There was a lot going against Trump, but Democrats have failed to turn the troubles into a thumping win
The stakes were high. President Donald Trump had already said that the midterm election — called so because it’s held at the middle of a President’s four year term — was a referendum on his performance. All the 435 seats in the House of Representatives and 35 seats in the 100-member Senate were up for grabs. For the past two years President Trump enjoyed a free ride in Congress as his Republican Party controlled both houses of the federal legislature.
That free run is over. Initial results to Tuesday’s election show that the Democrats have taken control of the House, while the Republicans have retained the Senate. They needed to flip 23 seats to win the House and they have seized 26, taking their strength to 223, well past the magic number. According to some projections, they could get as many as 229 seats once the final numbers are out. Voting numbers suggest the Democrats will win the House popular vote by more than 8 percentage points.
That’s a major jump. Last time, Democrats made such a gain in popular vote was in 2008 when the US economy was in deep trouble, anger over the Iraq war was high and Barack Obama was running a popular campaign. Democrats have also put up a strong show in the governor race, capturing seven states from the Republicans, including the important geographies of Wisconsin, Michigan and Illinois. The midterm has also seen a record number of women being elected to the House—more than 100, mostly Democrats.
The Democrats would say they were fighting the election against many odds. The President was running a rabble-rousing campaign, demonising the Democrats. He had also made immigration the central idea of his campaign. He attacked illegal immigration and blamed the Democrats for “letting criminals into the country”. He had also despatched troops to the southern border as a Caravan of thousands of Central Americans were moving towards the US-Mexico border. Trump also bet big on the growing economy and falling joblessness. Unemployment rate was slightly above 3%, compared to over 9% in 2008 when Obama was elected. The Democrats, on the other side, campaigned around issues such as healthcare reform, gun control and tackling climate change. There were also a group of progressive left-leaning candidates on the Democratic ticket such as Ocasio Cortez, who, at 29, became the youngest woman ever elected to Congress.
The victory in the House is a shot in the arm for the Democrats. They can now block or at least slow down Trump’s legislative agenda. With subpoena powers, House Democrats can also launch investigations into allegations of misconduct by the administration. They will chair influential House committees such as judiciary and intelligence panels. More important, if Robert Mueller, the Special Counsel who’s investigating the alleged Russian intervention in the 2016 US Presidential election finds fault with the Trump campaign, he could have support of at least one branch of the US government—the House. The House Democrats can, in theory, initiate impeachment process if they want to and the President is indicted by the Muelller probe.
Still, the Democratic Party’s performance is far from impressive. The “blue wave” or an overwhelming victory against the ruling party and Trump, which many had predicted, is absent. True, the gain in popular vote is significant. But the Democrats failed to extend the gains in the House to the Senate race, where the Republicans have seized two seats from the Democrats. According to projections, the Republicans will control 53 seats in the Senate. In rural and southern America, they continue to hold their sway, despite the Democratic campaign blitzkrieg against Trump.
It is a fact that Trump is not a particularly popular President. His approval rating is less than 40% now. But in key southern states, he remains popular among his voter base, even two years into his presidency. While the Democrats captured seven States in the governor race, the big battleground states such as Florida, Ohio and Arizona stayed with the Republicans. In the last two years, he had triggered several controversies. He’s not the typical American President either. He’s the anti-establishment populist, a liar, who’d seen ‘fine people’ in a Nazi march in Charlottesville. He’s facing investigations. The White House is chaotic. Still, Democrats could not turn these Trump troubles into an overwhelming victory. In sum, stakes remain high even now.