Democrats re­claim House; GOP pre­vails in Se­nate

The Week (US) - - 4 News - Peter Baker Philip Rucker Josh Dawsey

What hap­pened

Vot­ers ren­dered a mixed ver­dict on the Trump pres­i­dency this week, as Democrats har­nessed a sub­ur­ban back­lash to re­take the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives while Repub­li­cans ex­panded their Se­nate ma­jor­ity with vic­to­ries in more ru­ral, con­ser­va­tive-lean­ing states. Af­ter a bit­terly fought cam­paign, an es­ti­mated 113 mil­lion Amer­i­cans cast bal­lots, about 49 per­cent of el­i­gi­ble vot­ers—the high­est midterm par­tic­i­pa­tion rate since 1966.

Across the coun­try, a di­verse coali­tion of mi­nori­ties, young peo­ple, and col­legee­d­u­cated white vot­ers in cities and sub­urbs re­buked the pres­i­dent by help­ing Democrats win their first House ma­jor­ity in eight years. As The Week went to press, Democrats had gained at least 27 seats—more than the 23 seats they needed to re­gain the cham­ber—with about a dozen races still too close to call. More than 100 Demo­cratic women were swept into of­fice, in­clud­ing the first two Na­tive Amer­i­can and first two Mus­lim women to be elected to Congress. Pro­gres­sive star Alexan­dria Oca­sio-Cortez of New York made his­tory as the youngest woman ever elected to Congress, at age 29. House Mi­nor­ity Leader Nancy Pelosi—al­most cer­tain to be­come the next speaker of the House— promised that the Democrats would use their share of power to pro­vide a mean­ing­ful check on the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion. “To­mor­row,” Pelosi said, “will be a new day in Amer­ica.”

Hopes for a “Demo­cratic wave” ended in the Se­nate, how­ever, where Democrats had to de­fend 10 seats in states that Trump won in 2016. Repub­li­cans are ex­pected to in­crease their Se­nate ma­jor­ity from 51 to 53 seats once the fi­nal votes are tal­lied. Demo­cratic in­cum­bents Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, Joe Don­nelly of In­di­ana, and Claire Mc­Caskill of Mis­souri were all soundly de­feated. West Vir­ginia Demo­crat Joe Manchin, the only mem­ber of his party to vote to con­firm Supreme Court nom­i­nee Brett Ka­vanaugh, held on to his seat in a very pro-Trump state. In Texas, Repub­li­can Ted Cruz sur­vived a sur­pris­ingly strong chal­lenge from Beto O’Rourke. Pres­i­dent Trump, who held 11 cam­paign ral­lies over the past week, swiftly took credit for Se­nate Repub­li­can gains, say­ing, “I thought it was very close to com­plete vic­tory.”

What the ed­i­to­ri­als said

This elec­tion “was a ref­er­en­dum on Trump—and he failed,” said The Bos­ton Globe. The pres­i­dent was a “mill­stone around the neck” of Repub­li­cans across the coun­try. Democrats flipped 29 GOPheld seats, scor­ing up­set vic­to­ries in red-state sub­urbs near Charles­ton, S.C.; Kansas City, Mo.; Dal­las, and Ok­la­homa City. In terms of the over­all na­tional vote, it was “one of the most lop­sided midterms in re­cent his­tory,” fa­vor­ing Democrats by roughly 7 per­cent. “The loud and clear mes­sage from Amer­i­can vot­ers is that they don’t like the racially di­vi­sive and in­flam­ma­tory lead­er­ship from the White House.”

What next?

Ac­tu­ally, Democrats “fell dev­as­tat­ingly short of their own ex­pec­ta­tions,” said Wash­ing­tonEx­am­ Vot­ers al­most al­ways pun­ish the pres­i­dent’s party dur­ing an ad­min­is­tra­tion’s first midterm elec­tion, but this was hardly a wave. Democrats lost 63 House seats and their House ma­jor­ity un­der Pres­i­dent Obama in 2010. In 1994, Democrats lost 54 seats un­der Pres­i­dent Clin­ton, as well as their Se­nate ma­jor­ity. Un­der Trump, Repub­li­cans ac­tu­ally gained Se­nate seats, which means Repub­li­can Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Mitch McCon­nell will con­tinue con­firm­ing Trump’s con­ser­va­tive ju­di­cial ap­pointees at a brisk pace. The “re­sound­ing re­buke” lib­er­als hoped to de­liver Trump “has landed as a mod­est dis­agree­ment.”

What the colum­nists said

With un­em­ploy­ment at a mere 3.7 per­cent and the econ­omy grow­ing, said Ezra Klein in, the Repub­li­cans’ loss of the House is “a pro­found po­lit­i­cal fail­ure.” The GOP also had other ad­van­tages, in­clud­ing par­ti­san ger­ry­man­der­ing and the fact that so many Demo­cratic vot­ers are packed into a small num­ber of ur­ban con­gres­sional dis­tricts. Nev­er­the­less, Amer­i­cans de­ci­sively voted the GOP out of power in the House. Repub­li­cans are pay­ing a “Trump tax” for sup­port­ing a dem­a­gogic and di­vi­sive pres­i­dent who hasn’t breached 50 per­cent ap­proval since tak­ing of­fice. If they can’t win when con­di­tions are per­fect for them, what will hap­pen if the eco­nomic tide turns?

Vot­ers clearly wanted a check on Trump, said Josh Kraushaar in Na­tion­alJour­ But they “don’t nec­es­sar­ily trust Democrats with full gov­ern­ing re­spon­si­bil­ity.” Red-state Democrats’ at­tacks on Ka­vanaugh dur­ing his hear­ings helped trans­form many close con­tests into “GOP blowouts.” Vul­ner­a­ble GOP in­cum­bents also sur­vived in many House dis­tricts where Democrats lurched too far left for vot­ers’ com­fort. The Democrats who did well in the crit­i­cal sub­urbs were mod­er­ates who re­as­sured swing vot­ers “that they didn’t sup­port sin­gle-payer health in­sur­ance, open borders, and a

wild-eyed for­eign pol­icy.”

How will Trump re­spond to a Demo­cratic House? asked in The New York Times. He sug­gested at a press con­fer­ence this week he’d be open to “a beau­ti­ful bi­par­ti­san type of sit­u­a­tion,” with pos­si­ble deal­mak­ing on in­fra­struc­ture, trade, and im­mi­gra­tion. But he could rel­ish hav­ing an op­po­si­tion to bat­tle and blame, and make a foil of Nancy Pelosi. Obama and Clin­ton both were able to win re-elec­tion by con­trast­ing them­selves with a hos­tile Congress. Bet on con­flict, said and in The Wash­ing­ton Post. Trump warned at his press con­fer­ence he’d re­tal­i­ate with a “war­like pos­ture” and in­ves­ti­ga­tions of his own should Democrats in­ves­ti­gate him—which they al­most cer­tainly will. A full-on war with Democrats would be “ex­tremely good for me po­lit­i­cally,”Trump said, warn­ing, “I am bet­ter at that game than they are.”

“A po­lar­ized na­tion is now more deeply di­vided,” said Julie Pace in the As­so­ci­ated Press. Pres­i­dent Trump’s base, dom­i­nated by white men and ru­ral vot­ers, em­phat­i­cally stuck by him. Women and mi­nori­ties went strongly in the op­po­site di­rec­tion, mo­ti­vated “by a deep op­po­si­tion to Trump’s na­tion­al­ist agenda and racially charged rhetoric.” Right now, nei­ther coali­tion seems ca­pa­ble of mak­ing siz­able in­roads into each other’s turf, said Ramesh Pon­nuru in, and nei­ther is big enough to truly gov­ern the coun­try. “What we can more re­al­is­ti­cally look for­ward to is two more years of so­cial di­vi­sion, par­ti­san ran­cor, and gov­ern­men­tal sclero­sis.”

Sharice Davids (left) won a House seat in Kansas.

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