Democrats won the American midterm elections of Tuesday. It wasn’t a landslide, it wasn’t a tidal wave, and it wasn’t a cataclysmic loss for Republicans. But overall, Democrats won.
The number of seats Democrats gained in the House of Representatives was the party’s largest gains in a midterm election since 1974. While Republicans will likely add slightly to their majority in the Senate, Democrats won at least 23 of the 35 Senate seats. The Republican gains came simply because Democrats were defending 26 Senate seats (including many in states won by Donald J. Trump in 2016), while Republicans were defending only nine Senate seats.
While a majority of American state governors will continue to be Republican next year, there will be at least seven more Democratic governors than there are now. And Democrats made significant gains in state legislatures around the country.
Democratic House of Representatives
Most important for the Democrats and most detrimental for the Republicans is that the Democratic party will now control one of the four main national government institutions for the first time in two years.
This means that Democrats will chair all committees in the House of Representatives, control the entire legislative process for that chamber, control floor debate on bills, and have the power to lead investigations of any suspected malfeasance by the president or the rest of the executive branch. The threat of impeachment of the president will also be a real possibility for the first time in the Trump administration, though removal from office would require Senate Republican support.
Received so many Congratulations from so many on our Big Victory last night, including from foreign nations (friends) that were waiting me out, and hoping, on Trade Deals. Now we can all get back to work and get things done!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 7, 2018
A majority of Americans voted against Trump in the 2016 presidential election. Trump has so far solidified the base of people who have always supported him but has done nothing to expand that base. In almost all polls of the last two years, a majority of Americans have disapproved of his presidency, and in the midterm elections, a majority of Americans voted for the opposing party.
Does that mean that Trump can’t win re-election in 2020? Not necessarily, though his odds of winning Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin for a second straight election don’t look good right now. Without those states, he would be unable to reconstruct an electoral college majority in the next election.
But when Republicans won both Houses of the Congress in 1994, Democratic President Bill Clinton famously used that as an opportunity to position himself as the protector of the American government against a more extreme party running amok in Congress. He also made some deals with the Republican Congress to reform welfare programs and health insurance and change immigration laws, while budget fights ultimately helped to lead to the only American budget surpluses of the past 40 years. Clinton then coasted to re-election in 1996.
Trump and Political Combat
Trump has continuously shown a passion for political combat and will in many ways welcome the useful foils of a Democratic majority House of Representatives that opposes most of his policies. Because he likes winning, he may even show a pragmatic streak and work with Democrats on deals about immigration reform, infrastructure, and possibly even amendments to the Affordable Care Act.
Americans have a long history of forgetting history when voting and usually focus on the most recent political events. If the economy continues to do well in the upcoming two years, and Trump’s political belligerence gets channeled into a few bipartisan compromises but with continued Twitter and campaign rally appeals to his base, then more centrist Americans may temporarily forget about the many controversies in his administration when casting votes in 2020.
Checks and Balances
Most of all, Americans seem to like checks and balances in the system. This month, voters in the liberal states of Vermont, Massachusetts, and Maryland all re-elected moderate Republican governors as a check on some of the strong liberalism found in their Democratic majority legislatures, while voters in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Kansas elected Democratic governors as a check on their conservative Republican legislatures.
Most voters in 2016 thought that Hillary Clinton was going to win the presidential election – that may have helped Republicans win some Congressional elections two years ago among voters who wanted a check on her presidency. Now that voters had a clear chance to express whether they wanted a Trump-controlled Congress or a Congress that checked his power and preferences, Americans clearly chose the latter.
In 2020, if Democrats look likely to retain control of the House of Representatives, that could potentially swing some voters to re-elect Trump, knowing that a check on his power would be in place. Democrats eager to stop that from happening will be looking for a charismatic presidential candidate that can overwhelm voter eagerness for checks and balances, as Barack Obama did in 2008.Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of The Globe Post.