Sunday, October 21, 2018

What will life be like after the midterms? - Bruce Walker

by Bruce Walker

Imagine what a divided Congress will mean for President Trump's agenda.

Polling data for the midterm elections strongly suggest that Republicans will lose seats in the House of Representatives but gain seats in the Senate. What does all that mean for national politics between the midterms and the 2020 elections? It means a divided Congress, but that may not be the worst thing for Republicans.

Control of the Senate – in fact, the addition of one or two more Senate seats, which is what seems likely – will make future judicial appointments relatively easy. That matters because Ruth Bader Ginsburg is 85 and may well be unable to continue on the Supreme Court for another two years. Today, the Supreme Court decisions will likely be determined by Chief Justice Roberts, but with a conservative judge replacing Ginsburg, the Supreme Court will be clearly conservative.

A divided Congress also means that Democrats will not be able to force President Trump to veto any bills because the Republican Senate can thwart any proposed Democrat legislation before it reaches Trump's desk. When Clinton was president this "triangulation" was used by him effectively to be the arbitrator of conflicting proposals of the two houses.

Speaker Pelosi, with a very narrow majority, will find it hard to simply stonewall the Senate and White House for two years. The newly elected Democrat House members will find outright opposition to what President Trump and the Republican Senate want very dicey indeed. The voters who turn out in 2020 will probably be more inclined towards President Trump than the midterm voters.

This follows a pattern of the party controlling the White House doing better in congressional races during presidential elections than during midterm elections. Going back to 1988, with the exception of 1998, when House Republicans impeached Clinton, the congressional voting has gone back and forth every two years. That means 2020 ought to be a relatively good year for Republican congressional candidates.

In Senate races, the particular class largely determines how the parties do in winning, losing, or holding seats. The 2020 Senate Class provides almost no opportunities for Republicans to win new seats but also almost no opportunities, in a traditional year, to lose Senate seats. Indeed, the only really vulnerable Senate seat may be Susan Collins in Maine, but she won her race in 2014 with 68% of the vote so that her apparent vulnerability because of her speech for Justice Kavanaugh probably makes her invulnerable.

More interesting is what will happen in the House seats that Democrats are likely to win from Republicans in 2018. Not only will the House Democrats from those districts be freshman members of the minority party who have had no chance to really do the sort of constituent services that give an incumbent favorability with ordinary voters or to do the sort of fundraising which builds up bigger and bigger war chests in future races.

What these Democrats will face, instead, are congressional districts that have been gerrymandered by Republican state legislatures to help the Republican candidate have a significant, but not overwhelming, majority in congressional districts. With gerrymandering, Republicans can win a majority of the House seats in 2020 with only 45% or so of the popular vote.

Although partisan gerrymandering, which Democrats used for many decades to cement House majorities, may be stricken by federal court decisions or rendered ineffective for 2022 races by Democrat gains in state legislative races, this gerrymandering in 2020 could easily allow President Trump to have a Republican Congress for the first two years of his second term.

That is more than enough time for Trump to get his agenda through Congress. Few presidents really do much during their last two years in office except defend those legislative changes they have pushed through Congress or executive orders they have implemented directly.

The upcoming midterm elections, absent some unexpected wave of voters in one direction or the other, looks as though it will preserve enough power in the two elective branches of our federal system to continue the reforms President Trump has begun. Democrats would have better prospects if their party were not in the cold, feeble hands of geriatric leftists and coastal feminists, but that, as Democrats showed in the last two years, is not the case.

Bruce Walker


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