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US Mid Term Elections- Mixed Message from a Polarized Country

Ziauddin Choudhury

The just concluded Mid Term Elections in the US did not deliver the shock and awe that was expected by
anti-Trumpistas. It upended the House of Representatives by transferring majority to the Democrats,
but it buoyed the already Republican controlled Senate by adding a few more seats to the party some
claimed had been hijacked by Donald Trump. The Republican Party now is on the cusp of having a four-
seat advantage in the Senate. So, if the Democrats and others who have been praying for a Republican
doom and Trump gloom, will have to wait for other better days, probably 2020.

Expectations of a sea change in politics in the country polarized by Donald Trump’s election as President
were hyped because the way the new President conducted himself after his elections, which in itself
was a major shock to all. People thought Trump would behave in a more civilized and Presidential
manner after he took office. Instead he doubled down on his rhetoric against immigrants, stoked racism
with his remarks favoring white nationalists, and fueled trade wars with reckless comments against
traditional trading partners of USA. He went full force for banning immigrants from seven Muslim
countries, his demand for a wall with Mexico, shredded parts of Obama introduced Health care reforms,
walked out of an international agreement on trade and tariff for Pacific rim countries, scrapped the
North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) among USA, Canada, and Mexico that was a result of
years of negotiation by his Republican and Democratic predecessors, and shredded Iran nuclear deal. He
was so eager to push through his agenda that many of his actions were wrought through Executive
Orders rather than through the Congress.

But even as President Trump railroaded his policies, he was aware that in a democratic set up such as
the US has, he will have to face his electorate, if not for his own elections, but for the Congress, sooner
or later. At the time of his election as President, both houses of the Congress (House of Representatives
and Senate) had Republican majority. But to continue with his allies he would need a Republican
dominated Congress. Therefore, he started to drum up support for his party by attending rallies in
support of the candidates in different states. In doing so, Trump fell back on the only strategy he knows,
using vitriolic language against opponents, and fear mongering against them. President Trump became
Candidate Trump once again.

In the rallies for Republican party candidates Trump turned to his base and used the rhetoric he had
used earlier for his own candidacy to rouse his base. Again and again he harped on illegal migration and
the need to build a wall, his promise to stop unfair trade with other countries, punishing China and
other partners with tariffs, and promises of greater tax breaks for people. He would not dwell on the
state of the economy and job growth (which are actually very good), because he thought arousing
people’s angst about migration and job flight from “unfair” global trade (of which he is an opponent),
would drive voters to his allies more than anything else. Trump rallies were, therefore, were a replay of
his rallies during his Presidential campaign.

What Trump had ignored, however, is the ability of his core supporters to rally behind the candidates his
party had in the fields. Ironically this is a party that Trump had never belonged to earlier. His critics say
(including some in the Republican Party itself) that Trump had hijacked the party after he won the
Presidential nomination with his rowdy supporters.
But while this Trump support base is loyal to Trump, it is not uniformly distributed all over the country,
or all states. Even in typically Republican leaning states, the Trump base is not enough to influence
elections to individual Congressional districts. And there are 435 congressional districts in the US, all of
which are open to election every two years. Trump could not afford to have rallies in all of them. The
House was tightly under control of the Republicans when Trump became President. The party ceded
control to the Democrats yielding more than thirty seats they held so long.

Senate elections are different. Each state elects two Senators for a six-year term. One third of the
Senate is reelected every two-years on a rotational basis. This year thirty three Senators sought
reelection, of which twenty four were Democrats, and nine Republicans. Donald Trump held rallies for
all Republican candidates including those who contested Democratic held seats. All sitting Republican
Senators were returned plus a few more.

While the House results have dismayed the Republicans, Donald Trump seemed to be unperturbed by it
taking things in his characteristically bombastic way. He never for a moment thinks these are a
referendum on his performance even though a Democratically controlled House would be a boulder on
his free-wheeling way. He thinks the Senate results are proof of his popularity and that he could iron out
a way to work with the House. In his press conference after the elections he even sounded optimistic
about working the Democrats. And here is the rub.

The success of the Democrats in the House is not because they like Donald Trump and his policies; it was
because they oppose him and his policies. The Democrats have successfully exploited the anti-Trump
sentiment that had been brewing since his candidature and turned into a campaign to end his
Presidency. But unfortunately, this Democratic campaign came short of winning control of both arms of
the legislature. They are keenly aware of this, and they need to work toward this goal.

The failure to win Senate signifies to all anti-Trumpistas that support for Donald Trump goes above and
beyond his core base not necessarily confined to rural voters, former steel factory workers and coal
miners. There is abundant enthusiasm about Trump and his policies among people who may not appear
to be Trumpists. The Democrats have a lot more work ahead of them.

The mixed results of the mid term elections do not forebode well for the next two years. The
Democratically controlled House may try to bind the hands of the Presidency in many ways including
trying the unlikely impeachment proceedings, but these could have only succeeded if the Senate were
populated by fellow Democrats. It is not so. Therefore, all we can expect is House resolutions
denouncing the President or denying him legislations that he wants. Or, Trump may surprise all by
turning soft on the Democrats and yielding to their wishes to keep his Presidency. Trump may not care
about his base if he finds his own seat to be too hot.