The worst-case scenario for the midterms
Unless you're a die-hard Trumpist Republican who wants to see America's supremely polarizing president govern with close to a free hand, the best possible outcome for Tuesday's midterm elections is obvious: Democrats win.
Ideally Democrats would win both houses of Congress. But that's unlikely. The best polling data shows the Dems likely to win the House but lose the Senate. But either outcome — winning both or just one chamber — should be welcomed. Even with just the House, Democrats could provide a real check on our unpopular Republican president for the next two years.
We need oversight of an administration deeply implicated in corruption. An outcome that places the House in Democratic hands would empower Congress to perform this essential function — but without much, if any, likelihood of it ending in Trump being removed from office through impeachment. (Assuming no Republicans turn on him, Democrats would need a 67-seat supermajority in the Senate to convict and remove the president — and the Democrats have no chance of gaining that much power.)
For those on the right inclined to see a loss of one or both houses of Congress as a devastating defeat for the party, keep in mind that such an outcome would give Trump a rich target against which to direct his ire. That could actually aid him in his bid for re-election — and help the GOP in its effort to regain any losses — in 2020.
But what if Republicans retain control of both houses of Congress while winning “fair and square" — that is, by winning more votes and without credible charges of having done so with the help of voter suppression?
I shudder at the thought of Trump governing for two more years unimpeded and without congressional oversight. But at least such a result in these circumstances would be an expression of a majority of the voters who cast ballots in the election. The fact that this majority would be expressing its tacit approval of Republican governance over the past two years would be deeply disconcerting, and an extremely ominous sign for the future of the Democratic Party. But there are worse things than losing.
Like losing dirty.
That, I'm afraid, is how millions of Democrats would evaluate the outcome of the midterms if the Republicans hold both houses of Congress while losing the aggregate vote by multiple percentage points. This happened in 2012, when Democrats in House races received nearly 1.5 million more votes than Republicans, with the Republicans nonetheless winning a majority of the seats (by a margin of 234-201). If that happens again, let alone if the discrepancy between the vote and the practical result is even greater, the United States will begin to face a genuine legitimation crisis — with Democrats systematically denied political power commensurate with their level of support in the population at large.
This systematic bias against the Democrats would put them at a political disadvantage across the entirety of the federal government — with the House, the Senate, and the Electoral College all weighted against them, and the judiciary following suit because judges and Supreme Court justices are nominated by presidents and confirmed by the Senate. When this systematic injustice is combined with the GOP's refusal to govern with the modesty and restraint that befit a minority party, the country would find itself in a highly volatile situation.
That's why this should be considered the worst-possible outcome of the midterm election — one that would portend dark things for the country's future, including a potential radicalization of the left that could well end in political violence far beyond anything seen the United States for decades. Such a turn toward widespread civil unrest would be all the more dangerous because it would not be unjustified.
It may well be wise for our Constitution to place checks on majority rule. But consistently empowering rule of a minority over the majority is something else entirely — and ultimately incompatible with self-government or the minimal requirements of political justice.
Let us hope that we can avoid such an outcome.