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13 Nov 2018 18:29
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  •   Home > News > International

    Donald Trump's midterm election result holds silver linings for Republicans

    Should President Trump be worried about his chances for re-election in 2020? Not necessarily. This was nowhere near as bad as it could've been for President Trump.

    The Democrats have taken back the House of Representatives, "turned blue" a number of governorships and state legislatures, and already started discussions about investigations into President Trump and even impeachment.

    But is this similar to the "shellacking" that Democrats got during the Obama administration's first midterms vote in 2010? No.

    And should President Trump be worried about his chances for re-election in 2020? Not necessarily.

    This certainly was not a win for President Trump, but it was nowhere near as bad as it could've been. Here are some of the silver linings that Trump can take from Tuesday's vote.

    Senate confirmations just got a little easier

    In extending the Republican majority in the senate to a likely 54 senate seats, Trump is no longer as dependent on the moderate faction of the Republican Party for passing key legislation and confirming appointees. Trump can now afford to lose at least four Republican senators when he wants to pass a new trade deal or confirm a new attorney-general.

    Given how close key votes were in his first two years in office — most notably Supreme Court Justice Kavanaugh (which narrowly passed) and the repeal of the Affordable Care Act (which narrowly failed) — Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell no longer need to please every Republican Senator to get their way.

    Republicans are still charged up

    There is no question that Trump drives up voter turnout, with 2016 seeing a 6.5 per cent increase from 2012.

    Voters turned out in record numbers again this election — the final tally is still being counted, but we know it's at least 45 per cent higher than the 2014 midterms.

    Early voting alone eclipsed the total number of votes in some states during the 2014 midterm.

    High voter turnout for Democrats was widely expected but less expected was that Republican enthusiasm for this midterm vote was not all that diminished.

    Trump drives voters to the polls, but that cuts both ways. Young people (who typically vote Democrat) turned up in record numbers this year, but so too did rural white Americans, who may not have voted prior to supporting Trump in 2016. This was particularly evident in the race for governor of Florida.

    The progressive left did poorly

    While 29-year old progressive Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez captured the attention of progressives around the country with her surprising victory in the Democratic primary, her race was essentially over at that stage.

    Her Congressional district in New York City is overwhelmingly Democratic: Clinton beat Trump there 77-20 in 2016 and Ms Ocasio-Cortez won with the same vote share.

    Progressive Democratic candidates in more competitive districts — like Dana Balter in New York's 24th district, Randy Bryce in Wisconsin's 1st district, and Kara Eastman in Nebraska's 2nd district — all lost to Republicans on Tuesday.

    There was a fair amount of overlap in 2016 between Mr Trump's and Bernie Sanders' supporters — Mr Trump can rest assured that the progressive left did not appear to be very energised by Tuesday's results.

    Democrats don't have a national leader or issue

    Republicans successfully fended off some of the most high-profile Democratic challengers in Beto O'Rourke (Texas Senate Seat), Stacey Abrams (Georgia Governor), and Andrew Gillum (Florida Governor).

    While US governors do not oversee presidents in the way members of congress do, those candidates in many ways represented the public face of the Democratic challenge to Mr Trump this year.

    Each candidate undeniably faced uphill battles in seats long held by Republicans. But their rapid rise to stardom in the Democratic party has kicked off public discussions about viability for presidential office in 2020.

    Now that they've lost, the question becomes, who is the leader of the new Democratic party? And which theme won out?

    It's not clear there definitively is one in either instance.

    Presidents have recovered from worse

    A bad midterm does not correlate to a bad chance at re-electing the president. As seen during the presidencies of Mr Clinton and Mr Obama, a president can go on to a fairly comfortable re-election two years after losing the House of Representatives. Obama's first midterm vote in 2010 saw 63 House of Representative seats and six Senate seats switch from Democratic to Republican.

    It also saw the birth of the small government-obsessed Tea Party, which proved to be formidable opposition for President Obama and even then-Republican Speaker of the House, John Boehner.

    Not only was this midterm not as damaging, but there was no single unifying cause — beyond simply opposing Trump — that mobilised the Democratic base in the way the Tea Party did for Republicans in 2010.

    Democrats will work with Trump on China

    While Democrats might want to restrict Mr Trump's domestic agenda, he may actually have more leeway in foreign policy areas, particularly on China. Beijing has traditionally preferred Republicans to Democrats, due to Democrats' emphasis on human rights and lesser enthusiasm for free trade.

    With a Democratic majority in the House and free trade-supporting Republicans seemingly a minority in their own party, Mr Trump could have more room to take on Beijing on a number of fronts.

    Jared Mondschein is a senior fellow and senior advisor at the US Studies Centre.


    © 2018 ABC Australian Broadcasting Corporation. All rights reserved

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