On 6 November, the American people go to the voting booths once again. They will choose the occupant of every seat in the House of Representatives, and a third of the Senate. The Republicans hope to maintain control of both houses. The Democrats want a blue wave.
The result looks likely to be somewhere in the middle: Democratic House, Republican Senate. In these times of political uncertainty, however, nothing is certain; the difference between unlikely and impossible is equal to the difference between Alex Jones and Bernie Sanders. It is possible that the Republicans win everything again. It is possible that the Democrats take control. It is possible that Donald Trump declares the result fake news and shoots the TV with his AR-15.
The Democrats are widely expected to take control of the House: midterm elections tend to go poorly for the party of the president and, while Trump is beloved by his MAGA base, he remains unpopular with most Americans.
Moreover, the dominant issue of these elections, health care, is a difficult subject for Republicans, following their failure to repeal Obamacare. The recent attempts to bomb the homes of prominent Democrats, coupled with the synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh could motivate swingers to vote against the president - the former because the perpetrator was a devout Trumpian, the latter because Democrats advocate gun control.
The Democrats, however, have harmed their chances. Chuck Schumer’s stubborn handling of the Kavanaugh hearing achieved nothing except the stirring up of die-hard Republicans. Hillary Clinton’s suggestion that Democrats should match Republicans in their personal attacks was an unnecessary and unproductive distraction: for a GOP desperate for high turnout among their base, there is no greater gift than Crooked Hillary on the airwaves.
Most damaging is the strength of the economy. It is difficult to elucidate the enormity of Trump when unemployment is low and economic growth is high.
Equally damaging, Trump has succeeded in repeating his trick of 2016: turning this election into a referendum on borders and national security. The midterms have been framed as a choice between strong borders and open borders, racial purism and ethnic invasion. This has been aided by the caravan of seven thousand indigents travelling through Central America towards the Land of the Free. As in the presidential election two years prior, Trump is stoking fears towards foreigners and criminal gangs such as MS-13, who would undoubtedly be welcomed with a friendly smile by Democrats. The caravan is a gift for the president: fear of migrants is the fuel of the populism that put him in the White House.
The Democrats have failed to match Trump and the Republican Party on issues of national security and immigration, which, in America, are one and the same. Where Nancy Pelosi and other leading Democrats equate protection on the southern border to racism, Trump is the patriot who protects America from ‘illegal aliens’.
Will the Democrats succeed in unleashing a blue wave, or have they missed their chance?
Has Trump – with his recent promises of more tax cuts, lower prices on prescription drugs, and tougher border policies – resurrected his party’s electoral hopes?
Or will one party control the Senate and the House?
It is difficult to contrive a sound prediction at this stage. We can, however, speculate on what each of these outcomes would mean for America.
First, let’s consider the likely outcome: Democratic House, Republican Senate – a split decision. By my reckoning, this composition would be the least traumatic. Trump’s presidency has been constrained most by the Senate, whose membership is Republican in majority. The Senate has succeeded in ensuring responsible appointments, in keeping foreign policy under a degree of stability, and – most importantly – in curbing the president’s worst instincts: it was the late Republican, Senator John McCain, who saved the Affordable Care Act from capitulation in July 2017.
Over on the other wing of Congress, Republicans in the House are pure-Trump, ultra-MAGA, and provide no checks whatsoever. A Democratic House paired with a Republican Senate could, therefore, provide both an effective check against presidential power and an efficient means for judicial appointments.
I see one problem with this scenario: Donald Trump. Because, to lend a line from Jane Austen, it is a truth universally acknowledged, that a man like The Donald in possession of the nation’s attention, must be in want of more victories.
Trump likes to win. Trump likes to watch others lose. It is difficult to envisage his working with a Democratic House of Representatives – it would mean sharing his victories with his enemies. Although the Democrats and Trump have shared values – namely infrastructural investment, lower prescription drug prices, and protecting those with pre-existing conditions – Trump’s passion for such things would vanish when his ability to claim sole responsibility is taken away.
Similarly, it is doubtful whether the Democrats would want to work with Trump - they will be more interested in a strategy of impeachment.
Second, we should consider what happens if the Republicans keep both chambers. This remains a definite possibility - though the Democrats will win the popular vote, gerrymandering and the sheer surface area covered by the Republican base could make the difference.
Total victory for Republicans would translate to a validation of Trumpism. It would embolden the president to go further in his bid to Make America Great Again. More tax cuts, more military spending, and more legislation hostile to the environment, a repeal of Obamacare (this time he would succeed), a continuation and acceleration of protectionism and the trade war with China, and probably the end of Robert Mueller’s investigation. A Congress and an America in Trump’s image.
Finally, we ought to consider a Democratic sweep to power, the scenario that I believe would be disastrous. Similar to how a total Republican victory would embolden Trump, a total Democratic victory would give its congressional leadership the means to declare war on President Trump.
Mueller will be given all the support and ammunition needed to charge Trump. This might be unnecessary, however, because congressional Democrats will probably cite Trump’s paying hush money to women with whom he allegedly had affairs as violation of his presidential oath. This would be an horrendous politicisation of the impeachment tool that would set a dangerous precedent, but it is possible.
Remember: the unlikely is far from impossible in modern politics.
What is more, a Democratic majority in both chambers of Congress would force the president to turn to foreign policy for political points. This is the point at which the rest of the world should worry. Believe it or not, Trump’s foreign policy has hitherto been restrained, and less destabilising than many feared. With a hostile Congress working against him, Trump would probably up the ante: pushing China further and further, leaving NATO and abandoning old allies, declaring war on Iran – all within the realm of what is possible in the age of Trump.