Who Won the 2018 Elections? Americans
The results of the 2018 midterm election reflect a country divided and a bicameral system that is doing exactly what the founders intended. The popular vote (served by the House of Representatives) went to the Democrats by what appears to be at least 8 points. Regional concerns have been reflected in the Senate – where the rural states have as much power as states with urban centers that boost their population base. That division will serve to slow the legislative agenda of the President and his party. What the midterms also reflect is a country that is unsure of the road ahead. Most Americans want to see the country move away from divisive and destructive politics and towards policies that make life better for Americans, but there are large differences of opinion as to what those policies look like.
Note: The results in the House of Representatives still do not accurately depict the popular vote. The gerrymandered districts created after the 2010 census have created an election map that disproportionally favors Republicans. Gerrymandering, or the favorable drawing of districts by partisan committees the year after a census (the next round is in 2021), is only one issue that needs to be addressed to improve the credibility of elections in the United States.
Democracy is messy because people are complicated, especially in groups. The United States of America reflects the many different experiences of the people that live there. Even within either of the two political parties, the disparity on policy priorities and solutions is quite large. What makes sense in Oklahoma doesn’t necessarily work in California or Rhode Island. The issues that concern rural communities in Kansas are different than those faced in the center of our great cities, like Chicago. But the political system in the United States is far from broken. It is protecting the experiment from turbulence – establishing a process that is slow and relies on the interests of the majority and the minority being addressed. The split in the 116th Congress offers the Democrats the option to choose to be confrontational or collaborative.
Canadians should hope Democrats choose to be collaborative. U.S. domestic policy has ramifications for Canada – from closures at the border due to government shutdowns to the Farm Bill, when the United States sneezes, Canada catches a cold. A functional, collaborative environment in the U.S. Congress can only better serve Canadian interests.
Democrats can choose to find ways to further issues that matter to their constituencies, providing wins to the Trump White House in the form of policies that improve the lives of Americans. Donald Trump’s most compelling line in his inaugural address was that the ‘forgotten men and women of American would be forgotten no more.’ There is an opportunity to hold him to that promise. Working with the moderate Republicans to craft legislative packages that do better for Americans, regardless of what happens to those pieces of legislation once they arrive at the White House, would demonstrate a commitment to real bipartisanship.
On the other hand, the Democrats are now in a position to make life exceedingly difficult at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. They can pressure the White House to release documents, including the President’s income tax returns. They can also compel the White House to maintain a level of transparency on record keeping that will, in many cases, create a lot more work for what is widely seen as a dysfunctional White House. The Democrats, although they have been quite reserved on the subject overall, could also pursue impeachment (although all signs are that they will not – focusing on other investigations and policies instead).
If the Democrats choose to be confrontational, they risk being labelled as obstructionist not just by the White House but by their Republican colleagues. One thing the tepid blue wave illustrated was that plenty of voters still vote local. The results overall indicate that this election was more about the candidates than about the President (issues of gerrymandering aside). And while Americans generally trust their elected representatives, they see the larger institution as a failure. Being seen as obstructionist might be considered a badge of courage by some, but will alienate more voters than it will attract. Spending the next two years as a foil for a campaign-happy President could stoke more division – and this time, the Democrats would wear more of the blame.
Looking at the marquee issue for Canada – U.S. relations in its current incarnation as the USMCA – a confrontational Congress will make passage difficult. The administration will likely only present a legislative package on the agreement if they know they have the votes to pass the package and it makes political sense to do so. If there is a question regarding the ability of the legislative package to pass the House, the pressure tactic may be to invoke 2205 and begin the process of removing the United States from the existing NAFTA deal. An ugly fight would still likely end in the passage of the USMCA.
It will be tempting for the Democrats to fight the President tooth and nail these next two years. There is no indication that he will change his rhetoric or policy priorities (the wall) in the remainder of his first term and there is even less likelihood that the Democrats will capitulate. The President has demonstrated his willingness to walk away from ‘deals’ with the Democratic leadership on more than one occasion. But real danger lies in widening the divide. All those elected on Tuesday have a role to play in building bridges. President Trump has given all Americans a gift – he has created a new era of political engagement. Let’s hope that continues.
Sarah Goldfeder, Fellow at CGAI and Principal, Earnscliffe Strategy Group who was speaking at a post mid-term event hosted by The School of Public Policy at the University of Calgary