Political Competition– A First Glance at Trump’s Midterm Prospects

 

The Russians are coming! The Democrats are coming! Accusations, challenges and prospective scandals are all very much part of the current political vocabulary in Washington D.C.. But how will this translate into political gains and losses for both President Trump and the Republican Party at the upcoming midterm elections.

To recap, midterm elections are U.S. general elections that are held two years after the election for president. Up for election are members of the United States Congress, including all 435 seats of the House of Representatives and 34 of the 100 seats in the United States Senate. At first glance, the Republicans stand a good chance of keeping a Senate majority; 26 of the 34 seats up for grabs are Democrat[1] which of course they will all need to hold onto before tackling Republican opposition in the remaining 8 seats. The House of Representatives is perhaps the one to watch with many Republican incumbents retiring and poll ratings being neck and neck at the moment.[2]

Russian meddling in the U.S. election will be a prominent factor of the Democrat attack. With Special Counsel Robert Mueller indicting 13 Russians for disruption of the 2016 presidential election, these accusations have all of a sudden become very real and tangible.[3] However, the Democrat’s have yet to come close to the smoking gun they so desperately seek; proof that Donald Trump was actively and consciously involved in this assault on democracy. The CIA fears that both Russia and China will interfere in the midterms but this won’t necessarily hurt Trump or the Republicans in congress with ties to him. CIA chief Mike Pompeo, a Trump ally, worries about the Russians but at the same time stands behind Trump’s engagement with the issue and involvement in its prevention: “he is curious about the facts that we present. He is curious in the sense he wants to understand why we believe them.”[4] Therefore, without further evidence or advancement of the investigation before November, Trump may not stand to be damaged from this. On the contrary, his accusations of a ‘witch hunt’ and ‘hoax’ may resonate with voters, damaging Democrat credibility.

So, if the charge of collusion with Russia is taken out of the equation, why have the Democrats made gains in recent local elections? Linda Belcher, a Democrat, won the special election for a Kentucky House District a few days ago. This win represents the 37th Republican-held state legislative seat to fall to the Democrats since Trump took office.[5] Surely, this symbolises a Democrat resurgence and a vote of no confidence in the president? Well, not necessarily. The ‘Trump effect’ may have galvanised  increased volunteer activity that has edged Democrat candidates to victory but many of these candidates have campaigned on very local issues (For example, in Virginia it was fixing local traffic problems and in Oklahoma, one stressed shortened school hours).[6] When it comes to national, midterm elections, these Democrat advances may not be the best indicator of voter turnout or indeed, which candidates they’ll vote for.

Democrats aside, if the Republicans secure victories, they won’t all be beneficial for Trump. Former Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney will run for the Senate seat in Utah. At other Senators’ insistence, Trump has backed him as the Republican candidate but Romney plans to serve as a check on the president when needed; his latest campaign video targets some of Trump’s agenda, including immigration control.[7]  This could make it harder for Trump to pass bills through the Senate or it could play into the president’s hands. Just like the Democrat ‘Witch Hunt’, Romney’s approach has the potential to fail; after all, he represents a failed career politician, an embodiment of the swamp that Trump pledged to drain. Romney’s apparent ‘backstabbing’ could put a sour taste in many voters’ mouths and rally support for other conservative candidates and Trump.

At this stage, the national midterm elections are a hard one to predict. What is clear is that there will be many attacks on the president’s character and policies but the focus shouldn’t be on the attacks themselves but their effect: will they damage Republican chances or backfire and hurt the Democrats?

[1] Pramuk, J. ‘Republicans just got some good news for the 2018 midterm elections: A new poll shows them leading in the race for Congress’ www.cnbc.com https://www.cnbc.com/2018/02/14/2018-midterm-elections-republicans-take-lead-on-a-generic-ballot.html [Accessed 22/02/2018]

[2] Ibid.

[3] Mudde, C. ‘Democrats beware: the Trump-Russia inquiry isn’t the path to power’ www.theguardian.com https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/feb/21/trump-russia-mueller-investigation-democrats [Accessed 22/02/2018]

[4] Smith, D. ‘Russia is aiming to interfere in US midterm elections, warns CIA chief’ www.theguardian.com https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2018/jan/29/russia-is-aiming-to-interfere-in-us-midterm-elections-warns-cia-chief [Accessed 22/02/2018]

[5] Vazquez, M. ‘Kentucky Democrat wins state House seat in Trump stronghold’ edition.cnn.com https://edition.cnn.com/2018/02/21/politics/kentucky-linda-belcher-trump/index.html [Accessed 22/02/2018]

[6] Sargent, G. ‘A blue wave? How Trump is helping Democrats win in unlikely places’ www.washingtonpost.com https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/plum-line/wp/2018/02/21/a-blue-wave-how-trump-is-helping-democrats-win-in-unlikely-places/?utm_term=.9b9807face40 [Accessed 22/02/2018]

[7] Rogers, K. ‘Trump endorses Mitt Romney’s Run for Utah Senate Seat’ www.nytimes.com https://www.nytimes.com/2018/02/19/us/politics/mitt-romney-trump-endorsement-senate.html [Accessed 22/02/2018]

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