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Trump’s Midterm Appraisal: Mixed Results – Analysis

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Hating Trump is not enough as 2016 and now 2018 has shown. Equally, Trump may have reached a point where delivery is more important than inciting the base and pitting one side against another.

By Seema Sirohi

The US midterm elections were seen as a national referendum on President Donald Trump. The mixed results, after months of negative campaign rhetoric, established that Trump continues to resonate with roughly half the country.

The verdict was a fair reflection of the national cultural profile — the liberal, inclusive, urban and multi-ethnic voters versus their conservative, xenophobic, rural and mostly white counterparts. One wants to bury “Trumpism,” the other wants to praise it.

Ever since Trump got elected, the pundits, including Republican opinion makers, haven’t stopped lamenting the blight he has wrought upon the “shining city on a hill,” an America that was a near perfect blend of moral and democratic values until he came along.

It’s time the commentariat acknowledged the real blend of the country.

If 2016 was a rude shock to liberals, 2018 is a reckoning — the US has electorally significant numbers of people who are deeply anxious about the changing demographics, also called the “browning of America.” They agree with Trump’s brand of politics and they go to the polls too.

As widely expected, the Democrats took the House of Representatives while the Republicans held the Senate. They also wrested seven governorships from Republicans, making a total of 23 blue states.

If 2016 was a rude shock to liberals, 2018 is a reckoning — the US has electorally significant numbers of people who are deeply anxious about the changing demographics, also called the “browning of America.”

Was it a “blue wave,” as many had hoped? Not quite but it was a pretty good showing for a party torn by some internal soul searching and generational fights.

The Democrats would have done much better if not for what are being called “structural disadvantages” — complicated voter registration laws in Republican-controlled states, which specifically target minorities and make voting an extremely difficult undertaking.

Or gerrymandering which is the art of manipulating boundaries of a Congressional district to favour one party and the Republicans have done massive gerrymandering in various states.

Republicans, having strengthened their numbers in the Senate, can legitimately say the results were not quite the repudiation of Trump’s high-voltage, nativist and incendiary politics as some had feared. But the voters did send a message of rebuke.

But Trump, in typical style, declared victory and took credit for delivering those Republicans who espoused his style of politics and aligned with him. He had openly declared himself the central figure even though he wasn’t on the ballot.

With the House gone to the Democrats, Trump will face roadblocks in implementing its political agenda. And he will fight back.

Trump’s first act after polls 

Trump’s first official act following the elections was to oust his attorney general, Jeff Sessions, with whom he has been sparring for more than a year. He named Matthew Whitaker, a true believer and supporter, as his replacement.

Democrats suspect Trump wants to shut down Robert Mueller next, the special counsel looking into alleged Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

With Whitaker’s help, Trump can reduce Mueller’s authority with a thousand cuts — limit his budget, restrict his mandate — making the investigation difficult. That could result in a constitutional crisis and the Congress would be expected to act.

The House under Democratic control will be a check of sorts on the President as the leadership of key committees with investigative powers changes hands. Trump’s personal taxes, finances, family ties, and Russia connections could come under the scanner.

The big question is how far the Democrats will go in declaring “war” against the Republicans. Will they try to avenge all the slights?

A record number of women have won House seats — 115 out of a total of 435, including the first Muslim American, the first two native Americans and the youngest. They will generate their own dynamic, given the momentum of #MeToo movement and Trump’s reputation and record. Most of the women are Democrats.

The big question is how far the Democrats will go in declaring “war” against the Republicans. Will they try to avenge all the slights?

In light of the Republican majority pushing through the controversial appointment of conservative Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court despite serious allegations of sexual assault, the Democrats will surely remember how former President Barack Obama wasn’t allowed to nominate a judge to the Supreme Court because the Republicans subverted the rules and declared the nomination had to wait until after the 2016 election.

The more aggressive Democrats have been talking tough about a “tsunami of subpoenas” and possible impeachment proceedings but Nancy Pelosi, the senior most Democrat, who will likely be the speaker of the House again, struck a calmer tone.

She said the Democrats had “a constitutional responsibility” to have oversight of the White House but she also added she was willing to work with the Republicans in a spirit of bipartisanship “to unify our country.”

Trump has already laid the ground for retaliation if the Democrats aggressively investigate his past — he will use allies in the Senate to probe alleged misconduct by Democrats.

In his first press conference after the results, he said he would adopt a “warlike posture” if the Democrats went after him. “They can play that game, but we can play it better,” he said. And yes, he does play this game better because he makes the rules as he goes along.

The choice for the Democrats will be to either accomplish something — healthcare is a top priority for voters on both sides — or fight and block Trump. They will have to judge what their mandate actually means and how to honour it.

Hating Trump is not enough as 2016 and now 2018 has shown. Equally, Trump may have reached a point where delivery is more important than inciting the base and pitting one side against another. He has to begin making deals on the domestic front, whether on the price of medicines or funding infrastructure projects.

Things may get worse before they get better but there is a remote possibility that bipartisanship may break out.


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Observer Research Foundation

Observer Research Foundation

ORF was established on 5 September 1990 as a private, not for profit, ’think tank’ to influence public policy formulation. The Foundation brought together, for the first time, leading Indian economists and policymakers to present An Agenda for Economic Reforms in India. The idea was to help develop a consensus in favour of economic reforms.

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