Danielle McLaughlin on American midterms
In the US, our midterm elections will be held this coming Tuesday, November 6. Historically, these ‘‘off year’’ elections (the Winter Olympics of US politics, you might say) are a referendum on the president. And historically, with a few notable exceptions, the party of the president takes a beating. The leadup to the vote has included a heartbreaking massacre in a Pittsburg synagogue, a nightmarish pipe bomb plot against perceived enemies of the president, a new lawsuit accusing the Trump family of peddling fraudulent get-rich schemes, and escalating rhetoric, fearmongering, and lies from the Oval Office. The president has threatened to send thousands of troops to the southern border to defend against a scrappy caravan of would-be asylum seekers who are still 1600km and weeks away from the US. He urged the incoming soldiers to shoot any migrant who dared throw a stone at them in protest (a violation of US rules of engagement), later walking it back after the illegal order was pilloried by experts and servicemen alike. Barbra Streisand threatened to move to Canada if Democrats don’t take back Congress. And Will Ferrell and Oprah Winfrey knocked on doors in Georgia to get out the vote for Stacey Abrams, who is gunning to be the state’s first African-American female governor. A strong jobs report released on Friday could have been the Republicans’ closing message. Instead, it’s like the storylines of Veep and House of Cards converged in real life. The general consensus on the likely outcome next week is that Democrats will take control of the House of Representatives, and Republicans will maintain their control of the Senate. This outcome would gum up the legislative process, because both chambers have to vote on a bill becoming law. But Democrats’ control of the House will not halt the president’s stacking of federal courts with conservative judges; it will not stop another conservative appointment to the Supreme Court should an opening arise; and it will not stop the president’s stream of executive orders, which have brought Americans such hits as the Muslim ban and the ban on transgender people serving in the military. Also, because it is ultimately a political act, Republican control of the Senate means that even if the House votes to impeach the president on strong evidence uncovered by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, the Senate is unlikely to convict him. Because of the configuration of seats up for election, the midterms – particularly in Senate races – are a much bigger lift for Democrats than Republicans. Of the 35 seats up for election, Democrats are defending 26 of them. Democrats (and two independents that caucus with them) have to win every seat they currently hold, and take two from Republicans, in order to take a slim majority in the upper chamber. John Lewis, the civil rights hero, has cast the midterms as a fight for the soul of America. Certainly, they are enormously important. But America’s soul has been fought over many times. A revolution. A civil war. Slavery’s end. McCarthyism. Vietnam. If Republicans manage a historic result, and don’t take a beating, it will be because of Democrats’ difficult road to retake the Senate; because people – especially young people – didn’t bother to vote; or because Americans are sufficiently satisfied with the economy and the promises the president has kept that they can ignore his divisiveness and his outright lies. They say you get the government you deserve. On Tuesday, Americans are going to find out what that looks like.
Historically, with a few notable exceptions, the party of the president takes a beating.
The US midterm elections are effectively a referendum on how the country thinks Donald Trump is performing as president.