Tomorrow’s American mid-term elections will serve as a referendum on the tenure so far of US President Donald Trump. For months, political pundits and observers have reminded us the first mid-term elections under a new president can serve as a stinging rebuke. The opposition party often racks up big gains at the expense of the president’s party. The most recent example is most often cited. In 2010, the Republicans wiped out the legislative gains Barack Obama had helped to achieve for the Democrats two years earlier.
The GOP controls Congress, and despite the evidence of eight years ago, the odds heavily favour the Republicans to retain their slim but decisive control of the Senate on November 6. The math is by now familiar to many. The Republicans have a 51-49 margin in the Senate, and Vice President Pence will always vote for the GOP position in the event of a tied vote. So the Democrats need to at least reverse that two-vote margin to prevail.
While there have been periods during the past six months when it looked like Democrats might succeed in regaining Senate control, the reality is it will be an upset if Republicans do not increase their edge. This is because Democrats are defending seats they really have no business holding in the first place, in deep red states like North Dakota, Indiana, West Virginia, Missouri and others. A similar situation occurred for the Democrats two years ago, but the phenomenon that Trump rode to victory soured the chances for Democrats in blue or neutral states like Pennsylvania to reclaim seats that would normally be theirs.
Republicans for decades have made political gains by never overestimating the awareness or engagement of the American voter. Despite avowedly supporting positions on issues such as health care, gun control, abortion and immigration that polling has repeatedly revealed as unpopular, often by large margins, the GOP has cleverly and cynically manipulated the American political system to convert its minority position to one of governance.
The Republicans control 33 governorships now and are actually fielding candidates in Georgia and Kansas whose present Secretary of State positions give them control over the very electoral process in which they are competitors! Federal court orders and commonsense notwithstanding, the GOP may prevail in these races.
Trump frequently rants against the “Establishment” press as “the enemy of the people,” because they oppose him. In an unusual public commentary, the Washington Post offered an unusual indictment of the president, almost ten days before the election. Here is their view:
“The (election) issue that predominates is Trump’s noxious, divisive and dishonest style of government. (He has promoted) fear mongering over a distant band of ragtag Honduran migrants; a fairy tale about a middle class tax cut; relentless vilification of essential institutions of democracy like the Federal Reserve Bank, the media, and law enforcement; resistance to legitimate judicial and congressional oversight, and restricting the right to vote.” The Post estimates Trump told 4,229 lies in public by August 1, and that tally rises daily.
As interest in the election intensifies, the key is control of the House of Representatives. Here, the polls suggest the Democrats may very well gain the 25 seats they need to retake control of the chamber. Seven of those seats are presently vacant, mostly due to Republican resignations. There are signs that here at least, a Democratic surge is a realistic prospect.
Many publications are closely following certain bellwether districts all across the country, reporting breathlessly on the latest indicators. Presuming the Democrats do regain control of the House, however, what will really change in Washington? Unless the Democrats also recapture the Senate, confirmation for judicial and executive branch nominees will remain in Republican control.
Several potentially significant things would change with Democratic control of the House. Federal budget initiatives and appropriations rise in the House, and prospects for Trump favourites like the southern border wall would further fade. Approval of the federal budget would require bipartisan cooperation.
And legislative investigative action on crimes and misdemeanours by Trump and his campaign would proceed, including on additional issues consequent to the Mueller investigation.
That’s worth waiting and voting for.
McAlpine, Chipman, Miller and Robinson: