The majority of people saw these US mid-term elections as the most consequential ever, something the voters clearly appreciated as they turned out in droves, even the much-derided youth vote. It was perhaps the largest turn out for mid-terms since 1970. All this in in a country with a history of having one of the lowest voter turnout rates in any modern democracy. In many ways the American people now have the Congress it desired, split between the two parties with all the checks and balances back in play. Geographical divisions remained stark. The Democrats dominated on the two coasts, the Republicans in the interior.
Let’s focus on the positive. Congress will be younger, more female, more diverse and more representative of the 21st century US. It was the year for women with a record number of female candidates elected. Voters elected the first native American woman and the two first American Muslim Congresswomen, Rashida Tlaib, a Palestinian-American; and Ilhan Omar who is Somali-American. The Lebanese-American Donna Shalala in Florida also won. Indeed, a record number of American-Arabs stood, a welcome move forward for an American-Arab community that has been woefully underrepresented over the years.
For sure all this is positive but not against the backdrop of the most divisive, polarising and racist campaign in US history. Not only were there white supremacist attacks with bombs sent to leading Democrats, and the slaughter of 11 Jews at a synagogue in Pittsburgh, but the deafening sound of dog whistles could be heard from coast to coast. When Fox News refuses to take a Trump advert because it is too racist, something is surely way past wrong.
President Trump has to take responsibility, not least when he confected a caravan of dangerous fearsome individuals making their way up through Central America which for him warranted dispatching 5200 US soldiers to the border. The pungent racism of the Trump campaign was scary. Perhaps no surprise then that the Black and Hispanic vote overwhelmingly went Democrat.
As with the 2016 campaigns, anti-Semitism and Islamophobia were rampant. A Republican congressional victor in North Carolina said in a sermon that there would be no peace in Israel unless Jews and Muslims converted to Christianity. Steve King, who is a white supremacist, also won in Iowa, and some believe he is the most racist man in Congress. He was slated for having met with the far right Austrian party on a recent visit to Europe.
Truth and honesty made only fleeting appearances. If you believe the Washington Post, President Trump has lied over 5000 times since becoming President. This does not seem to concern his core support base at all. He was not the only one.
Trump was as ever ebullient, even jubilant at his post-elections orchestrated press bust up. His default mode is bold and aggressive. Republicans who lost, he said, largely did so because they did not embrace him. In a classic bait and switch move, Trump added Jeff Sessions to the long list of former Trump administration figures to be summarily dismissed. He lasted far longer than most. It served one key purpose – to steer the story away from what was clearly a Democrat victory day.
But Trump did have some positives to take away as well. Firstly, nearly every President loses in the mid-terms with long term average a loss of 30 Congressmen and 4 Senators. He actually increased his senatorial cohort even if once again he lost the popular vote by 9%.
Trump also succeeded in transforming a sceptical Republican party into a party for Trump. Many Trump-sceptic Republicans retired or were forced out in primaries. Trump will not have to content with Senators Flake, Corker and Rep. Ryan. Other critics have just gone mute or even started to pander to the President. What will this mean for the future if Trump’s brand of politics dominates this great party?
Trump has been centre stage throughout these elections, demonstrating his near legendary ability to monopolise the news cycle. The Democrats have not found a way to dent this.
But when the dust settles, the results will not alter one key factor. The Democrats still are rudderless with no sign they are developing the strategy or cadre of leadership that will threaten Trump in 2020. Some might cite Beto O’Rourke who had an impressive campaign in the Republican stronghold of Texas and who came so close to ousting the incumbent senator, Ted Cruz, but he has a long way to go to the summit. Trump’s biggest enemy remains himself.
The Democrats will no doubt seek to investigate Trump and subpoena members of the administration. As tempting as this might be, they must also reflect on how they can deliver outcomes and change and not just act as spoilers and blockers. Trump on the other hand will look to blame them at every turn for not being able to implement his agenda.
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