After Last Night, My Take

The midterm elections are turning out just about exactly as most observers expected. By historical standards, the Democrats underperformed. They stand to net somewhere between 25 and 35 House seats, a mediocre performance for a new president’s first midterms. Meanwhile, the GOP will gain two to four Senate seats, depending on how Arizona and Montana turn out. Republicans Martha McSally and Matt Rosendale currently lead in those races, which will test the theory that Republicans can’t win close elections because the Democrats can always find a few extra votes if they need them.

Democrats lost a number of high-profile races about which they had been hopeful. These races may tell us something about celebrity endorsements. Stacey Abrams lost in Georgia despite Oprah Winfrey stumping for her; Phil Bredesen didn’t come close in Tennessee despite Taylor Swift’s first-ever venture into politics; and Beto O’Rourke couldn’t unseat Ted Cruz despite the support of pretty much everyone in Hollywood, not to mention more money than had ever been spent on a Senate campaign.

One striking feature of this year’s elections was the absence of a policy agenda from the Democrats. The party’s young upstarts are open socialists; otherwise, what platform did Democrats run on? Hating Republicans, basically, along with scaremongering on health care. Nancy Pelosi won’t be able to get much done in the House, but she probably doesn’t intend to achieve anything other than harassment of the President through investigations and, perhaps, articles of impeachment. The Democrats are already talking about subpoenaing President Trump’s tax returns. Happily, from Pelosi’s perspective, such petty harassment seems to be all her base wants. But it doesn’t shape up as a recipe for long-term electoral success.

As Scott wrote, Minnesota was an outlier, and a disaster for Republicans at the state level. But the state’s Congressional races followed the national pattern. The Republicans picked up at least one seat, the 8th District in northeastern Minnesota, and in the 1st, a forgettable GOP candidate is clinging to a razor-thin lead. Those pickups (assuming there are two) are balanced by the Democrats’ winning the 2nd and 3rd districts, both of which are predominantly suburban. This is consistent with national trends. The suburbs are moving toward the Democrats–for predominantly cultural reasons, I think–while rural areas are going massively red.

The Democrats’ takeover of the House offers a possible silver lining. When President Trump signed the bloated omnibus spending bill in March, he said he was doing so because it increased spending on military preparedness, which was needed. But he vowed that he would never sign another spending bill like it. Few took Trump seriously, but I am not sure why not. He has a good record of doing what he says he intends to do.

It would be hard for Trump to veto an omnibus spending bill cobbled together by Republican majorities in both houses. The story line would be that the Republicans can’t get their act together. But if the Democratic House and Republican Senate pass compromise spending bills, Trump can assert fiscal responsibility by vetoing them. The battle then becomes Trump vs. Pelosi, and the increasingly addled Pelosi is an ideal foil. So maybe a Democratic House will give President Trump an opportunity to address what so far has been the Achilles heel of his administration, unconstrained spending and deficits.

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