Democrats reclaim House; GOP prevails in Senate
Voters rendered a mixed verdict on the Trump presidency this week, as Democrats harnessed a suburban backlash to retake the House of Representatives while Republicans expanded their Senate majority with victories in more rural, conservative-leaning states. After a bitterly fought campaign, an estimated 113 million Americans cast ballots, about 49 percent of eligible voters—the highest midterm participation rate since 1966.
Across the country, a diverse coalition of minorities, young people, and college-educated white voters in cities and suburbs rebuked the president by helping Democrats win their first House majority in eight years. As The Week went to press, Democrats had gained at least 27 seats—more than the 23 seats they needed to regain the chamber—with about a dozen races still too close to call. More than 100 Democratic women were swept into office, including the first two Native American and first two Muslim women to be elected to Congress. Progressive star Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York made history as the youngest woman ever elected to Congress, at age 29. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi—almost certain to become the next speaker of the House—promised that the Democrats would use their share of power to provide a meaningful check on the Trump administration. “Tomorrow,” Pelosi said, “will be a new day in America.”
Hopes for a “Democratic wave” ended in the Senate, however, where Democrats had to defend 10 seats in states that Trump won in 2016. Republicans are expected to increase their Senate majority from 51 to 53 seats once the final votes are tallied. Democratic incumbents Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, Joe Donnelly of Indiana, and Claire McCaskill of Missouri were all soundly defeated. West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin, the only member of his party to vote to confirm Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, held on to his seat in a very pro-Trump state. In Texas, Republican Ted Cruz survived a surprisingly strong challenge from Beto O’Rourke. President Trump, who held 11 campaign rallies over the past week, swiftly took credit for Senate Republican gains, saying, “I thought it was very close to complete victory.”
What the editorials said
This election “was a referendum on Trump—and he failed,” said The Boston Globe. The president was a “millstone around the neck” of Republicans across the country. Democrats flipped 29 GOP-held seats, scoring upset victories in red-state suburbs near Charleston, S.C.; Kansas City, Mo.; Dallas, and Oklahoma City. In terms of the overall national vote, it was “one of the most lopsided midterms in recent history,” favoring Democrats by roughly 7 percent. “The loud and clear message from American voters is that they don’t like the racially divisive and inflammatory leadership from the White House.” Actually, Democrats “fell devastatingly short of their own expectations,” said WashingtonExaminer.com. Voters almost always punish the president’s party during an administration’s first midterm election, but this was hardly a wave. Democrats lost 63 House seats and their House majority under President Obama in 2010. In 1994, Democrats lost 54 seats under President Clinton, as well as their Senate majority. Under Trump, Republicans actually gained Senate seats, which means Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will continue confirming Trump’s conservative judicial appointees at a brisk pace. The “resounding rebuke” liberals hoped to deliver Trump “has landed as a modest disagreement.”
What the columnists said
With unemployment at a mere 3.7 percent and the economy growing, said Ezra Klein in Vox.com, the Republicans’ loss of the House is “a profound political failure.” The GOP also had other advantages, including partisan gerrymandering and the fact that so many Democratic voters are packed into a small number of urban congressional districts. Nevertheless, Americans decisively voted the GOP out of power in the House. Republicans are paying a “Trump tax” for supporting a demagogic and divisive president who hasn’t breached 50 percent approval since taking office. If they can’t win when conditions are perfect for them, what will happen if the economic tide turns?
Voters clearly wanted a check on Trump, said Josh Kraushaar in NationalJournal.com. But they “don’t necessarily trust Democrats with full governing responsibility.” Red-state Democrats’ attacks on Kavanaugh during his hearings helped transform many close contests into “GOP blowouts.” Vulnerable GOP incumbents also survived in many House districts where Democrats lurched too far left for voters’ comfort. The Democrats who did well in the critical suburbs were moderates who reassured swing voters “that they didn’t support single-payer health insurance, open borders, and a wild-eyed foreign policy.”
“A polarized nation is now more deeply divided,” said Julie Pace in the Associated Press. President Trump’s base, dominated by white men and rural voters, emphatically stuck by him. Women and minorities went strongly in the opposite direction, motivated “by a deep opposition to Trump’s nationalist agenda and racially charged rhetoric.” Right now, neither coalition seems capable of making sizable inroads into each other’s turf, said Ramesh Ponnuru in Bloomberg.com, and neither is big enough to truly govern the country. “What we can more realistically look forward to is two more years of social division, partisan rancor, and governmental sclerosis.”
How will Trump respond to a Democratic House? asked Peter Baker in The New York Times. He suggested at a press conference this week he’d be open to “a beautiful bipartisan type of situation,” with possible dealmaking on infrastructure, trade, and immigration. But he could relish having an opposition to battle and blame, and make a foil of Nancy Pelosi. Obama and Clinton both were able to win re-election by contrasting themselves with a hostile Congress. Bet on conflict, said Philip Rucker and Josh Dawsey in The Washington Post. Trump warned at his press conference he’d retaliate with a “warlike posture” and investigations of his own should Democrats investigate him—which they almost certainly will. A full-on war with Democrats would be “extremely good for me politically,” Trump said, warning, “I am better at that game than they are.”
Cover illustration by Fred Harper.
Cover photos from Newscom, Alamy, Getty.
On the cover: Soon-to-be House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and President Donald Trump