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Midterms2018: A step to the left, a slide to the right Open in fullscreen

Andrew Leber

Midterms2018: A step to the left, a slide to the right

A GOP supporter watches midterm election results [Getty]

Date of publication: 7 November, 2018

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Comment: Tuesday's midterm election results saw the Democrats retake the House, which takes any legislation from President Trump without bipartisan support off the table.
It was neither the best of times nor the worst of times.

If anything, it was the most predictable of times, as the outcomes of the 2018 US midterm elections fell square in the middle of pollsters' and analysts expectations - major Democratic gains in the House of Representatives, a worse-than-expected showing in several Senate races, and a scattering of results in state-level elections and ballot initiatives nationwide.

For the Democratic Party, the votes tallied up by House candidates are on course to give the party one of the largest margins of victory by either party since the cold war, with seats to equal those gained in the "thumping" dealt to George W.Bush in 2006.

Even as I write these words, House results continue to trickle in, announcing the defeat of Republican Congressional representatives from Staten Island to the suburbs of Texas.

Yet liberal and leftist voters in the United States are unlikely to experience much of the cathartic joy that accompanied the victory of Democratic Senate candidate Doug Jones in Alabama - among the most conservative of states - over the fitting symbol of the Republican Party that was Roy Moore.

Successes are tempered by narrow losses for many of the party's marquee candidates - Beto O'Rourke, Andrew Gillum, and almost certainly Stacy Abrams - in states the Democrats hoped to put solidly in play for the 2020 election.

At the same time, there was no decisive break away from the Republican Party in any state the Democratic Party will need to take the presidency.

Republicans continued to put forward a strong showing in the Rust Belt states of the Midwest, picking off Senators Claire McCaskill of Missouri and Joe Donnelly of Indiana as well as ousting Heidi Heitkamp from North Dakota - with John Tester's Senate seat in Montana still too close to call at 8am GMT.

Steve King (Iowa’s white supremacist Congressman), Ted Cruz (culture warrior of Texas), Duncan Hunter (the congressman from the San Diego suburbs running the most Islamophobic campaign in history against his Christian, Latino-Arab-American opponent) - all of them will return to bedevil the left anew in terms that begin next year.

If President Trump takes any lesson from the elections, it will not be one of moderation. He will ignore the results in the House and crow about "his" Senate victories, convinced that a campaign message rooted in race-baiting and xenophobia will be a potent force at the polls in 2020. We can expect more of the same from him, if not worse.

Still, the results contain much to encourage supporters of the Democratic Party, which was effectively on life-support as a political institution as it lurched into the 2016 elections.

The main symbolic victory of the night was seeing Scott Walker (governor of Wisconsin, bane of unions, and one-time presidential hopeful) go down to a narrow defeat - likely subject to a fierce recount - after several thousand absentee ballots were discovered at the last minute.

The midterms have recruited a wide crop of talented candidates to run at every level of government countrywide - even those who fell short will come away with experience running a political campaign and ideas for how to improve for next time.

Neither strong jobs numbers and economic growth nor a massive tax handout did much to blunt a blue wave

At the same time, Democratic gains come in the face of what by traditional indicators is a booming economy - the historic reference point for voters judging the ruling party. Neither strong jobs numbers and economic growth nor a massive tax handout did much to dampen a blue wave - and it truly was a wave - that in other years might have crashed amid the apathy of voters content with the status quo.

Recriminations will no doubt begin soon, as left-of-centre pundits and commentators try to figure out how they might have done even better - yet the party will hopefully avoid the circular firing squad that dominated political discussions for months after the 2016 elections.

Success has many fathers, and there is certainly enough success to go around for the thousands upon thousands who poured volunteer hours into Democratic races countrywide to feel that their time and energy accomplished something.

And while some might have dreamed of retaking control of the entire country in the blink of an eye, control of the House is not to be sneezed at.

Legislation from President Trump is dead, unless on a topic with sufficient bipartisan support

Legislation from President Trump is dead, unless on a topic with sufficient bipartisan support - such as efforts to combat the opioid addiction epidemic - as to render the partisan chasm irrelevant for a day.

Instead, if the Democratic Party's leadership has any sense then the next two years will churn out model bill after model bill that has no chance of succeeding but stands as a promissory note to voters as to what they should expect if the party - somehow - retakes the Senate.

Foreign policy is likely still in the president's full control, yet a Democratic victory in the House does endanger US support for the Saudi-led coalition's intervention in Yemen - support has already been slipping in the Senate even among Republicans, now backed up by Representatives willing to hold the administration to account.

And the investigations - oh, the investigations we shall see, into Trump taxes and Trump business dealings and Trump campaigning and Trump family members.

Interference in American elections will get the Congressional attention it deserves, while the cartoonish corruption of President Trump and his acolytes will be dragged into the spotlight for all the country to see - but especially for self-proclaimed independent voters, who turned their backs on the Republican Party (on average) for the first time since 2008.

The struggle continues - Tuesday's results were neither so crushing as to guarantee a Democratic victory in 2020 nor disastrous enough that supporters and activists will lose hope of any real change. Here's to the elections to come.

Andrew Leber is a PhD student in the department of government at Harvard University.

Follow him on Twitter: @AndrewMLeber

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, al-Araby al-Jadeed, its editorial board or staff. 

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