It feels like Donald Trump has been president of the US for years. His administration has begun to evolve in some minds from outrageous to dangerous to embarrassing to downright wearisome. But now that his presidency has finally entered its second year, the first significant step in his potential removal from office looms in the intermediate distance. If the Democrats were to recapture the House and Senate, many feel their agenda would be topped by impeachment proceedings.
Though the November general election for the American House of Representatives and one third of the Senate is still ten months away, the primary season will be launched in March. It’s never too early to start speculating.
Commentators and pundits are sharpening their pens and voices with forecasts and blather. Hundreds of millions of dollars will be raised and spent across the country, and certain contests will enter the spotlight as the months pass. At this point in the election cycle, however, the biggest stories concern political retirements and their consequences.
The most intriguing so far is the recent retirement announcement by octogenarian Republican senator Orrin Hatch of Utah. One of Trump’s most incomprehensibly obsequious acolytes in the Senate, Hatch simply said it was time to go, after a lengthy career marked in the past by some distinction. Widely tipped to run for his seat in reliably red Utah is none other than the former presidential candidate and ex-governor of Massachusetts, Mitt Romney.
For a while during the 2016 presidential primary election campaign, Romney led a doomed effort to unhorse Trump on his inexorable march to the GOP nomination. Romney dialed back his criticism of Trump during the election and especially afterwards, when he appeared to flirt heavily with the possibility of becoming Trump’s Secretary of State. Having lost out to ExxonMobil executive Rex Tillerson as the nation’s top diplomat, Romney has gradually resumed his attacks on Trump, who remains no less an easy target as the weeks go by.
Mormon Romney would appear tough to beat in Utah, but Democrats who see his potential election to the Senate as a magnet for divisive Republican resistance to Trump may be disappointed. The patrician, party establishment favourite Romney can never match the combativeness of Trump - and it would be futile for him to try.
Several other Republican senators and congressmen have decided to retire. Some were in danger of losing GOP primary races; others seemed to have simply had enough of the Washington craziness that has characterised American political culture for most of the time since Bill Clinton occupied the White House.
One retiring Republican congressman said the upcoming election reminds him of 2006. In that calamitous election, Republicans tried to defend 22 seats opened by retirements; this year, they will have to compete for 29 vacated seats. By comparison, in similar watershed elections, Democrats defended 27 vacant seats in 1994 and Republicans tried to retain 19 vacant seats in 2010. The magic number for the Democrats this year is plus 24 seats to regain a majority in the lower house. Those earlier elections became referenda on unpopular presidents or their unpopular policies and delivered heavy blows to the party of the incumbent in the White House.
Trump’s historic unpopularity has helped to encourage record numbers of Democrats to register for House races already. 455 have signed up with the Federal Elections Commission; by contrast, only 111 Republicans have done so.
All races for state governorships are also especially important in 2018, because controlling state governments can help the party in power to redraw legislative district lines to favour its own candidates. In this connection, observers are closely watching a North Carolina case presently before the US Supreme Court. It concerns manipulating congressional district boundaries to isolate black, presumably Democratic, voters for the benefit of Republican candidates in other districts.
As for November, even before Trump’s recent shockingly insensitive remarks about Haiti and Africa, many felt that Republican control of the House would be in doubt after the upcoming elections. While American voters are traditionally not influenced by opinions from overseas, Trump’s behaviour and outbursts can only fan the flames and embolden his opponents. His grip on power seems more tenuous with each passing week.