What to make of the U.S. mid-term elections?

This post comes from Neil Wynn, Emeritus Professor of 20th Century US History at the University of Gloucestershire.

While presidential elections take place every four years, congressional elections take place every two years with all 435 seats in the House of Representatives contested and one-third, 35, of Senate seats up for grabs. In addition votes were taking place for 36 state governors and numerous local legislative positions – ranging from state legislatures to city mayors.  This year the elections were seen as referendum on President Trump and his policies, and the outcome could seriously impact on the rest of his term in office before the 2020 elections.  With the Republicans in control of Congress, President Trump could be confident of enacting his programme; if they lose control, he might have to modify his policies and even his language.

Donald Trump described the results as a ‘huge victory’

In the event, the results are rather mixed.  The President could claim victory because the Republicans maintained their control of the Senate by a margin of 51 to 45, as Republicans won seats in Indiana, Texas and North Dakota – and four seats still remain undecided at the moment but seem likely to remain Republican.  However, the Democrats gained control of the House of Representatives having secured 219 seats to the Republicans’ 193 – the remaining results still to be confirmed.  In all, 31 Republican congressmen lost their seats and only four Democrats. This will enable the Democrats to challenge the president on matters of finance and legislation, to continue or extend investigations into his tax affairs or the conduct of the 2016 election, and even, a remote possibility, launch impeachment proceedings.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

Congress will also now have more female representatives than ever including two of the youngest, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (a member of the Democratic Socialists of America!!) from New York, and Abby Finkenauer who defeated a Republican in Iowa – both are 29 yrs old. Two Muslim women became the first to be elected, Rashida Tldaib and Ilhan Omar, and the first Native American women, Sharice Davids and Deb Haaland, will now take seats in the House. At state level, Democrats defeated Republicans in the gubernatorial contests in Illinois, Kansas, Maine, Michigan, New Mexico and Wisconsin – but failed to unseat the Republicans in Florida and Georgia. In Colorado, the Democrat Jared Polis was elected as the nation’s first openly gay governor.

Rashida Tldaib and Ilhan Omar

The results also perhaps put down some markers for the 2020 elections.  Although he failed to unseat the Republican Senator Ted Cruz, the youthful Beto O’Rourke is seen by many commentators as someone who could stand for the Democrats, but two years is a very long time in American politics.  These elections showed that the country remained as divided as ever and the next two years should see some bitter struggles in the national government.  It will be interesting to see what, if any, effect this has on President Trump.

Professor Neil Wynn


coconnell says:

There are many positives to take from these midterms, particularly in the way the Democrats have taken the House, with more women than ever standing for elections, ending with the first Muslim and Native American Representatives. However, it must also be said that some of the Republican Senators who were elected have many similarities to Trump’s style and approach. The other concern problem for the Democrats is whether they opt for an approach based on challenging/impeaching Trump (something that has not worked until now, and didn’t for the likes of Berlusconi’s opponents either!), or whether they attempt to promote a viable alternative to his alarmist rhetoric and alt-right influenced agenda. My feelings are that the latter would make more political sense, no matter how much you dislike Trump.

Neil Wynn says:

I am inclined to agree – but people who voted new Democrats in might not! They may well have expectations of halting Trump – or trying to! They can do a lot more than attempt impeachment – controlling the budget for example.
While there was much to cheer it is also the case that we still celebrate “firsts”, that women are still very much a minority in government (and remember some of the women elected or re-elected were also Republicans). A mixed result I think!

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