Trump to be tested in midterms

Trump to be tested in midterms
Robert Nesimi

As they have regularly done for the past 250 years, on the Tuesday after the first Monday of November, American voters will once again go to the polls. They will elect 438 members for their House of Representatives, 35 senators, 36 governors, as well as thousands of state legislators, mayors, municipal councillors and so on. Away from the local races with local impact, the biggest focus is on who will win a majority in the US House and Senate, what this will mean for the remaining two years of the Trump presidency, and the lookout for 2020 elections.

This year, these so-called midterm elections, will be held in a severely polarized political environment. While American politics has tended to become more and more partisan for a few decades, this culminated with the surprise election of Donald Trump to the presidency two years ago, when the Republican party also managed to capture both houses of Congress. Trump’s eccentric, divisive and often chaotic style of governing, coupled with suspicions of Russian meddling in elections in his favor, seem to have fired up the Democrat base, which now sees a chance to capture at least one chamber of Congress, put a check on Trump and eventually start to roll-back his agenda. On the other hand the elections are also important within the Republican party, as they will be a good indicator of Trump’s hold on the party, which was hostile to him no earlier than two years ago. Although Trump is not on the ballot this year, his figure looms large in these elections and they may make or break his presidency.

As things stand now Democrats will need to flip an additional 23 seats to gain a majority in the House of Representatives. To do this they are first of all counting on their usual base, highly energized ever since Trump was elected President, and expect that they will to turn out in higher numbers than Republicans. As usual they will rely on huge victories among minorities and women, but now they are also making substantial inroads in former Republican constituencies which are turned away by President Trump, primarily among affluent suburban communities of college-educated whites. Additionally in their favor is the fact that the President’s party almost always loses seats in midterm elections. Democrats’ lead in general polls now stands at 7.5 points according to the RealClearPolitics poll aggregator , while the famous blog 538 gives them an 85% chance of capturing the House. The races for the House however are individual and come polling day their lead could be as great at 60, or they could end up losing the House altogether. For now though it is safe to assume that such a scenario is unlikely.

The Senate on the other hand presents a completely different picture. Due to the vagaries of the American system, only 35 out of 100 Senate seats are up for grabs this year. Furthermore most of these open seats are currently held by Democrats, and a number are in states won by Trump two years ago. In essence this means that Democrats are heavily handicapped this year, and their chances of taking the Senate are very slim. As of today the blog 538 gives them only a 15% chance, with the most likely scenario giving Republicans a 54-46 advantage. This all but assures that the Congress as a whole will be split for the next two years; a harbinger of future political gridlock.

The unexpected victory of Donald Trump in 2016 should make us cautious when we read the polls and forecasts of various pundits. The expectation now is that the Republicans will keep the Senate and Democrats will take over the House, but the next two years of the political scene in America will depend on the exact outcome of Tuesday’ elections.

In the event that Democrats somehow manage to win both houses of Congress, the top theme of the next two years will be the impeachment of Trump. And this will not be a direct result of their victory, as much as it will instigate serious soul-searching in the Republican party. If they lose both chambers of Congress, Republicans may all of sudden find out that Trump is an unbearable liability which will cost them dearly in the future, and many of them may be tempted to join ranks with Democrats and replace him with Pence as a safer alternative for 2020. Of course Presidents cannot be removed for no other reason than being political liabilities, so the path toward removal will certainly go through the ongoing Mueller probe. Nevertheless since there are many indications of wrongdoing on Trump’s part, this remains a serious possibility if Democrats somehow manage to win both the House and Senate.

If on the other hand Republicans miraculously manage to keep both chambers, it is Democrats who will have to ask the hard question of where they are heading. If they cannot win in midterms, with a highly unpopular President, Democrats will prove that they are really out of touch with the common people, as Trump often accuses them. A serious loss on Tuesday would prove that 2016 was no fluke, and that it is the Democrats who have to reform and adapt themselves to the electorate. Trump and Republicans would continue to govern unhinged, and any talk of foreign meddling would die down.

However none of these scenarios are very likely. We should instead expect a split Congress. No side will have a serious claim to victory and ruling mandate, and rather than settling anything, the midterms will just draw the battle lines for 2020. Congress will enter a new phase of gridlock, with no major piece of legislation or reform accomplished.

In either case Trump will continue to be the center of attention, and very likely his job will only get harder. We can be sure that Democrats will step up their pressure on him, now with new political mechanisms at hand. But the degree to which this may hurt him will depend solely on Tuesday’s midterm results.

Views expressed in this article are personal views of the author and do not represent the editorial policy of Nezavisen Vesnik

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