The hopeless, changeless election

If the polls are right, the status quo will still reign after Tuesday

A voter.
(Image credit: Illustrated | Dezigner...S.E.S.F/iStock, Educester/iStock, vectorplusb/iStock)

Millions of Americans have already voted in the 2018 election. Millions more will vote Tuesday in what members of both parties consider a referendum on President Trump. Turnout will be much higher than for the 2014 midterms and, possibly, higher than for any midterm election since 1914.

For Democrats the reasons for showing up are obvious. For Republicans they are less obvious. But I think both sides will be ultimately disappointed by the results. Barring some kind of astonishing upset — a real one, not the candidate who actually campaigned in Michigan and Wisconsin somehow winning those states, like in 2016 — Republicans are likely to pick up a few more seats in the Senate while losing control of the House. Put like that, it sounds like a victory for Democrats. I am not so sure.

I have no doubt that putting Trump and goodness knows how many of his associates, cronies, hangers-on, and toadies through years of pointless hearings will be satisfying for some earnest partisans. They will have detailed and serious opinions about the findings of these pseudo-prosecutorial spectacles, just as Republicans did with Benghazi and whatever else Darrell Issa and Trey Gowdy were talking about for roughly the entirety of Barack Obama's second term. Trump might even end up impeached by the House. But a Republican Senate will not remove him from office. And all of the words on the policy sections of Democratic candidates' websites might as well be written on an Etch-a-Sketch. None of it is going to happen unless they retake the White House and they know it.

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As for Republicans, what has the GOP done with control of the legislature for the past two years, with the exception of a single unpopular tax cut? Most of the accomplishments being touted by Trump on the campaign trail — the rising stock market, his trade war, his summit with North Korea's Kim Jong Un — have nothing to do with Congress. If Republicans are satisfied with legislative paralysis in Washington and happy to see Trump make and implement policy via executive order with the help of a compliant Supreme Court, they'll still get what they want if Democrats take the House. The Affordable Care Act was not repealed when the GOP had the majority in both houses of Congress. It's not going anywhere now. Taxes are not, thank goodness, on the verge of being cut again. But no matter the outcome on Tuesday, the president will still fight his trade war, conduct diplomacy, and possibly even remake our immigration system from 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. without the assistance of his party in Congress.

It's nice to think that it would be possible for both parties to come together in support of some hugely important issue about which there is widespread agreement — a massive infrastructure bill, for example. Here is something with a broad base of support among voters of both parties, a commonsense idea that has no ideological component. Virtually everyone agrees that our roads, airports, bridges, and, perhaps most of all, our metropolitan transit systems need to be reworked. Doing it would create good-paying jobs, possibly hundreds of thousands of them, for years to come. People would make money, life would get slightly more convenient for everyone, and the results would look nice.

It's almost certainly not going to happen. There are enough budget-hawk Republicans still around in the Senate to object on principle to spending trillions of dollars on something other than the military and enough cynical Democrats in the House who are unwilling to have a hand in anything for which Trump would receive some credit, deserved or otherwise, ahead of his re-election campaign in 2020.

Some $5.2 billion is expected to be spent on the 2018 midterm election. But the fundamental reality of American political life — an irrelevant Congress, an embattled president who does things unilaterally while pushing back against partisan investigations, a rightward-leaning high court — is unlikely to be altered by what happens on Tuesday. This is to say nothing of all the things — violence, hatred, anxiety, long-term negative economic trends — for which politicians have some responsibility but about which no one much expected them to do anything.

Voters, perhaps without realizing it, seem happy with the status quo. That is exactly what they are going to get.

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