Too many Americans remain flummoxed about how they wound up with Donald Trump as their president. They can conjure up dozens of reasons why he shouldn’t be president, but how he got elected remains fundamentally mysterious for many. While the Robert Mueller investigation and the evidence of Russian attempts to influence the 2016 election offer a partial explanation, few serious students of American politics believe Russian interference tipped the balance by itself.
In the early months of the Trump administration, shocked Democrats, liberals, moderates, immigrants, women, minorities and others who couldn’t imagine the two words President Trump together in a sentence believed he would soon implode. Trump could surely not last. No one that impulsive, tone-deaf and transparently selfish could survive, many believed.
They thus began to worry about the prospect of a President Pence and his hard conservative right social agenda on abortion and various polarising personal issues that most surveyed Americans believe should never appear on the political agenda.
But Trump endured. He is still the President of the United States, 19 months after a calamitously inauspicious start that featured firings, resignations and withdrawn nominations from some of the nation’s most sensitive positions and the appointment of others who were immediately reviled.
So early planning continued for Trump’s resignation or even impeachment despite Republican majorities in Congress. But that hasn’t happened. The GOP has cravenly caved to Trump, and bi-elections across the country have exposed the profound vulnerability of any Republican candidate who dares to criticise Trump.
Now Americans seem resigned to the prospect that Trump will in fact serve out his full term until January 2021. The hopes of some reside in the Mueller investigation, but any belief that its results could lead Trump to resign seems far-fetched at this point. Given Trump’s unwillingness to abide by almost any political convention or societal norm, it is hard to visualise a Richard Nixon scenario whereby Trump would resign, no matter the evidence against him.
With all options for Trump’s early departure from office seemingly off the table, attention has turned to the upcoming mid-term elections. If Trump will not leave and cannot realistically be forced out of office by traditional means, then opponents must focus on undermining Republican strength in Congress to at least frustrate Trump’s efforts to steer the country in what they see as wrong directions.
The November elections will likely be the most closely watched and intensely analyzed non-presidential vote in recent memory. There have been several primary elections already held during 2017-18 in the run-up to November, and analysts are pouring over the results to see what the future might bring.
Naturally, there are at least two widely divergent perspectives on what has happened so far in this election season. The conservative Republican view is that while there have been diminished margins for Republicans, they have nonetheless generally prevailed.
This is true. Ohio’s bi-election last week in a traditionally conservative district just north of Columbus reinforced this belief. The Democrat, a 31-year-old newcomer, put a scare into his Republican opponent, whose campaign featured appearances by both Trump and Pence. The vote was very close and there has still been no concession. But the Republican does appear to have prevailed.
Those opposing Trump believe while there are no moral victories in politics, the erosion of support for Republican candidates is unmistakable. In ten Congressional races contested during the past year, one Republican seat, in a deep red southwest Pennsylvania district, was turned blue by a Democratic victory.
GOP candidates otherwise prevailed. What gives encouragement to Trump’s opponents is that in eight of the other nine congressional races, the Republican margin of victory was dramatically lower than margins rung up by Trump himself in 2016 or even Mitt Romney four years earlier.
In the Ohio election, for example, the Republican won by 36 percentage points fewer than Trump. The results were similar in races in Arizona (-32%), Alabama (-30%), Georgia (-19%), Kansas (-24%) and South Carolina (-17%).
Analysts point to this as evidence of a potential “blue wave” of Democratic triumphs in November. There are reports of senior Republican national strategists already in full panic mode. Nonetheless, it is much too early to be sure.