A Prelude in Practice: analysing the United States’ midterms

A Prelude in Practice: analysing the United States’ midterms

Kushal Raj digests the midterm results from the United States: what do they tell us for 2020?

So, the radical “blue-wave”, which began to echo at an increasing volume as the election beckoned, has dissipated in the wake of the result. Instead, the expected divide in Congress. The Democrats have gained 27 seats, 4 more than anticipated, while the Republicans retained control of the Senate, strengthening their grip after taking Indiana, Missouri and North Dakota from the Democrats.

“I’m not on the ballot, but in a certain way I am on the ballot” – What next for Trump?

The Democrat turnovers in 27 states suggest that dissatisfaction in Trump’s leadership strongly resonates in the US. It is now going to be harder for him to push through his legislative plans, most notably building a wall on the Mexican border and repealing Obamacare.

Also, the House can now begin a more aggressive investigation into the Trump administration. Increased probing means it may not be long before the public get to scrutinise Trump’s tax returns. Then, there are other members of his administration such as his interior minister, Ryan Zinke, who is accused of using official power for business interests. However, impeachment remains unlikely, as the Democrats have failed to obtain a majority in the Senate and would therefore require Republican support to pass his impeachment. Chances rest on whether Robert Mueller files his report on possible collusion between the Trump 2016 campaign and Russia, whether it illustrates any incriminating activities, and whether it is even taken seriously.

However, there is a risk associated with enhanced investigation. The economy is currently performing well, with unemployment at just 3.7%. This could strengthen the Republican base, as it could mobilise conservatives and independents who, irrespective of their attitude towards Trump, want this economic prosperity to continue.

Another reprieve for Trump is the Republican success in the Senate. Adding to their majority in the Senate means he can still confirm his preferred federal judges. For example, the BBC North America correspondent Anthony Zurcher claims it is now easier for Trump to replace the “beleaguered” Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, with a more pro-Russia candidate. Given that Trump has actually gained support from three more states, his support is failing to waiver at state-level, indicating a more palatable position as a 2020 presidential candidate and “four more years”.

O’Rourke and Gillum fall short

Much of the talk prior to the election was around whether Beto O’Rourke and/or Andrew Gillum would pull off surprise victories in Texas and Florida respectively. The former was a requirement for the Democrats to even have a glimpse at a Senate majority. Both men can feel encouraged by their campaigns, with O’Rourke falling 1.6% short of Cruz and Gillum just 0.7% to Ron DeSantis.

In Texas, O’Rourke’s calls for reforming criminal justice and immigration laws and promising to improve education and universal healthcare have been met with enthusiasm especially from young voters and a growing minority of Latino immigrants. He captivated Latinos with his fluent Spanish and is open to replacing or reforming the controversial Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), which has provoked fear amongst immigrant communities through actions like separation of children and parents at the US-Mexico border. With the presidential elections now the next campaign on the agenda, the Democrats can feel positive: if O’Rourke can build on his momentum in a notoriously Republican stronghold, then 2020 could be the first time we see a blue Texas since 1998. And who knows? If his passionate oratory, good looks and cool background as a skateboarder and punk rocker is such that he can endear voters in a predominantly red area, we could be looking at a dark horse for the Democrat presidential candidate.

Meanwhile, in Florida, Andrew Gillum was visibly emotional as he conceded defeat in front of his supporters. However, if his “I’m not going anywhere!” attitude is anything to go by, it appears Gillum has his mind fixed on how to craft a Democrat victory in 2020. At only 27, this is just the beginning for Gillum. His energy and progressive policy platform gained the support of voters, motivating Democrats to turn out as well as attracting independents and Republicans disillusioned with former Governor Rick Scott and Trump. However, an FBI inquiry into corruption in the city where he is mayor and an entrenched American distaste of his “socialist” tendencies may have tipped the balance, so that opposition leader and Trump-endorsed Ron DeSantis held on to retain Florida’s Republican status: red for the past 30 years at gubernatorial level.

Beyond party politics

Despite these failures for the Democrats, the Midterms also saw triumphs for improved diversity. There are now a record number of 89 congresswomen, including Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Abby Finekenauer. These two became the youngest female candidates to be elected to the house, aged 29. Sharice Davids and Deb Haaland became the first Native American congresswomen, whilst Rashida Tlaib and Illhan Omar are the first female Muslim members of Congress. These are just a few examples of the progress made through representation in this election.

There may have been no shock outcome in this election, but the much larger turnout, coupled with jubilant celebrations in victory and emotional displays in defeat, can only aid American political engagement. An emergence of fresh new political faces, stagnant approval ratings for Trump, and ongoing legal disputes mean that, if nothing else, this midterm election has created the platform for a fiercely contestable 2020 presidential campaign.

Featured image credit: Flickr/Rob Kall