(Editor’s Note: This is part three of a series on ‘Politics in the Trump Era’)
In the first two parts of “Politics in the Trump Era”, we took a look at prospects going into the mid-term elections of a couple of weeks ago and of the effect that Donald Trump has had on both the Democratic and Republican parties, driving each to be less compromising and driving out those in both parties who may be willing to compromise with the opposing party.
In the final part of this series, we’ll look at the effect of Donald Trump on the elections and the Republican Party, which he leads as its highest officeholder.Even before election day, these mid-terms were set up to be a glimpse into the future because of the large number of Republicans-the majority in both the House and the Senate, especially those who chaired powerful committees, who decided not to seek re-election. Among those stepping aside were 7 committee chairs and the Speaker of the House. It was very unusual that such a large number of the most powerful people in the country were stepping down, more so since most of them were expected to cruise to re-election had they run.
Mid-term Election Results
Now that most of the election tallies have been finalized, let’s take a look at the results of the most recent elections. This election was unusual in that there were a significant number of federal races that weren’t decided until after election day, the votes being so close that counts went into the next day or, in some cases such as in Florida, were so close as to draw automatic recounts. Four Senate contests, more than 10 House races and a number of state elections were not decided until after election day.
As after every election, each side will try to give its ‘spin’ and through the best light on the results. Democrats will talk of a ‘blue wave’ and Republicans will talk of actually gaining seats in the Senate to show there was no Democratic ‘blue wave’. The best gauge may be from the President himself who, before the election campaigned saying the election was a referendum on his Presidency. After the election, he blamed outgoing Speaker Paul Ryan for the results. Given that, we can say that President Trump viewed the results as a disappointment.
Since 1946, the average number of seats in the House of Representatives lost by the party not holding the presidency is 25. In the election earlier this month, Democrats gained 38 House seats and re-gained the majority in that chamber. Even more surprising was that in California, already overwhelmingly Democratic, they picked up an additional 4 seats there, including some held by long-time Republican representatives. The incoming class of freshmen Democrats are also decidedly more liberal, with more than one avowedly socialist.
Democrats also gained 7 governorships, which is more important at this stage because of the upcoming 2020 census which will require states to redraw legislative districts.
For Republicans, the Senate saw better results. Republicans actually gained two seats which is somewhat odd in off year elections. Yet, that is tempered by the fact that Democrats had more than twice as many seats they were defending. And half a dozen or so were in states Trump had won and, among those, many were in states he won handily such as North Dakota and Montana. Democrats managed to hold onto the seat in Montana, the race in Georgia was forced to go into a runoff when no one got 50% of the vote and Democrats picked up seats in Arizona and Nevada.
Trump’s Effect On The Future Of The GOP
One always has to be careful about reading too much into election results and what they mean for the future. Yet President Trump himself said this was a referendum on him. And there are indications that he was in the forefront of voters minds. Few would argue that most people are passionate in their opinions of the President, some passionately angry and opposed and others passionate defenders. So looking objectively at the ‘politics’ of the electorate and electoral map becomes difficult because many won’t simply do that and taint their views of the ‘politics’ by what they want to be true. What follows is simply a view of what the future may hold, albeit any view of the future is always blurry and opaque.
There can be no doubt Trump had an effect on the election, in at least two ways. First, as we discussed in part one of the series and also above, an unusually large number of Republicans decided not to seek re-election. Overwhelmingly, these were Republicans who did not like Trump and had a poor relationship with him, and who he attacked on a number of occasions (the fact that a President so often publicly attacked members-and powerful members-of his own party shows his brand of management). Passionate fans of Trump would argue that these individuals were RINOs (Republicans In Name Only) and so it wasn’t a big deal that they retired. But those who would say that do so only out of emotion and before thinking. An objective look would quickly show that wasn’t the case. Many were Republican leaders, who got to be ‘leaders’ of the Party by being elected by other Republicans. Far from being RINOs, those individuals were often the epitome of the face of Republicans. So people such as House Speaker Paul Ryan weren’t RINOs, they simply weren’t Trump loyalists.
In the most recent election, Bob Corker the Senator from Tennessee who often clashed with Trump did not run again. Yet Republicans held on to the seat easily as Trump is popular in the state, and the incoming Senator is much more aligned with Trump than was Corker.
In Arizona however, Trump likely cost the GOP that seat which switched to Democrats and was won by a radical, far left former Green Party candidate who changed parties to run as a Democrat. The state’s sitting Senator, Jeff Flake, also author of the book “Conscience of a Conservative, did not run again. Trump had loudly and often criticized Flake. Trump made one visit to Arizona to campaign for the Republican candidate, yet data shows that in the week following his visit, Latino and Democratic voter registration spiked. The Democratic candidate later won by less than 1%.
Those are just two examples from the Senate, that show that it could be hard to judge the ‘effect of Trump’ on the Republican Party, in some ways. Given the economy, Republicans should have done better in mid-terms but the same can be said of Bill Clinton’s presidency when a good economy did not keep Republicans getting majorities in Congress.
So having said that the most recent mid-term elections only give hints-and then only small ones-of what may be the long term effect of the large personality of Donald Trump, Thinking Man thinks that the long term effect is more clear, although it will take some years to play out. In short, the effect of the Donald Trump presidency will be that Democrats will be ascendant for a generation, because the GOP will be pulled apart. (whether you like that or not, remember you heard it here first). Why do I think that?
There is no doubt Trump has energized Democrats. He remains popular among most Republicans, who felt attacked by the politically correct themes of the Obama Presidency and are just fine with someone who ‘doesn’t take any crap’, in their view. But the American electorate is fairly evenly divided in most cases and, unfortunately for Republicans Trump has also driven away a not insignificant minority of Republicans. His abrasive and personally attacking style have pushed away enough people who are fairly conservative and would normally vote Republican that, in that evenly divided electorate, it will mean Democrats start to make more and more gains at every level. (I can already hear Trump loyalists saying ‘good riddance’ and that those people were RINOs, too. Even if that is the case, the thinking is one of politics and what will happen, not a comment on what should or should not happen).
Who is that part of the electorate that won’t back Trump (assuming Democrats have learned their lesson and don’t nominate the one person in the world more unpopular than he is-Hillary Clinton)? Conservatives who believe that ‘character matters-that it mattered when Bill Clinton was President and it still matters. Although some of the evangelical Christian leadership has put aside their concerns, there are still many who believe that personal character is an indicator of how a person will lead and make decisions. Trump has also alienated significant personalities who have been key influencers among conservatives. George Will, longtime columnist and well-known syndicated commentator has formally left the Republican Party. Bill Kristol, founder and editor of the conservative magazine, “The Weekly Standard”, has been a constant and outspoken critic of the President, personally though not as much the policies coming out of his Administration. And in addition to the leading Republican office-holders mentioned above that did not seek re-election, such prominent figures as Ohio Gov. John Kasich also have been vocal about the personal attacks that are a hallmark of the Trump Presidency.
As mentioned, polls show Trump is popular among Republicans. If Trump runs for re-election, he’s still popular enough that no one will beat him in the primary. Yet, we know the kind of campaign he will run and, far different than the kind of message that was the hallmark of, say, Ronald Reagan, it will be enough for a minority that will strongly oppose him. That minority, feeling as strongly as they do, will be enough to start tipping elections to Democrats. If Trump runs for re-election, it could be the beginning of the decline of the Republican Party and the rise of the increasingly liberal Democratic Party.