Why the blue wave be­came just a splash


De­spite con­tro­ver­sies of Amer­ica’s di­vi­sive is­sues and the pres­i­dent in lead-up to the 2018 midterms, its re­sults were not un­ex­pected

The 2018 con­gres­sional midterm elec­tions shat­tered all turnout records for midterms, as an es­ti­mated 114 mil­lion Amer­i­cans voted, and drew global at­ten­tion com­pa­ra­ble to most pres­i­den­tial cam­paigns.

The days be­fore the elec­tion were punc­tu­ated by let­ter bombs tar­get­ing high-pro­file op­po­nents of the pres­i­dent and the deadly at­tack at a Pitts­burgh sy­n­a­gogue, the worst act of anti-Semitic vi­o­lence in Amer­i­can his­tory.

Given all this, per­haps the strangest thing about these midterm elec­tions is how nor­mal they were – at least with re­gards to the re­sults.

For many Democrats this midterm was, at its heart, a bat­tle for Amer­i­can democ­racy.

Repub­li­cans cam­paigned on the idea that Demo­cratic vic­tory would lead to so­cial­ism, or at least a dev­as­tat­ing re­ces­sion.

Over all of this loomed the per­son­al­ity, tweets and ral­lies of Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump.

The im­pact of Tues­day’s elec­tion will be far-reach­ing.

The Demo­cratic ma­jor­ity in the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives will be able to block pro­posed leg­is­la­tion be­fore it can get to the Repub­li­can-con­trolled Se­nate, mean­ing that Mr Trump is no longer free of con­straints in Wash­ing­ton and that con­ser­va­tive bills have lit­tle, if any, chance of be­com­ing law.

There’s also a very real pos­si­bil­ity that the House could vote to im­peach Mr Trump af­ter the con­clu­sion of the in­ves­ti­ga­tion into Rus­sia’s 2016 elec­tion in­ter­fer­ence or over pos­si­ble busi­ness con­flicts of in­ter­est.

The Repub­li­can ma­jor­ity in the Se­nate won’t vote to con­vict him, but a House im­peach­ment could still be a po­lit­i­cal blow.

In ad­di­tion, Mr Trump’s re­elec­tion cam­paign has un­of­fi­cially be­gun and well over a dozen Demo­cratic can­di­dates could emerge as strong con­tenders to op­pose him.

None­the­less, these un­pre­dictable times still gave rise to pre­dictable re­sults.

The Democrats were clear win­ners on Nov 6, as the party that does not con­trol the pres­i­dency has been in al­most ev­ery midterm elec­tion since Franklin De­lano Roo­sevelt was in the White House in 1934. (Ex­cep­tions were in 1998 and 2002.)

How­ever, the blue wave that many Demo­cratic ac­tivists were hop­ing for never came.

The Democrats will pick up around 30 seats in the House and prob­a­bly lose only two or three Se­nate seats in the face of a very tough map, but this hardly con­sti­tutes a wave.

The rea­son for that was the econ­omy: The blue wave crashed on to the shores of the strong econ­omy and the re­sult could be called the blue splash.

Ear­lier midterms that drew much less at­ten­tion and were not dom­i­nated by a pres­i­dent who rev­elled in con­fronta­tional and di­vi­sive rhetoric have had sim­i­lar re­sults.

This or­di­nary out­come to an elec­tion that was any­thing but high­lights a con­tra­dic­tion be­tween an Amer­i­can polity that seems to be in flux and vot­ing habits and out­comes that do not al­ways re­flect that.

The Repub­li­can Party is tran­si­tion­ing from a tra­di­tional con­ser­va­tive party to a pop­ulist one while the Demo­cratic Party is find­ing new sup­port in once solidly sub­ur­ban com­mu­ni­ties.

A pres­i­dent who has bro­ken nu­mer­ous norms of Amer­i­can democ­racy and whose per­son­al­ity and be­hav­iour has dom­i­nated the me­dia for more than three years found that at elec­tion time, the fate of his party, like that of al­most all pres­i­dents, was de­ter­mined by an im­por­tant, but rel­a­tively mun­dane is­sue: The state of the econ­omy.

It is also ap­par­ent that for many if not most Amer­i­cans, par­ti­san­ship is still the main driver of their vote.

This midterm re­sult shows that both sides can mo­bilise their vot­ers and that de­spite this time of in­tense tur­moil, long­stand­ing tru­isms of Amer­i­can pol­i­tics – or at least some of them – still ap­ply. – REUTERS

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