The Guardian view on the US midterms: a wel­come start

The Guardian Australia - - Opinion -

The Democrats’ seizure of the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives and other ad­vances in the US midterms are hugely wel­come and a great re­lief. But Tues­day’s vote did not see the hoped-for blue wave, and was not a turn­ing point in it­self. What mat­ters is what the Democrats, and the pres­i­dent, do next.

Don­ald Trump was pre­dictably un­gra­cious and com­bat­ive in what he claimed as a “big vic­tory”, de­spite his im­prob­a­ble sug­ges­tion that it “could be a beau­ti­ful bi­par­ti­san type of sit­u­a­tion”. He thrives on di­vi­sions. The record turnout (up 31m votes on the 114m votes in 2014) tes­ti­fies to his abil­ity to fire up his base as well as gal­vanise re­sis­tance. Can­di­dates em­braced his na­tivism, with nakedly racist and an­ti­semitic cam­paigns. Mr Trump has boasted of the strength­ened Repub­li­can hold on the Se­nate – an un­sur­pris­ing out­come, given how strongly this round of con­tests favoured the party. The Democrats’ An­drew Gil­lum made strik­ing in­roads in Florida but couldn’t take the gov­er­nor­ship. In Ohio, equally crit­i­cal, Demo­cratic se­na­tor Sher­rod Brown held on but Repub­li­cans tri­umphed in other races. Mr Trump could be much worse placed for 2020.

We can ex­pect him to run against the Demo­cratic House in that race: it will make a con­ve­nient en­emy. That is pre­cisely be­cause the Democrats have ended the era of unchecked Repub­li­can power and can now frus­trate his agenda on ev­ery­thing from tax cuts to health­care and im­mi­gra­tion. The re­sis­tance has moved into the leg­is­la­ture; but they need to show they can be more than the re­sis­tance, and can win over op­po­nents. Crit­i­cally, they now have the power to in­ves­ti­gate him; this is not “pres­i­den­tial ha­rass­ment” but sorely needed over­sight. Mr Trump has threat­ened re­tal­i­a­tion, but the big­gest chal­lenge for Democrats is pick­ing the right tar­gets and the pri­or­ity is pro­tect­ing the work of Robert Mueller, whose re­port into into Rus­sia’s role in the 2016 elec­tion and the al­leged col­lu­sion of the Trump cam­paign is pend­ing. No longer fear­ing elec­toral reper­cus­sions, on Wed­nes­day Mr Trump forced out Jeff Ses­sions – never for­given for re­cus­ing him­self from over­sight – and put a se­nior aide who has called for the de­fund­ing and rein­ing in of the in­ves­ti­ga­tion in his place as act­ing at­tor­ney-general.

Pre­lim­i­nary exit polls gave House Democrats a 21-point lead among women, while men split al­most evenly. De­spite some signs that sub­ur­ban, col­lege-ed­u­cated women are peel­ing away from the Repub­li­cans, 60% of white women backed Ted Cruz in Texas; in Ge­or­gia 76% picked Brian Kemp over Stacey Abrams, seek­ing to be­come the first black fe­male gover­nor. But a record 272 women ran for Congress, and at least 95 were elected to the House: the best show­ing ever, if still far too low. They in­clude the first Mus­lim and Na­tive Amer­i­can con­gress­women (Rashida Tlaib and Il­han Omar; Sharice Davids and Deb Haa­land), and the youngest, Alexan­dria Oca­sioCortez. Jared Po­lis is the first out gay man to be elected gover­nor, in Colorado.

There was good news for Democrats in Penn­syl­va­nia, Michi­gan and Wis­con­sin (where gover­nor Scott Walker was ousted) – all states which fell to Mr Trump in 2016. Beto O’Rourke’s cam­paign in Texas made him a star. But mo­bil­is­ing sup­port is not enough. The im­pact of ger­ry­man­der­ing and voter sup­pres­sion is in­creas­ingly ob­vi­ous. Democrats won the pop­u­lar vote in four of the five pres­i­den­tial races this cen­tury – yet two of those pro­duced Repub­li­can pres­i­dents. Demo­cratic sen­a­tors rep­re­sent around 3.65 mil­lion vot­ers and Repub­li­cans around 2.5 mil­lion. This week shows that elec­tors are wak­ing up. Michi­gan backed a non-par­ti­san re­dis­trict­ing com­mis­sion and au­to­matic vot­ing en­rol­ment. Florida passed an ini­tia­tive restor­ing vot­ing rights to 1.4 mil­lion felons, dis­pro­por­tion­ately black men; Mr Trump won there by 113,000 votes. The Democrats won’t just need the right can­di­date and agenda in 2020, but a fairer sys­tem too.

Demo­crat Jacky Rosen cel­e­brates after win­ning her Se­nate race against Dean Heller in Ne­vada. Pho­to­graph: Ethan Miller/Getty Images

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