Jim Jordan.
Conspiracy theories aside, Greene is also notable for being one of 31 Republican women elected to the Congress — a record number for the party and more than double what it was in 2018.
Boebert is another female, Republican QAnon supporter, or at least a QAnon non-denier.
“I hope that this is real because it only means America is getting stronger and better, and people are returning to conservative values, and that’s what I am for,” she said on a radio program this May.
Boebert has since tried to distance herself from the movement, instead becoming known for denying the gravity of America’s coronavirus pandemic.
The restaurant owner defied a state order in Colorado to keep her business operating like normal until being issued a cease-and-desist order by the local sheriff.
Her focus on economic recovery over public health helped her unexpectedly beat a five-term Trump-endorsed Republican powerhouse in Colorado’s primary race this summer. She went on to win her House seat in a Democratic-leaning region.
Boebert’s restaurant — called Shooters Grill — was notable before the pandemic for a totally unrelated reason. The wait-staff are armed.
Boebert is a staunch gun rights supporter in a state known for memorable mass shootings at an Aurora movie theatre and Columbine High School.
She sparred publicly with former Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke when he said “hell yes” to a state seizure of assault rifles on the debate stage.
Her response — “I am here to say, ‘hell no, you’re not'” — launched her to social media celebrity status.
Boebert’s ability to transform fame into elected office speaks to the Trump impact on Republican politics: Hard-right political outsiders have undeniable sway with voters.
When it comes to the left, no figure has gained more attention than Bush — the first black woman elected to the House of Representatives from Missouri.
Bush’s campaign drew a straight line from her working-class roots to the modern racial justice movement, which she became a de facto leader of during months of unrest in Ferguson.
Bush is unabashedly in favour of defunding and dismantling police departments.
Her unexpected toppling of Democratic establishment figure William Clay in the primary race provoked comparisons to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
The two were featured in a 2018 documentary about the new wave of far-left women running for congress, Knock Down the House, though Bush lost her race that year.
It’s likely that Bush will be the newest member of Ms Ocasio-Cortez’s group of young female representatives, known as “the Squad”.
She arrived at her orientation wearing a Breonna Taylor mask and told reporters that her Republican colleagues mistakenly called her Breonna, not knowing that the woman who was shot by police officers in her home has become a national name in the fight for racial justice.
Bush spoke up about it on Twitter.
Bush represents one of 100 Democratic women voted in this election cycle, which is short of the record the party set in the 2018 midterms, when women helped flip 21 seats.
Though the Democratic party didn’t quite see a repeat wave of young women of colour filling congress, Bush’s win confirms that with the left, too, political outsiders with non-centrist views are still winning support.
Cawthorn has called himself the Republican’s answer to “the Squad” — not because he’s bringing fresh policy ideas to the table, but because he knows how to spread the old values with “better packaging”.
At 25, the North Carolinian is the youngest ever to be elected to the House of Representatives and is a rising star the party appears to be rallying behind.
After a surprising primary victory against a well-funded incumbent, Crawthorn was invited to speak at the Republican Convention.
He secured face-time with bigwigs like Trump, Meadows and Rudy Giuliani before he even won his seat.
Cawthorn, who was partially paralysed after a car crash, uses a wheelchair and describes himself a “fighter” and real-estate investor. He’s one of a handful of Representatives without a college degree.
Similar to his Democratic female counterparts, he’s connecting well with young voters on social media sites.
His three-word tweet on election night went viral.
He’s also been criticized for an Instagram post describing a visit to Hitler’s vacation home as a bucket list item that “did not disappoint”.
An investigation into Cawthorn from the feminist publication Jezebel found several white nationalist symbols in Cawthorn’s personal and professional life, though his policy positions don’t quite cross that line.
What does Cawthorn’s election tell us about the future of US politics? The faces are fresh. The names are new. The ideas brought to Washington are still being explored.
We’ll see where they lead.