Prior to voting on November 6th, both parties had billed last week’s midterm elections as historic and claimed that a blue or red wave would turn the electoral maps monochrome. When this failed to happen, many voters on both sides of the aisle felt a sense of half-accomplishment and half-disappointment about the situation that my dad has dubbed the “purple puddle.”
A few weeks ago, Democrats took control of the House of Representatives with an estimated 228 out of the 435 seats, ten more than the majority needed to pass legislation. Democrats now have a small cushion for their majority for any bills on which some representatives don’t vote, or vote with Republicans.
Meanwhile, Republicans kept control of the Senate. They gained a few seats in Indiana, Missouri, North Dakota, and Florida, while they lost seats in Nevada and Arizona. Perhaps the biggest accomplishment of this election for the Trump wing of the GOP was to use these elections as an opportunity to clean house (through retirements, etc.) of the figures in the GOP who did not fully support the President and the overall conservative direction of the Republican Party. Notable changes included Senators Bob Corker (R-TN) of Tennessee and Jeff Flake (R-AZ) retiring. The late John McCain’s seat was also filled by a Trump-endorsed candidate.
This election saw many women and people of color voted into office. Some momentous “firsts” were in Colorado — where the nation’s first openly gay governor was elected, Minnesota – which elected the first two Muslim American women to Congress, and Oklahoma – which sent the first Native American lesbian to Congress.
These elections were especially interesting as they contained experiments for Democrats in their quest to find strategies through which they can win elections nationally post-Trump. The 2016 Election did not bode well for the Democrats, as it signaled a shift in which they started losing in suburbs, and among white working-class voters whose unions traditionally align with the Democratic Party. DNC leaders saw this coming before the election and hoped that high turnout among reliably Democratic people of color would carry them through to victory. This did not pay off in places like Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin — all consistently blue states that went for Trump.
In 2018, Andrew Gillum and Stacey Abrams, who ran for governor in Florida and Georgia, respectively, pursued a similar strategy to 2016. They appealed to Democratic people of color, hoping that they turned out to vote in large enough numbers to sway the election for the Democratic candidate. Both these candidates lost, simply because high turnout among African Americans was not enough to make up for the candidate’s lack of appeal and the Democrats’ decision not to pander to the concerns of middle and working class whites, who make a majority of both electorates. While Abrams, in particular, came very close to winning in a state that Republicans take for granted, even her success in boosting turnout was not enough.
Sen. Joe Donnelly of Indiana, Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, and Kansas gubernatorial candidate Laura Kelly, targeted conservative white and middle class voters. This worked for Manchin – who won reelection – and Kelly, who was elected governor in a traditionally red state, but not for Donnelly, who lost his Senate seat to Mike Braun, a Republican. Donnelly voted against both recent Supreme Court nominees, which may have been a contributing factor in his loss because it alienated the conservative Trump supporters he was appealing to. Which of these strategies, if either, can help Democrats defeat President Trump in 2020 and beyond is unclear, but targeting conservatives does seem to have a slightly better chance of helping them “win back” white working class voters who voted for Obama, and then Trump.
So, what does this mean for the legislative process, and what laws Washington will be able to pass? With their ten-seat majority, Democrats should be able to make President Trump’s life a lot harder, possibly even impeaching him if the Mueller Report is at all damning and if more moderate (“blue dog”) Democrats will play along. Meanwhile, the Senate is likely, with a larger Republican majority and the absence of swing votes Sens. Corker, Flake, and McCain, to become more pro-Trump. While a more conservative Senate will likely mean judicial nominations won’t be the spectacle they were for now-Justices Gorsuch and Kavanaugh, more complex or comprehensive items on the President’s legislative agenda, like healthcare or taxes are likely to be difficult due to split control of Congress. Democrats in the House will want compromise across the aisle (or will just flat-out refuse to cooperate, in all likelihood), while Republicans in the Senate will want more conservative items and might not vote for a bill if they think it is too moderate.
What this likely equates to is legislative gridlock, and therefore, President Trump will try to forward his agenda by issuing executive orders, which are not subject to checks and balances. This mirrors what President Obama did when he was in a similar position, and perceived executive overreach contributed to negative perceptions of the President among those on the Right. So, when Congress inevitably fails to pass pro-Trump legislation, and the President attempts to issue executive orders, it is likely that there will be a similar backlash among those on the Left.
Overall, the midterm elections were monumental for electing a more diverse slate of candidates and helping both parties align their caucuses with the less moderate views shared by their bases. This contributed to Democrats’ losses in Indiana and Florida and Republicans’ losses in Arizona and Nevada. These elections did not send a unified message from the American people. Regardless, these elections should make President Trump’s job a lot harder by giving Democrats in the House the power to refuse to pass his legislation or censure, and possibly even impeach him.