The midterm elections in the US were, to a significant degree, a referendum on Donald Trump and his style of politics.
It is a style that involves repeatedly telling lies; repeatedly attacking the media – the supposed “enemies of the people” – with often transparently bogus cries of “fake news”; describing those who marched with the KKK and white supremacists in Charlottesville as “good people”, shortly after the murder of a counter-protester; acting like a mafia boss – in the opinion of former FBI chief James Comey, a man who spent much of his life investigating organised crime; and cosying up to a world leader as sinister as Vladimir Putin, even as Russian troops occupy part of Ukraine and Russian spies poison and kill people in Britain. As the late, great Republican John McCain said of Trump’s relationship with Putin: “An American president does not lead the Free World by congratulating dictators on winning sham elections.”
Given all this and his well-documented attitudes towards women and sexual assault, there had been talk of a “blue wave” of wins for the Democrats in what would be a repudiation of Trump and everything he stands for. It did not happen.
The election did see the Democrats seize control of the House of Representatives, which will enable them to frustrate many of the president’s plans, potentially including his pledge to build a wall between the US and Mexico to keep out migrants. The president may also face further trouble from the investigation into alleged collusion between his election campaign team and Russia, and probes into his tax affairs.
But Trump was able to point to gains by the Republicans in the Senate, where the party will now have a larger majority. His claim that the midterm results represented a “very big win” was clearly not true, but it was a narrow defeat, not a decisive one, particularly given the historic trend for the incumbent president’s party to do badly at the midterms.
Republicans will now be trying to work out whether Trump helped or hindered their cause. His analysis of this key question was predictable: “Those that worked with me in this incredible midterm election, embracing certain policies and principles, did very well. Those that did not, say goodbye!”
In the 2016 US presidential election, 61.2 million people voted for Trump, just behind the 62.5 million who voted for Hillary Clinton, but enough to win him the White House because of the electoral college system. With 91 per cent of precincts reporting results in the nationwide House of Representatives’ vote, the Democrats had nearly 51.8 million votes, compared to just under 46.2 million who backed Republican candidates. In the 2014 vote during Barack Obama’s presidency, the Republicans polled 40 million votes to the Democrats 35.6 million, a not dissimilar gap.
So the Trump brand may have been dented but it could still come roaring back in time for the 2020 presidential election. And, given his oppositional style of politics, his campaign for a second term might even be boosted by the Democrats’ seizure of the House. Now he has another enemy, alongside the media, to berate and blame for all America’s problems.
As to where Trump will now lead the US, there was a clue yesterday during angry exchanges with journalists at a press conference. Asked by a black reporter if he thought his rhetoric had emboldened white nationalists, Trump replied: “That’s such a racist question.”