The voting still continues on the left coast, but from the results so far it seems like the opinion polls were correct in general – the Democrats take the House, the Republicans retain the Senate – while quite significantly wrong in a large number of high profile races. All in all, I broadly stand behind the brave predictions about the post-midterm United States that I’ve made yesterday.
What does the result mean? It beats me, as it will pretty much beat very commentator out there. There is enough that has happened out there to support everyone’s pet theories and hot takes. In short, you’re as wise as me, but since you’re here at my blog and I’m not over there at yours, it falls on me to grasp at straws in the wind. So here’s my take:
1. America remains bitterly and pretty evenly divided. Those who care enough to care enough about politics (itself pretty evenly divided from those who don’t) are split into two almost equal voting blocks with no centrist overlap. It’s difficult to see that changing; it would, for example, require either party nominating a genuinely charismatic centrist, which is unlikely to happen.
2. The Dems have had their Blue Wave in the House, the Republicans have had, more unexpectedly, their Red Wave in the Senate. But no overall voter tsunamis. The Presidential party on average loses about 30 seats in midterm elections; today, therefore, is pretty average, except in turnout.
3. So why the divergence between the two chambers of Congress? It’s possible that on the ground level of politics voters did indeed want to punish Trump for being Trump. It helped that so many Republican Reps, spooked no doubt by the early days of the Presidency, decided to retire, creating open contests where the party incumbency doesn’t matter as much. On the other hand, the Senate result sees many Democrats who have voted against confirming Brett Kavanaugh lose their seats. Perhaps this weeks’ long political and media circus has sufficiently focused voters’ attention on the miscreants in the Senate and therefore spectacularly backfired on the Democrats and their witch hunt.
KAVANAUGH MATTERED: Four of the "Big 5" vulnerable Senate Democrats lose or losing tonight: Donnelly, Heitkamp, McCaskill, Nelson. All four voted against Kavanaugh. The one that did vote for Kavanaugh, Joe Manchin, prevails.
— Ed O'Keefe (@edokeefe) November 7, 2018
4. What can we expect? More gridlock. When can we expect it? Now. Is it a good or a bad thing? A bit of both, actually.
The Democrats take the House, so we can watch Dems not advancing legislation instead of Republicans not advancing legislation.
— jon gabriel (@exjon) November 7, 2018
Thanks to an even larger Senate majority, Trump is more likely to get his nominees through the confirmation process, and get them quicker and easier than he did with Kavanaugh. This is a nightmare scenario for the Democrats if Justice “Notorious” Ruth Bader Ginsburg decides to retire or dies in the next two years.
For the Dems, on the other hand, the House majority is all about getting Trump. Listening to the talking heads there seems to be little mention of policy and legislation and much concentration on the subpoena and investigative powers. The Democrats are likely to subpoena Trump’s toilet paper in search of anything that might harm the President or, better still, lead to his impeachment. I’m still of the view that the Mueller investigation into the “Russian collusion” won’t produce anything of substance to hang around Trump’s neck, but it won’t stop every House Committee reinvestigating every possible angle to the story, not so much in the hope they will find something that Mueller has missed but more as a nod to the base which genuinely believes that Trump and Putin sat at a computer one night and actually hacked the voting machines, as well as to keep the issue alive for as long as possible in the supplicant media.
Either way, expect the Congress will keep spending more money it doesn’t have and getting the United States into more debt.
5. Does it all help or hinder Trump? Some of the right commentariat are spinning that two years of Nanci Pelosi and Maxine Waters in charge of the half of the legislature will make for one long Trump election commercial for 2020 and will virtually guarantee him a reelection. I’m not so convinced. The Dem-controlled House will no doubt be a walking and woking nightmare, but a) I’m not sure if Trump will actually recontest, and b) if he does I think he is quite vulnerable against a Democrat whose name does not start with C and ends with N. Just because I find the prospect of President Harris, Booker or O’Rourke repulsive I don’t think it’s unlikely at all. If you use these mid-terms as a turnout baseline (and it is a pretty high, if not record-breaking, one), I think the Democrats have a greater capacity to increase their numbers at the presidential poll than do the Republicans, particularly if Trump himself is on the ballot.
6. What of the relationship between the White House and the other House? While some (as per the point above) think Trump will spend the next two years fighting the Congressional Dems to rile up his base (and by gosh, he’s got a master degree in bringing up the looniest in his opponents), other see an opportunity for Trump the Deal-maker. Anything is possible, but I just can’t see that much on the agenda to make any meaningful deals over. The Dems won’t touch the Trump agenda (like the Wall) with the proverbial ten-foot pole, simply for the sake of opposition (“Orange Man Bad”). There is perhaps a more scope for Trump to roll on some Democrat initiatives, but he does not have much margin of error with his base to afford to be seen as “bipartisan”.
7. Things will continue to get ugly, without many redeeming moments, like much-needed reform or legislative victories.
8. The demographic trends are Democratic trends. Florida voters just approved through a referendum giving voting rights to ex-felons. This arguably means bye-bye to a red Florida in the future. In Texas, “Beto” O’Rourke was an atypically well-financed and well-lauded candidate, but he should not have come this close to unseating Ted Cruz. The border states, with their rapidly growing Latino population, are turning purple before they perhaps turn blue. No wonder the Democrats love the open borders – it’s like UberEats for new voters.
9. Glenn Reynolds in USA Today: “Election Results 2018: Forget the blue wave and behold a purple puddle”.
10. The size and enthusiasm of the crowds at political rallies is not a good predictor of election results (but for an alternative view that the 30 massive rallies in 60 days did much to energise and get out the base, see here).
11. Neither, increasingly, is the state of the economy. By most objective criteria, the American economy has been improving quite dramatically, but – this is only my hunch – it’s not really helping Trump. I suspect this is because the electorate increasingly votes on cultural and emotional issues – the hatred or the love of the idea of Trump matters more than the actual content of Trump. The economy is something that everyone takes for granted when going well; it’s not a vote winner but can be a vote loser when things go belly up.