The loss of the House is a blow for Trump, but he still has the Senate
The mid-term election assumed particular importance because think-tanks used the emerging connotations to try and track the possible trajectory of American politics that might follow for the next two years until the next presidential elections in 2020.
Americans cast their votes in this mid-term poll for all 435 seats in the House of Representatives, 35 of the 100 seats in the Senate, and 39 state and territorial governorships. As predicted by Five Thirty Eight, a statistics website, the Democrats have gained the required majority in the House of Representatives. In the Senate, the Republicans have retained their majority.
Voter enthusiasm in this mid-term election was at its highest level in more than two decades according to the Pew Research Institute. About 61% of voters surveyed said that, they were enthusiastic about this year’s elections, and about 72% said they would factor in which party was most likely to control Congress when casting their vote.
The issues which drew the most attention from the voters appear to have been health care, economy, immigration, women’s rights, and Supreme Court appointments.
Those interested in moving forward, particularly the women, knew that health care had reached a critical point and that a major Republican victory in the mid-terms would likely lead to the final nail in the coffin of the Affordable Care Act.
It may be mentioned here that although Republicans have so far failed to repeal and replace Obamacare, Republican majority Congress and Trump had made changes to it. Against such a backdrop, health care took centre stage in several key races across the US.
The next issue that drew particular focus was the question of future appointment in the US Supreme Court. It may be recalled that Trump’s nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court created a whirlwind of controversy.
Although the Republican-led Senate voted to confirm Kavanaugh, the now-Supreme Court justice became a rallying cry for Democrats before the mid-terms. The allegations against Kavanaugh came amid a swell in controversy over sexual harassment.
Kavanaugh’s appointment moved the court further to the right, giving Trump more of a boost as he continued to hit the campaign trail for his fellow Republicans. Some analysts, however, pointed out that the controversy over Kavanaugh and the way the allegations were handled might have galvanized Democratic supporters and their effort to win in the House of Representatives.
Another issue through which Trump and the Republican Party tried to persuade voters in the mid-term election was through changes that were termed as positive within the US economy. Trump regularly boasted not only about the growth levels but also the decline in unemployment rates.
Attention was drawn to the unemployment rate which had fallen to 3.7% by October 2018 -- the lowest in nearly 50 years. However, the Democrats pointed out that job growth had also slowed.
The fourth issue that emerged leading up to the election, was women’s rights, which played a crucial role during the election. Media reports, election observers, and the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University have indicated that record numbers of women, most of them Democrats, have run and succeeded in the mid-term elections.
The last significant issue that generated voter choice was immigration. This gained momentum after the Trump Administration created outrage earlier this year over the administration’s separation of migrant children from their parents, casting a long shadow over the mid-terms.
The Trump Administration earlier pushed sweeping immigration reform, taking aim at undocumented immigrants as well as proposing rule changes for those attempting to obtain green cards, welfare, and food stamps, among other government benefits.
To underline his determination in this regard, before the election, Trump also ordered troops to the US-Mexico border to intercept a caravan of migrants and asylum seekers heading there, and also has floated the idea of ending birthright citizenship.
Democrats used this harsh Trump approach to rally minorities and young voters against Trump’s immigration policies. It may be added here that several polls conducted over the past summer suggested that a majority of Americans believe that Democrats are more capable of handling immigration-related issues.
Women on the rise
The record number of women who will be members of the incoming class of legislators is expected to have a stark effect on politics in the nation’s capital, particularly within the Democratic Party. Nancy Pelosi, House Democratic leader from 2007 to 2011 is set to become Speaker of the House. Rashida Tlaib and Ilham Omar, two Muslim ladies, also created history by being elected to the House for the first time from their faith.
Data subsequently announced has shown that Republicans have expanded their slim 51-49 majority in the Senate -- the upper chamber. This has ensured that Trump will have a majority to confirm his executive and judicial appointments.
Democrats have always faced an uphill battle in the Senate in 2018, because they were defending 26 races, while just nine Republican seats were up for grabs. Key gains for the Republicans came in Indiana, Missouri, and North Dakota, where they unseated Democrat incumbents.
Historically, mid-term elections in the US have often changed the power dynamics between the White House and the Congress. This has at times prompted US administrations to modify their approach to foreign affairs.
In the recent past, there have been a number of such important foreign policy developments that have taken place as a result of electoral setbacks during the mid-terms. In 2006, the sweeping victory of the Democrats in the congressional vote prompted the Bush administration to alter its approach in Iraq, pushing for a US troops surge.
Subsequently, there was the resurgence of the Republicans in the 2010 mid-terms. This predisposed then President Barack Obama to back the military intervention in Libya a few months later -- a decision he would later consider as “the worst mistake” of his presidency.
Similarly, after the electoral defeat the Democrats suffered in November 2014, the Obama administration switched gears and started pushing much more seriously for a nuclear deal with Iran, which was meant to serve as Obama’s lasting foreign policy legacy.
The Trump administration might go through similar policy shifts or adjustments after the November 6 vote. One thing is sure -- the mid-term elections results are likely to have both direct and indirect consequences for the US foreign policy in general and more specifically in the Middle East.
In conclusion, although the loss of the House of Representatives will be a serious blow for Trump, the strong showing by the Republicans in the Senate proves Trump remains a potent force.
Muhammad Zamir, a former ambassador, is an analyst specialized in foreign affairs, right to information, and good governance. He can be reached at [email protected]