Wednesday, November 7, 2018

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: A Rorschach Test Election

The 2018 U.S. mid-term elections have taken place, and discussing
what the results mean will be a Rorschach test for most Americans.

In other words, any assessment will likely reflect the political
orientation of any pundit and voter.

With only a few races yet to be finally decided, we know the following:

Democrats had a generally good night, winning back control of the
U.S. house, increasing their numbers of state governors and control of
house of state legislatures. This is likely to  have positive effects for
Democrats in the congressional redistricting that will follow the 2020

Republicans had less to feel good about, but they did increase their
control of the U.S. senate. This is very likely to improve their ability,
under Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, to confirm federal
judicial appointments, including any possible further U.S. supreme
court nominees --- and should also enable the administration to have
presidential appointments confirmed more easily and faster.

Beyond that, the reasons and consequences of what happened at the
polls depends on your political views.

For example, Democrats will be buoyed, especially in blue and some
purple states by their gains, not only from the enthusiasm of their
voter base, but also gains among independent voters. Many Democrats,
furious with the 2016 presidential election, will interpret 2018 as a
rebuke to President Donald Trump and his policies. Some Democrats
will now favor using their house majority status as a tool to investigate
and harass the president.

Republicans, on the other hand, will be pleased by most returns in
red states where they will infer that Mr. Trump is still very popular,
perhaps even more so than two years ago. They will cite the president’s
success in the mid-terms in helping make critical gains in the GOP
margin in the U.S. senate (so that occasional defections on some issues
will not imperil their majority). They will now feel more secure that any
unwelcome initiatives from he Democratic-controlled U.S. house will
fail in the U.S. senate.

Although most of their high-profile new figures lost their 2018 elections,
including Beto O’Rourke in Texas, Andrew Gullem in Florida and
Stacey Abrams in Georgia, Democrats have welcomed these and many
other new and young faces into their party --- especially considering their
aging and seemingly weak (though numerous) bench for 2020.

Republicans, too, welcomed new and young figures, including Josh
Hawley in Missouri, Martha McSally in Arizona, and John James in
Michigan (who lost).

So how does a centrist and independent (who affiliates with neither
major party) assess the election?

A more non-partisan evaluation, discounting the many emotional
and ideological issues involved, might look at some basic political
mechanics and circumstances. For example, in The Prairie Editor’s
last post before election day, the title question was “Will The
Democrats Keep Their Advantage?” Just as the liberal party had many
more incumbent senate seats to defend, the conservative party had
many more incumbent congressional seats, governorships and state
legislatures to defend. Each party, it turns out, successfully defended
their advantage in 2018.

In 2020, much of this will be reversed, Republicans will have to defend
more senate seats than the Democrats --- and Democrats will have to
defend their new U.S. house majority. This will take place in a
presidential election year, with the incumbent already announced he
is running for a second term.

Defeating an incumbent president is historically rare and difficult.
The burden for doing so is almost always on the challenger. The
state of the economy will be very important. The success or lack
of success in foreign policy will be a factor. The quality
of new ideas and programs contrasted with existing ideas and
programs will be pivotal. And, of course, the appeal of the two
nominees will be vital.

Democrats, after the mid-terms, have reasons to be optimistic about
2020, but now controlling the U.S. house of representatives and more
state governments, they are no longer just on defense. Their conduct
will now profoundly affect public opinion. If, as some loudly proclaimed
during the 2018 campaign, they use their power for incessant
investigations and even impeachments, they could throw away all or
most of what they have gained. In 1998, Republicans used their house
majority to impeach President Clinton --- which not only failed in the
senate, but made Mr. Clinton more popular than ever.

But the Democrats are not alone in determining what lies ahead.
The central figure going forward to 2020 is, as almost always, the
incumbent president. Mr. Trump had some personal successes in the
2018 mid-terms, but his party did take some notable losses. What, if
anything, did he learn from the mid-term campaign experience? What
changes, if any, will he now make?

In answering these questions, we will perhaps learn the most about
the real impact of the campaign just concluded.

Copyright (c) 2018 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved

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