The Trump resistance has won an important battle but the search goes on for a new Obama, says ANDREW ADONIS
When the great oracle of the electorate speaks, it isn’t always clear what the great oracle said. The message of this week’s mid-term elections in the US is unusually opaque, with the Senate and the House of Representatives moving in sharply opposite directions.
But I don’t think the oracle likes Donald Trump. There was only one national election on Tuesday – for the House of Representatives – and the Democrats won it by a thumping margin. The Senate and governorship elections covered only parts of the country, and in the case of the Senate, which gave such cheer to Trump, it was mostly in pro-Republican territory.
The Democrats took control of the House. According to the US stats wizard E J Dionne, they won Tuesday’s national election for House seats by a margin of more than 9%. This compares with the best recent Republican performances of a 7% lead in 1994 and 2010, in Bill Clinton and Barack Obama’s first mid-term slumps, and 6% in Obama’s second mid-term in 2014.
So the Democrats had one triumph over Trump. Equally telling is what the exit polls said about the key issue for voters: healthcare, which polled twice as strongly as immigration. The great oracle clearly loves Obamacare – and as he and it get older, they adore it ever more.
‘Trump’s hold on discounted blue-collar and middle-class voters has been substantially weakened,’ is Dionne’s verdict.
Except that the governorship and Senate results don’t completely support this. Democrats won a few more state houses, which will help the party a bit in the re-districting of House seats which takes places in two years time under the partisan direction of governors. But Republican governors held on in most swing states and in the majority of all states.
As for the Senate, which Trump hailed as his vindication, the third of the chamber being contested was mostly defended by Democrats who did spectacularly well on Obama’s coat-tails when these seats were last up in 2012, Obama’s re-election year.
Democrat losses were mostly in small states which Trump carried by large margins in 2016, including Indiana, Missouri, and North Dakota. In larger industrial states including Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania, Democrats held on. This is bad for Trump, as these states have more voters and are vital to his hold on the electoral college, which determines the outcome of presidential elections.
But holding the Senate is HUGE – as Trump tweeted – because he does not have Congress united against him. He still has an assured majority both against impeachment and in favour of future Supreme Court justice nominations. The transformation of the court into handmaiden of the US hard right now looks unstoppable, entrenching Trumpism – and bitterness and division – at the heart of American politics for the foreseeable future.
Trump himself wasn’t on the ballot, of course. When he was two years ago, he outperformed his party and sucked the oxygen out of his opponent’s campaign. There is no reason from these results to believe he won’t do so again. There still isn’t a Democrat who looks like a half decent opponent and ‘nothing will come of nothing’, as King Lear put it.
So while the great oracle appears not to like Mr Trump, it hasn’t impeached or seriously weakened him. Investigations and ruses galore will be initiated by the Democrat-controlled House, but they will probably go nowhere unless Trump actually implodes – not impossible, but he is good at surviving. Trump looks less vulnerable than Nixon even if Mueller goes badly for him.
Obama, now progressive America’s sage, tells friends that while he thinks the US system will survive one term of Trump he isn’t sure it will survive two. This is as worthless as all predictions: it all depends. But obviously the longer Trump is in the White House, the worse for American democracy, and after Tuesday the odds are not heavily against him getting a second term.
However, politics abhors a vacuum. Turnout shot up and the level of passion and engagement was extraordinary for a mid-term election, all because of Trump. Maybe a new Obama will come forth. Yes we can! Well, maybe.