We are just one day away from the 2018 US “midterm” elections, and if anyone tells you they know what’s going to happen, they’re either lying or making a lucky guess.
Pollsters, who are supposed to tell us how things will end, haven’t gotten things right for a while. They lost any remaining credibility after predicting a Hillary Clinton landslide over Donald Trump in the 2016 election.
They first told there would be a “blue wave” this year, reflecting motivated Democrats still angry about 2016; and for a time, it appeared that they might have something.
But then, as Trump put it, that “blue wave hit a red wall” of Republicans, who saw how fiercely a Democrat Congress would oppose the economic and foreign policy progress under Trump. Now, both sides are motivated, and most races are getting closer and harder to predict.
So, the only thing we know for certain is that there is no Presidential election this year, which is why these are called midterm elections. Historically, the party that holds the White House—in this case, Republicans—suffers some losses in the midterms. On 6 November, Americans will elect 35 Senators, all 435 Congressional (or House) seats, and a number of state and local offices.
Unlike Bangladesh, the United States does not have a parliamentary system of government. Presidents run independently of their party, which means that one party can control the legislature while another controls the executive branch. And that is what’s at stake here.
Right now, Republicans control both the House and the Senate. Democrats need a net gain of 23 seats to re-take the House. Senators are elected by an entire state. Congressional districts are smaller and more numerous. They are more dependent on local issues and often reflect little more and individually less predictive of national trends.
Members of Congress stand for re-election every two years, and Senators serve six year terms, which is why about a third of them stand for re-election at every national election. The current split is 51 Republicans and 49 Democrats, so Democrats need a net gain of two if they want to control the Senate.
That’s harder than it might seem because of the 35 Senate seats up for re-election, only ten are currently held by Republicans, and seven or eight of them have almost no chance of flipping to the Democrats. Of the 25 Democrat controlled seats up for a vote, only 19 or 20 are safe.
At least one is already a foregone conclusion to be a Republican pick up, which means that Democrats have to hold on to all of their other seats plus pick up all of the Republican seats with even a chance of going Democrat. Both parties say they expect to end up with both legislative chambers in their hands. President Trump reminds people how wrong the “experts” were about him; how they misread the desires of the American people.
Democrat leaders insist that Trump is wreaking havoc on the nation and is an embarrassment. Former Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi predicts that she will regain the Speakership, while the current Speaker of the House, Paul Ryan, expressed confidence in a big night for Republicans on 6 November.
I spoke with Ryan last week outside of Chicago, and he believes that Americans like the prosperity at home and strength abroad, and will vote to continue that progress. Pelosi believes that Americans don’t like President Trump or his policies, and that they will vote for a change.
Republican and Democrat party leaders are correct, if not necessarily in their predictions, in how they see the state of the public. The US is a nation with opinions split down the middle. About half the country loves what Trump has done; about half hate it. So while President Trump is not on the ballot, his policies are.
His first two years in office have brought a red hot economy with unemployment practically non-existent, significant job growth (more than a quarter million new jobs were created in October 2018 alone), economic activity far outstripping anything seen in over a decade, and consumer optimism driving even greater prosperity.
Americans also have seen their interests protected abroad in his foreign policy initiatives. At the same time, he is a divisive figure who has made statements that many see as contrary to a free society and moral America and has rolled back Obama-era protections for LGBTQ Americans and for the environment.
Republican voters do not want to see an oppositional Congress in Democrat hands putting the brakes on further economic growth and a robust American foreign policy. Democrat voters want to halt Trump’s roll back of those environmental protections, disagree with his handling of the economy, and are viscerally against his personal behavior and view of the world. They want to re-gain control of at least one government branch in order to do that.
The closer we get to the election, and the closer that the current caravan of illegal migrants gets to the United States, the more prominent is the issue of illegal immigration and the parties radically different views of how to handle it.
Democrats want to ease restrictions. Republicans want to strengthen them; even build a wall on our southern border. Despite the fact that immigration reform requires a solution agreed to by both parties, both are using this divisive issue to motivate their own partisans.
So, will it be a good election for Democrats or Republicans? Here are a couple of ways to tell. If Democrats knock off Republican Senator Ted Cruz in Texas, the night will be ugly for Republicans. Same if Democrat Kyrsten Sinema defeats Republican Martha McSally in Arizona. If Republicans keep control of the House, it will be a bad night for Democrats. Same if Republican Florida Governor Rick Scott defeats Democratic Senator Bill Nelson.
My own prediction is that Democrats will gain a net 20-27 House seats and either remain in the minority or narrowly win the House; while Republicans will maintain control of the Senate with a 53-47 majority, losing their seat in Nevada and picking off Democrats in North Dakota, Missouri, and Indiana.But I could be wrong.
The writer is an American intellectual and a geopolitical analyst.
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