The Mid-term elections were a referendum on Trump and his style of autocratic governance. The results were hopeful, but, Trump is far from being knocked out.
America’s domestic politics can sometimes be as inscrutable as its foreign policies can be inhumane. And the 2018 midterm elections is no exception.
While the specifics might sound boring, the decisions made by just a few hundred US politicians, elected by a tiny sliver of the Earth’s population, can have massive impacts on the lives of billions of other humans who don’t hold US passports. You might not be interested in American politics, but American politics is interested in you.
In short, the outcomes of these races can have global consequences.
On a practical level, this was a big win for Democrats, who managed to regain the House after eight years. Democrats last had control of the House six iPhone upgrades ago. But now they’re back again, with a 223 to 197 seat majority. In the Senate, Republicans prevailed on Tuesday, as polls predicted, with a 51 majority out of 100 seats, two senators for each of the 50 states.
In general, Republicans consolidated support in rural states and regions as Democrats won in suburban neighbourhoods. Both parties have dug in deeper either to Trumpism or to resisting Trump, as more than a hundred new female politicians are set to take office in January.
For observers outside of the US, a better way to understand the overall outcome of the midterm elections is in the symbolic consequences of losses and victories. Each major party scored some. Here’s a brief list of some of them, including races for state governor, and what they mean for America heading into the next presidential election, in 2020.
Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib: For the first time in American history, there will be two Muslim American women in Congress. Omar, a refugee from Somalia, will represent voters in the state of Minnesota, a new home to thousands of Somali Americans.
Rashida Tlaib, a Palestinian American born in Detroit, will represent voters in the state of Michigan. It’s hard to overstate the symbolic significance of Muslims entering American politics at a time when the president thinks, and his party agrees, that it’s a legitimate talking point to claim “unknown middle easterners” are sneaking into the country as part of a caravan of Central American asylum seekers.
The White House’s logic, of course, is to rile up its base into a frenzy. In some places, this probably worked, but not where Omar and Tlaib won.
Andrew Gillum: In the southern state of Florida, a state that swings between Democrats and Republicans in presidential elections but sends Republicans to Washington DC as senators and representatives, Democrat Andrew Gillum lost his bid to become governor.
Gillum would have been the state’s first black governor. Gillum’s loss was narrow, by just a few per cent, but for Trump-allied politicians like his opponent Ron DeSantis, now the governor-elect of Florida, it showed that one can run alongside Trump’s vicious anti-immigrant rhetoric and still win.
Gillum, the mayor of the state capital of Tallahassee, came out of the election with national recognition from fellow Democrats, an asset that could help him in future bids for office.
Rick Scott and Bruce Rauner: Democrats were able to take back state governorships that Republicans had won amid a conservative backlash to President Barack Obama earlier in the decade.
The significance of the victories over Scott, in Wisconsin, and Rauner in neighbouring Illinois comes as the austerity programmes they put in place not only caused chaos for public employees, big deficits while focusing on migrant invaders and conspiracies by disloyal Democrats and the treachery of “the media.”
Trump didn’t go out of his way to aide Rauner or Walker, either, not like he did for DeSantis in Florida, but his distance probably has less to do with the austerity Rauner and Walker supported and more with how they fell in the same Republican camp as House speaker Paul Ryan, also a doctrinaire libertarian type.
Although Democrats took joy in seeing Walker and Rauner fall, that symbolic victory hides a grimmer reality. Trump has no time for Republicans not on board with purging foreigners from the country and/or imposing tariffs on allies because Trump feels like it.
Stephen King: Iowa Rep. Steve King has been a white nationalist for many years, but he didn’t get much attention for it until 2018. He has questioned the value of any immigration to the United States, declaring that we can’t rebuild our country with “other people’s babies.”
During the summer, he even travelled to Europe to pal around with Austrian fascists and tour Auschwitz with the aim of getting the “Polish perspective” on the Holocaust.
When questioned about his clear white nationalist leanings, King angrily denied them and said he “loves Israel.” True story, this actually happened. Brands like Land O’ Lakes Butter (a big deal in agricultural Iowa) and the telecommunications giant AT&T disavowed the candidate.
The Republican party itself also inched away from his candidacy in the last days of the midterms, apparently figuring he was a liability they might as well ditch if polls show a loss in the House anyway.
Luckily for the Republican party, however, the White Nationalist ghoul won narrowly, and will return for another term in the House next year. If we can learn anything from this turn of events, it’s that Republicans have lost control of their party to Trumpist nativism.
Some voters are willing to look at the white nationalist candidate and decide he’s either better than the Democrat or actually good enough to vote for.
Alexandria Ocasio Cortez: Working as a bartender just a little over a year ago, democratic socialist Ocasio Cortez shocked the country this year when she beat out an establishment Democrat in a primary race for the party’s nomination. At 29 years old, she’ll be the youngest woman ever to sit in Congress. She represents an emerging wing of the Democratic party, one that’s too young to have ever learned that “socialism” is existentially at odds with being an American.
This cohort of voters, who tend to vote for Democrats anyway, got their first taste of capitalism’s broken promises during the Great Recession, and have seen student loans accrue interest as high paying jobs keep the lifestyles of their parents out of reach.
Ocasio Cortez represents an emerging constituency of candidates who corporate financing of campaigns and have a native fluency in social media.
Stacey Abrams: In the southern state of Georgia, Democrat Stacey Abrams came very close to winning the race for governor, but lost by a narrow margin. She would have been the first black woman to run any American state anywhere in the US.
Abrams’ campaign in Georgia, a slave state and later the cradle of the civil rights movement, seemed to directly defy centuries of violent white supremacy that seethes underneath southern politics.
Her opponent, Brian Kemp, was running for governor while also serving as Georgia’s secretary of state, overseeing the elections.
This was, to put it mildly, a conflict of interest.
Worse than that, Kemp followed in the shameful footsteps of southern politicians who have systematically disenfranchised black voters since the end of the Civil War.
Kemp, as others have and still do, went out of his way to make it harder for black voters to vote, ensuring his victory over a black candidate.
Republicans, in general, are not enthusiastic about the expansion of voting rights, but Trump’s crop of Republicans are hostile to the prospect of minorities voting at all.
The Supreme Court in 2013 decided federal oversight of local elections was no longer necessary, as the laws put in place to do so under the 1965 Voting Rights Act had achieved their noble goal and also racism is a thing of the past.
Republicans wasted no time in making it harder for citizens to vote, operating under the lie that “voter fraud” was somehow widespread, despite all evidence to the contrary.
Suppressing minority voters, who generally vote for Democrats, was their intent, and Kemp put that into practice. While one can argue that Abrams’ candidacy was a long shot even under optimal conditions, given the strength of Republicans in the state, it’s impossible to argue that Kemp’s anti-democratic tactics did not affect the election outcome.
There are times when American politics makes more sense when you consider we are just six decades away from apartheid, or segregation, as we called it.
The silver lining for the Georgia race might be that Kemp’s outrageous actions throw a spotlight on voter suppression efforts by Republicans, and help inspire her supporters to political activism in the future.
Texas: It’s hard to find more stomach-churning characters in American politics than Texas Senator Ted Cruz, a former rival of Trump’s during the 2016 campaign.
Cruz distinguished himself during the Obama years as the senator who saw fit to sabotage the federal budget and shut down the federal government, to derail the expansion of public healthcare.
Back then, Cruz could excuse himself by pretending to be a libertarian ideologue, but since Trump humiliated him (even insulting his family) in the primary race for the Republican nomination, it’s become clear Cruz believes in nothing besides staying in office.
In 2018, Cruz managed to reinvent himself as a wholly owned subsidiary of Trump, because that’s what he needed to beat back a challenge by Democrat Robert “Beto” O’Rourke, a congressional representative from the city of El Paso on the border with Mexico.
Beto, as he’s called, lost to Cruz despite being a charming articulator of a left-wing political platform.
But trying to take back a Senate seat in Texas, which hasn’t gone to a Democratic president in decades, proved impossible for Beto. On the bright side for Beto, he managed to raise tens of millions of dollars in small donations over the Internet from enthusiastic supporters all over the country.
He refused big donations from political action committees and large donors but still managed to give Cruz a serious fight for the Senate seat.
In American politics, money talks, and O’Rourke’s ability to get it could help propel him to the front of the primary pack next year when the Democratic party thinks about how to take on Trump in 2020.
This listicle could go on, but the general message is that Democrats have become the party of multiculturalism, while Republicans have become the party of nationalism.
Despite disappointments in Georgia and Florida, in an era of rising white nationalist rhetoric, Democrats won with minority candidates on the ballot, including two women who will be the among the first Native Americans to serve in Congress.
Corporate-funded Democrats are seeing their fortunes fade just as libertarian Republicans are becoming an irrelevant appendage of a party Trump controls from top to bottom.
There was a huge amount of voter enthusiasm in 2018, and it often worked in Democrats' favour, sometimes not enough to win.
Republicans had to come to terms with being subjects in a party that is now Trump’s kingdom, and some of them swore an oath of allegiance to him. But in the process, they’re transforming the Republican party into a nativist and nationalist party, relying on the relative over-representation of low population states to hold onto power in the Senate.
There were disappointments for Democrats, but they got to go through a kind of trial run for 2020, realizing how big of a challenge voter suppression will be to winning even when voters do turn out to the polls.
Beto O’Rourke’s template showed promise, especially when it came to small-dollar donations free of the stink of corporate cash. It’s impossible to know what the talking points of the next 24 months will be, as so much history sits between then and now, just as each week in America feels like it lasts at least a year, so chock full of grimacing surprises.
But no matter how distant the next election feels, the fact remains that it’ll be here soon, on November 3, 2020.
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