The 2018 Midterms: the Narrative, the Results and the Consequences

In the days since the midterm elections on November 6, there has been an intense battle to control the narrative around the outcome of the elections. Both sides of the aisle in Washington have claimed victory, and although the results were a mixed bag, the election gives the Democrats far more reason to be optimistic for the short and long-term future.

It is true that the Republicans more than held onto control of the Senate; they also gained one or two seats, pending the recount in Florida and the runoff in Mississippi. With the sustained control over the upper chamber of Congress, they will be able to continue their concerted effort to reshape the court system (in the American system, the president nominates judges, and it is the sole prerogative of the Senate to approve them). Additionally, they will be able to build a wall around the President to protect him from the opposition; assuming he hasn’t burned all his bridges. Most importantly, they will be able to protect the president if he is impeached by the House of Representatives, as only the Senate has the power to convict.

There has been an intense battle to control the narrative around the outcome of the elections

However, it is worth observing this victory in context. While many are happy with the slight gains made in the Senate, they are forgetting the potential gains that they utterly failed to achieve. During each federal election cycle, one third of the Senate faces the electorate. This year, there were 35 Senatorial seats facing reelection. Of these openings, about 3/4 were seats held by Democrat incumbents. That is 26 opportunities to swing a Senate seat over to the Republican side of the aisle. Furthermore, ten of the 26 Democrat held positions were in states that Trump had won two years earlier, five of which voted for Trump by double digits. Normally that would be considered ten vulnerable seats. In early 2017, Republicans were starstruck by the possibility of picking up nearly 10 more Senate seats, giving them the cherished supermajority in the Senate, precluding the ability for the opposition to filibuster legislation. Any minority party would need a decade or more to overcome a Senatorial supermajority. Furthermore, the past two years has witnessed a continuation of the trend of an expanding economy , an unemployment rate at record lows, and major tax legislation being passed. Picking up five to ten Senate seats was eminently achievable, but Republicans only managed to flip 2-3 seats, pending the runoff in Mississippi.

Thus, the loss of merely 2-3 Senate seats is no less than a valiant example of damage control accomplished by the minority party. Looking ahead, the 2020 map and the 2022 map for the Senate will be as difficult for Republicans as the 2018 map was for Democrats. In 2020 Republicans will have 22 Senate seats up for reelection while Democrats will have 12. And again in 2022, Republicans will be defending 21 seats and Democrats, 12. In a political environment where even Texas Democrats have closed double-digit statewide races down to the margin of error, the future looks promising for Democrat’s prospects in the Senate. Even the Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell called for bipartisanship in the wake of the result. Perhaps he believes that his days as majority leader are limited and he sees the benefits of calling for compromise before he returns to the minority.

Looking ahead, the 2020 map and the 2022 map for the Senate will be as difficult for Republicans as the 2018 map was for Democrats.

Meanwhile in the lower chamber the Democrats made more than just gains on the majority, they became the majority by picking up around 38 seats, with a handful of races still undetermined. The Democrats managed to comfortably flip the Congress in a midterm  where people voted at the highest rate in 104 years. There were over 100 new members elected to office leading to the third largest turnover rate since 1974. This includes candidates who lost a reelection bid as well as representatives who decided to retire. That means nearly a quarter of Congressional postings will be handed over to new members come January. Furthermore, 25 of the new congressmen and women are under 40 years old; they are millennials. Perhaps 2018 has marked the beginning of millennial engagement, not in terms of voting, but by running for office and winning. The average age of the new congressperson is 10 years younger than the sitting age in Congress now. Whether this enthusiasm will endure is anyone’s guess. The honest truth is that no one knows how the 2020 election cycle will transpire; in a dynamic world, anything can happen in two years.

That said, the Democrats will hold power in the House for the next two years and with this newfound control they can act as a check on the White House by providing oversight into administrative orders and cabinet officials’ actions. Legislatively,  the conservative legislative agenda will be halted in its tracks.

Democrats will become head of House committees come 2019, and this will give them the power to demand testimony and documents from administration officials. Although future committee leaders like Maryland Democrat Elijah Cummings insist that the use of subpoenas will be a “method of last resort,” he has also said he’ll seek to hold Trump accountable and pursue questions of whether the President is violating the emoluments clause (prohibiting federal government from receiving or granting quid pro quo gifts) to enrich himself and possibly pressure the release of Trumps tax returns. In fact, the net of oversight efforts can be cast wide. Until now the House Oversight Committee has mostly stalled efforts and denied requests for 64 motions and dozens of document requests by Democrats on the committee. The list of topics within the scope of the Oversight Committee extends much further than the Russia investigation. A few of the topics include large spending of federal funds at Trump-owned hotels and golf resorts; foreign governments spending on at least four Trump owned properties; the purging of public information from government websites; perks for several cabinet officials; and the recent Chinese trademarks given to Ivanka Trump while she continues to work in the West Wing and meet with foreign officials.

Legislatively,  the conservative legislative agenda will be halted in its tracks

Additionally, Maxine Waters, the expected head of the House Financial Committee, said one issue that will be investigated is Trump’s connections into Deutche Bank, one of the only banks who would lend money to Trump after his multiple bankruptcies. In 2017, Deutche Bank agreed to pay U.S. regulators $425 million in fines over a scheme that moved $10 billion out of Russia in violation of anti-money laundering laws. Deutche Bank has also been investigated by the Mueller team.

Ultimately, the midterm elections proved to be a resounding example of damage control that gave the Democrats the ability to thwart further conservative legislation and the power to shed light into a seemingly corrupt administration. How this new political dynamic in Washington will effect the 2020 elections is yet to be determined.