The outcome of the 2018 midterm elections saw the GOP retain control of the Senate while the Democrats took back control of the House. The GOP managed to pick up two seats in the Senate (pending the Florida recount), putting the partisan breakdown of that chamber at 53 Republicans versus 47 Democrats (including the two Independents who caucus with them). Meanwhile, the results of many House races are still unclear, though the Democrats should end up 30-38 seat advantage there.
Jonathan Martin and Alexander Burns of The New York Times report:
“Their loss of the House also served unmistakable notice on Republicans that the rules of political gravity still exist in the Trump era. What was effectively a referendum on Mr. Trump’s incendiary conduct and hard-right nationalism may make some of the party’s lawmakers uneasy about linking themselves to a president who ended the campaign showering audiences with a blizzard of mistruths, conspiracy theories and invective about immigrants.
Indeed, the coalition of voters that mobilized against Mr. Trump was broad, diverse and somewhat ungainly, taking in young people and minorities who reject his culture-war politics; women appalled by what they see as his misogyny; seniors alarmed by Republican health care policies; and upscale suburban whites who support gun control and environmental regulation as surely as they favor tax cuts. It will now fall to Democrats to forge these disparate communities alienated by the president into a durable electoral base for the 2020 presidential race at a time when their core voters are increasingly tilting left.
But by maintaining the intense support of his red-state conservative base, Mr. Trump strengthened his party’s hold on the Senate and extended Republican dominance of several swing states crucial to his re-election campaign, including Florida, Iowa and Ohio, where the G.O.P. retained the governorships.”
Despite taking back the House, Democrats failed to achieve the so-called blue wave that was widely predicted in the months leading up to Election Day. By definition, the outcome was not what political scientists would consider a “wave election”, which would technically constitute the Democrats making major gains in both the House and Senate. Ultimately, the 2018 midterm elections ended up being not much different from most ordinary elections, rather than an enormous backlash against Trump and the GOP.
In the Senate, Republicans held their majority while also managing to pick up two seats. The GOP accomplished this by winning key races in crucial battleground states. One remarkable win was Republican Josh Hawley’s triumph over incumbent Democrat Claire McCaskill in Missouri. Another notable GOP victory was in Indiana, where Mike Braun defeated incumbent Joe Donnelly (who was once dubbed the “most vulnerable Democrat in Congress”).
Arizona was considered a win for Republican Martha McSally on election night, but now her opponent, Kyrsten Sinema, has taken the lead as the state continues to count ballots. In another suspiciously contested race, Florida is pursuing a recount despite Republican Rick Scott’s initial perceived victory. Even though Republicans performed well in the Senate races, the GOP still failed to flip a handful of important battleground states, such as Ohio, West Virginia, and Montana, where the Democrats were able to hold control.
As for the House of Representatives, Democrats ended up well over the 23 seat benchmark necessary to retake control of the chamber. Geographically, the Democrats held the upper hand due to advantages in the electoral map. The Democrats retaking of the House means the upcoming legislative session will be weighed down by the impediment of divided government. Unfortunately, bipartisan control of Congress usually results in gridlock, which will pose an obstacle to Trump’s agenda.
President Trump had this to say about the Democrats taking control of the House:
“If the Democrats think they are going to waste Taxpayer Money investigating us at the House level, then we will likewise be forced to consider investigating them for all of the leaks of Classified Information, and much else, at the Senate level. Two can play that game!”
The Democrats may have won the battle for the House of Representatives, but Trump ultimately won the war—the electorate had a chance to rebuke Trump with a prophesied blue wave, but they did not.
A major takeaway from this election for the GOP is the importance of the suburban white vote, a vulnerable demographic which the Democrats were able to capitalize on. These voters were turned off by Trump’s rhetoric, but in the end they will come around as Democratic anti-White hatred intensifies.
Another key takeaway is that immigration may have driven Republican turnout. FiveThirtyEight speculated that by shifting the focus of the midterms to immigration, Trump may have mobilized his base to head to the polls.
A case of study of Mike Braun’s victory in Indiana offers some insight into how Republicans can continue to win elections:
“In the GOP primary, Braun competed against U.S. Reps. Luke Messer and Todd Rokita in a spirited contest to show who would be the biggest supporter of President Donald Trump’s agenda.
Braun didn’t deviate from that path in the general election. He bet that the president’s popularity in Indiana — Trump won the state by 19 percentage points in 2016 — remained strong enough to help sweep him into office.
The president rewarded Braun’s loyalty by campaigning for the challenger early and often. Trump visited Indiana five times in total between May and November, and in the final push before Election Day, dropped in on Air Force One three times in nine days.
In backing Braun, voters in Indiana signaled that they want a senator who promises to consistently back the president.”
Congress will return to session in a divided government. This could interfere with Trump implementing his agenda—as it did for Obama—but it could also provide an opportunity for Trump to focus on building his political capital by shifting his attention to legislative items that could be greeted with wider bipartisan support, such as infrastructure or trade. Another benefit is that the new Congress will have far less “principled conservatives” to cuck on Trump’s agenda.
In the end, Democrats are still fighting an uphill battle to combat Trump and the GOP.