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President Trump faces first electoral setback

A Democratic Wave?

Votes are still being counted, but from the latest results, it is clear that Democrats have gained around 30 seats in the House, whilst having lost about 2 seats in the Senate. These results are far from representing a Blue Wave, although it is true that the electoral map was not in favour of the Democrats as they were defending and chasing more seats than Republicans. For the latter, losing the House might not be a catastrophic turn of events as this happens to the party having its candidate in the White House. Moreover, winning over seats in the Senate while being the party of the President is rather a great feat in American electoral history, as this has only happened five times since 1934.

Despite the lukewarm victory of Democrats, the Mid Term elections are still likely to make a difference, especially in terms of Trump’s -until now- easy-going relation with Congress and his chances in running for a second term. Democrats are likely to use the House as a platform to showcase their ideas, even if the Republican-held Senate is likely to block their more radical bills.

Trump will therefore have to work across the aisle and concede on some of his more controversial policies. If not, Democrats are likely to push back against him by increasing the number of investigations against him, and even use the threat of impeachment, although the likelihood of this is low at this point, considering Republican-held Senate has to vote on it with a 2/3 majority.

On the electoral side, Republicans, also known as Grand Old Party (GOP), have lost some seats in the House that have traditionally be easy-wins, like Oklahoma District 5 or in the Senate with states like West Virginia, Michigan and Pennsylvania. Trump has also lost many Suburban voters who have traditionally voted for his party, and this is not the only worrying indication of decreasing support for him and the GOP. Although they managed to keep important states like Florida, Georgia for governorship and Texas for the Senate, Republicans there have been dangerously challenged by Democratic candidates like Andrew Gillum, Stacey Abrams and Beto O’Rourke, who have shown that these states have a fractured voter base, divided between older conservatives and younger progressives.

The role of young voters has particularly been central to the Democrats’ House wins, as 68% of the 18-24 year old voted for the party. Overall, voter turnout was particularly high, with 49% of registered voters turning up to voting booths, against 36.7% in 2014. Both these numbers show a greater mobilisation from the American left, or even far-left as some would concede. The new seats have in majority been filled by progressives, often breaking records for their being the first Muslim, Palestinian, Iranian or Somali women to join Congress. This leftward shift in the Blue party has been brewing since Trump’s election and it is likely to continue forward. However, the current leadership of the party does not represent well the aspirations of the so-called “resistance”, and this might turn fatal for the party’s future campaigns. There seems to already be some internal opposition to Nancy Pelosi being the House spokeswoman, especially by newly-elected Congressmen Joe Cunningham and Abigail Spanberger. Other Democrats poised to fill the highest ranks of the House, like Steny Hoyer, also do not reflect the younger and more radical version of the party, which might as a result have a split or face some critical leadership issues up until 2020.

Mid Terms are more than a pass for Trump:

In spite of the loss of the House, Donald Trump sees the Mid Term as an affirmation of his popularity. He secured Republican governors in key states such as Florida, Iowa and Ohio, which might be swing states for his reelection. His party also won over Democratic Senators in states like Missouri, Indiana and North Dakota. Polls presented by MNSBC hold that 45% of voters approved of Trump, a high number considering that Trump’s unpopularity is said to be rising. In other words, the President escaped the Mid Terms with the least damage possible and kept his central position in the GOP. Overall, as an outsider of politics, he has been able to be the central figure of the party, redefine its policies and priorities as well as delivering satisfying electoral results. This might not come as a surprise considering his personality: Trump has been aggressive in his positions, something that has helped him connect fairly easily with his base.

Another characteristic for the president is that he is able to bend like no other, and this is why the loss of the House might not be too worrying for him. Trump seems to already be adopting a policy of engagement with Democrats, especially potential House speaker Nancy Pelosi. Indeed, the President issued a conciliatory tweet in which he asserted his willingness to work with Democrats for the betterment of the US. For him, figures like Pelosi look easy to work with, potentially because of her strenuous position within the Democratic Party and her previous weaknesses as a lawmaker. She is indeed a rather mild opposing figure against Trump as she stresses bipartisanship and wants to avoid polarisation in Congress, something that might not work well with the more radical Democratic base. Therefore, a Democratic House might not be such a bad thing for Trump. He might at first make a tilt toward the centre, thus expanding his national appeal and cooperating with Democrats in exchange for less investigations into his tax-returns and the Russia file. If this strategy does not hold, the President will have someone to blame for government inactivity and inefficiencies, something he can turn into a platform for reelection. Also, he could well stretch executive powers and rule through a series of executive orders, thus showing to his base that despite the pressure, he is still trying to serve them.

International Repercussions:

Trump being perceived as a disruptive figure, it is understandable why the rest of the world has closely followed the Mid Term elections which represent a referendum on the businessman turned President. European stock markets have shown through positive gains made on Wednesday. Germany’s Foreign Minister Heiko Maas declared that his country, and with it the European Union, would “look to contact those who were newly elected”, inferring that European leaders want to have close relations with Congressmen able to put checks and balances on Trump’s “America First” Policy.

Dmitry Peskov, the Kremlin spokesman, said Moscow was highly confident that there were ‘no glowing prospects in terms of normalisation of US-Russian relations on the horizon”. Indeed, a House held by Democrats is likely to push back against Trump through investigations on Russia’s alleged meddling in the 2016 Presidential elections. When it comes to trade disputes, China is also not likely to benefit from more Democratic Representatives as the Congress will remain keen on tackling the country’s supposed trade dumping and disrespect for intellectual property.

Least but not least, leaders in the Middle East are also likely to closely follow the results. There is now a solid chance that the House Foreign Affairs, Intelligence and Armed Services Committees will be chaired by Democratic Representatives disagreeing with Trump’s policies in the region. Therefore, oversights over US involvement in the Yemen war and the sale of weapons to Gulf states are likely to be more aggressive, thus leaving Trump with less leeway in terms of foreign policy. His Israeli ally, Benjamin Netanyahu is also likely to double down on dossiers like Iran, Syria and Palestine, just as an insurance policy if Trump leaves office in 2020 and is replaced by someone disposed toward American Jews, who are generally liberal and opposed to the Likud’s leader. Lastly comes Iran, which is perhaps the nation with the most stakes in American electoral campaigns. A casual observer of international affairs might think that a Democratic House might bode well for Iran as it could counter what has been one of Trump’s top foreign policy priority: namely sanctions. However, this is highly unlikely considering that Democrats themselves do not differ from the President in the broad outlines of his Iran policy. Even more important is the restraining effect this takeover might have on Trump’s ability to negotiate with Iran. Although he still has broad foreign policy powers, including the ability to sign bilateral treaties, his moves toward Iran might now be taken hostage in bipartisan bickering.

Sources:

The Guardian, Mona Chalabi, 07 November 2018, “The Key Midterms Voter Trends: High Turnout and Youth Surge for Democrats.”

BBC, 02 November 2018, “US 2018 Mid-Terms in Charts: Should Donald Trump Be Worried?”

CNN, Mary Ilyushina and Angela Dewan, 07 November 2018, “Russia Gloomy on US Relations after Democrats Take House in Midterms.”

Politico, Nahal Toosi, Bryan Bender and Pradnya Joshi, 07 November 2018, “What the US Midterms Mean for the World.”

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