Trump sends loud mes­sage

The West Australian - - INSIDE COVER - Paul Mur­ray

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s sil­ver­ware-sav­ing mid-term elec­tion mes­sages of strong borders and job-cre­at­ing eco­nomic growth should be res­onat­ing with Lib­eral Party strate­gists.

Trump’s lines cut through with those vot­ers who were wary of the Democrats’ lurch to the left in a di­rect par­al­lel to the elec­tion ques­tions that will con­front Aus­tralian vot­ers next year.

And any­one who thinks that Trump didn’t do well be­cause the Repub­li­cans lost House seats — while counter-in­tu­itively boost­ing their num­bers in the Se­nate — isn’t aware of the his­tory of mid-term elec­tions.

It looks like the Repub­li­cans un­der a Trump White House have lost around 30 House seats which is well be­low the av­er­age of 37 for in­cum­bent pres­i­dents since World War II.

The record is Barack Obama’s Democrats in 2010 with a crush­ing loss of 63 seats, closely fol­lowed by Bill Clin­ton’s Democrats in 1994 with 52.

The Repub­li­cans lost 48 with both Eisen­hower in 1958 and Ford in 1974. LBJ lost 47 for the Democrats in 1966 and Tru­man 45 for the Repub­li­cans in 1946 and 29 in 1950, just edged by Ge­orge W. Bush’s 30 in 2006.

So not only was there no “blue wave” as pre­dicted by most pun­dits, but there was noth­ing like the re­pu­di­a­tion of Trump’s White House that the Democrats had promised — and des­per­ately needed.

The House losses were coun­tered by a net Se­nate gain of three Repub­li­can seats, not in terms of num­bers or im­me­di­ate po­lit­i­cal power, but in what it presages.

Where Trump per­son­ally cam­paigned, his sup­ported can­di­dates tri­umphed.

Demo­crat Sen­a­tors who voted against Trump’s Supreme Court nom­i­nee Brett Ka­vanaugh lost.

Where for­mer pres­i­dent Barack Obama cam­paigned to save Demo­crat seats, all four lost, a crush­ing re­jec­tion for some­one who has to take much of the blame for mak­ing Trump’s Amer­ica pos­si­ble.

For the record, only three pres­i­dents have ever over­seen mid-term House seat gains, Bush (8) in 2002, Clin­ton (5) in 1998 and FDR (9) in 1934. The mid-term elec­tions usu­ally of­fer a safe protest vote for the dis­en­chanted.

And only three pres­i­dents have made gains in the Se­nate while los­ing House seats, Nixon (2) in 1970, JFK (4) in 1962 and Woodrow Wil­son (3) in 1914, hav­ing lost 61 in the House.

All of that makes Trump’s House losses seem a lit­tle less dra­matic than most of the ini­tial me­dia re­port­ing sug­gested. Sav­ing the Se­nate gives him valu­able po­lit­i­cal pro­tec­tion.

The key to un­der­stand­ing it is in Amer­ica’s vol­un­tary vot­ing, where turnout is cru­cial, and the hugely po­lar­is­ing na­ture of the Pres­i­dent.

Where the sit­ting House Repub­li­can was a soft or anti-Trumper, the Demo­crat protest was mag­ni­fied by a poor GOP turnout. That mes­sage won’t be lost in Repub­li­can pre-se­lec­tion con­tests for 2020.

The Se­nate re­sult is a fur­ther warn­ing to tin-eared Democrats of what hap­pens when they en­er­gise the Trump base by abus­ing him and his sup­port­ers — some­thing that lost Hi­lary Clin­ton the 2016 race and looms as the big threat in 2020.

Demo­crat con­trol of the House raises the spec­tre of two years of end­less pol­i­tick­ing through in­quiries aimed at bring­ing down the Pres­i­dent, re­gard­less of the cost to the na­tional fab­ric — let alone the im­prov­ing econ­omy.

The big ques­tion is whether the new wave of more left­ist Democrats will in­flu­ence the party to try to fur­ther im­pede Trump, even to the point of ac­tively pur­su­ing im­peach­ment. The Pres­i­dent was quick to warn them of the con­se­quences, char­ac­ter­is­ti­cally via Twit­ter:

“If the Democrats think they are go­ing to waste Tax­payer Money in­ves­ti­gat­ing us at the House level, then we will like­wise be forced to con­sider in­ves­ti­gat­ing them for all of the leaks of Clas­si­fied In­for­ma­tion, and much else, at the Se­nate level. Two can play that game!”

A slightly smaller ques­tion is whether Trump will feel suf­fi­ciently re­buked to try to ne­go­ti­ate with a Demo­crat-led House, or chose the Stal­in­grad op­tion when he senses op­po­si­tion.

When the re­al­i­ties of the Democrats’ in­abil­ity to turn a fairly big swing into a blue wave sink in, the party will have to face the re­al­i­ties of deal­ing with the Trump phe­nom­e­non.

Con­tain­ment would be the sen­si­ble op­tion, but it is al­most cer­tain that they will opt for con­fronta­tion, which just plays to Trump’s dis­rup­tive in­stincts.

The strength of Amer­ica’s eco­nomic re­cov­ery — if it wins the China trade war — will en­sure that its pol­i­tics gets uglier while the so­cial po­si­tion of many peo­ple im­proves.

As the Chicago Tri­bune’s ed­i­to­rial board — which backed Obama in 2008 and 2012 — pointed out in May, Trump’s eco­nomic poli­cies are work­ing:

“The un­em­ploy­ment rate is now 3.9 per cent for all Amer­i­cans, the low­est level since 2000, while the job­less rate for black work­ers is 6.6 per cent, the low­est fig­ure since record-keep­ing be­gan in the early 1970s.

“Yes, record-low job­less­ness for the black pop­u­la­tion, and for Lati­nos, a 4.8 per cent rate that ties their record low. Both still are higher than the 3.6 per cent rate for whites.”

Whether that trans­lates into more Repub­li­can votes in 2020 is an­other thing, but it might keep many Democrats at home.

So what does this mean for Aus­tralia?

Mal­colm Turnbull fi­nally started talk­ing about the eco­nomic growth that cre­ated one mil­lion new jobs un­der his prime min­is­ter­ship in his Q&A ap­pear­ance on Thurs­day.

There was no men­tion of his hap­less “in­no­va­tion” agenda that failed to fly at the 2016 elec­tion.

The dumped prime min­is­ter also chose to de­fend the coali­tion’s asy­lum seeker poli­cies — a crit­i­cal La­bor weak spot — when the ABC au­di­ence was pin­ing for him to ditch them.

Trump saw a rolling land-based Tampa head­ing to­wards his south­ern borders and grasped the po­lit­i­cal op­por­tu­nity. His crit­ics cried there was no “in­va­sion” while naively ex­pect­ing he would not be hy­per­bolic when pre­sented with such a gift.

The mes­sag­ing prob­lem for the Lib­er­als is that they stopped the peo­ple smug­glers’ boats — tak­ing the heat out of the is­sue — but are be­ing blamed for not suf­fi­ciently clean­ing up La­bor’s mess on Nauru.

But the es­sen­tial cam­paign par­al­lels re­main ob­vi­ous.

Il­lus­tra­tion: Don Lind­say

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