US Mid-Terms – an initial review

Here are my initial thoughts about the US mid-terms (albeit, they are also based on a Chatham House seminar* largely led by American journalist and academic voices as well as the views of various American journalists and pundits via twitter and CNN).

1. This election reinforced the polarisation of the country. Voters had to answer the question “What do you fear the most – people coming across the southern border or losing coverage for pre-existing conditions?” Exit polls show healthcare was the biggest issue, with immigration second and the economy third. The wins for the Democrats in the House came in suburban districts which were not interested in immigration so much as tax and healthcare. Healthcare is an issue largely lost to the GOP now (and lots of vulnerable Republicans ran away from their previous votes on the issue) and Trump reportedly thought tax boring to campaign on and went on the caravan and immigration. Whilst the caravan might have inspired a few Republicans in red states to vote (and helped the Senate cause), the suburbs went for the Dems. The question is, what will Trump decide to run on in 2020 and will it be the right issue?

2. With a Trumpier Senate (the Dems lost three seats and their moderate voices) the President can now get his judicial appointments through very easily and could even fire Sessions or Mattis without worry. But a split Congress means that it will become very difficult indeed to fire Moeller. The Democrats can now block a lot of legislation but, apart from the tax cut, Trump has tended to govern by regulation and executive order. What we might well see is the Dems doing deals with Trump on things like drug prices and infrastructure (but not the wall) and then investigating the heck out of him and his administration.

3. There will be plenty of investigations but no impeachment unless Moeller comes back with something very big indeed. Trump and his cabinet have done lots of things that are ripe for committee hearings and the GOP decision to allow committee chairs to issue subpoenas without a vote will open Pruitt, Ross and many others up for investigation (even if they have quit). In contrast, Trump will resort to doing even more Trumpian things – twitter storms, MAGA rallies and one on one meetings with world leaders.

4. Before yesterday, around half the states had a Republican governor AND republican state assembly AND a republican state senate. There were only eight Democratic ‘trifectas’. There are now six more. That matters because with a sclerotic congress a lot of the focus will move to state level and also because after the 2020 census it will be the state governments that supervise re-districting. The Democrats were playing catch-up when it came to focussing on down ballot races, but they have now caught up.

5. A massive issue is about who was able to cast a vote. There have been lots of news stories about voter suppression in Georgia (where one of the candidates for Governor was the sitting Secretary of State and therefore in charge of the election), in North Dakota (where both Native Americans and hispanics were targeted and the sitting Democrat lost her Senate seat) and in Florida. But in Florida a ballot inititative to allow 1.4 million convicted felons to vote when they have served their sentence passed with more than 60% support. This group is predominantly African Americans and hispanics and those groups overwhelmingly vote Democrat. So whilst Andrew Gillum lost his bid to be governor this time, it may well be that the swingiest of swing states will move decisively away from Trump and the GOP from 2020.

There will be a lot more to come out of this election as the final results are declared. It will also be interesting to see what the OSCE/ODIHR election observation mission say when they hold their press conference and release their preliminary statement at about 7pm (GMT) tonight.

*The Chatham House Seminar featured Steve Erlanger (NYT, Chief Diplomatic Correspondent, Europe), Dr Ursula Hackett (Royal Holloway), Dr Jacob Parakilas (Chatham House), Professor Peter Trubowitz (LSE) and Dr Leslie Vinjamuri (Chatham House).