By Thomas Kelsall | @Thomas_Kelsall
House and Senate Republicans are facing a country fuelled by anti-Trump fervour as the crucial 2018 midterm elections are drawing closer.
On November 6, Americans will go to the polls and decide who sits in all 435 seats of the US House of Representatives, as well as deciding the fate of 35 of the 100 seats in the US Senate.
This will be supplemented by 39 gubernatorial elections to decide state governorships (equivalent to Premiers in Australia), as well as several local government and delegate elections.
The midterms are viewed as a referendum on the performance of the sitting president, and with President Donald Trump’s approval rating hovering between 37 and 40 per cent, the Democrats could gain significant legislative power.
History is also against Republicans.
In fact, only five times since 1776 has the president gained seats in the House during a midterm election.
One only needs to look back to the last president to see this phenomenon in action.
Like Trump, President Barack Obama entered office with his party controlling both the House and Senate.
They also lost six Senate seats, six governorships, and 721 legislative seats in state governments.
The disastrous 2010 midterms were compounded by the 2014 midterms when Democrats relinquished their Senate majority after losing a further eight seats.
The Republicans gained another 13 seats in the House, extending their seating majority to 247–188.
As Senior Politics Writer Clare Malone from FiveThirtyEight points out, President Obama’s eight years in office decimated the Democratic Party.
“Obama oversaw the rapid erosion of the Democratic Party’s political power in state legislatures, congressional districts and governor’s mansions,” Ms Malone wrote.
“At the beginning of Obama’s term, Democrats controlled 59 per centof state legislatures, while now they control only 31 per cent, the lowest percentage for the party since the turn of the 20th century.
“They held 29 governor’s offices and now haveonly 16, the party’s lowest number since 1920.”
The Republicans used their midterm gains to run an unprecedented campaign of obstructionism against President Obama, virtually derailing his legislative agenda.
Regardless of the type of opposition the Democrats want to run, they have an enormous opportunity in November to capitalise on President Trump’s unpopularity.
The House of Representatives
With the complete dissolution of the House in 2018, Democrats will need to gain 25 seats for a majority.
Figure 1: Current House Makeup
25 seats are well within reach considering the historical trends, current polling data and recent results.
Polls are not run on individual house races, but generic Congressional election preference polls give Democrats a seven-point lead.
Democrats also have a huge opportunity in the state of Pennsylvania, where 13 of the 18 Congressional seats are currently Republican.
The Cook Political Report ranks six of these Republican seats as either ‘likely Democratic’, ‘lean Democratic’ or ‘toss-ups’.
Even more concerning for Republicans, Democrat Connor Lamb defeated Republican Rick Saccone in a March special election for Pennsylvania’s 18thCongressional District.
It is not just outsiders who can see the blue wave on the horizon, House Republicans are leaving the party in droves.
As of April 2018, 43 House Republicans have announced they will not run for re-election, compared to only nine House Democrats.
According to the historical record, incumbents running for re-election usually fair about 3-7 per cent better than new candidates vying for office.
With 43 House seats now open, Republicans will need to run several primaries to nominate candidates for these seats.
This has the potential to split voting factions of the party, much like the GOP’s disastrous Alabama Senate Primary clash between Luther Strange and Roy Moore.
Speaking to Kentucky Today, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he is well aware of the challenges his party will face in November.
“This is going to be a challenging election year,” Senator McConnell said.
“We know the wind is going to be in our face. We don’tknow whether it’sgoing to be a category three, four or five.”
But what would a Democratic House mean for the Trump Presidency?
Quite simply, his current domestic agenda would be dead.
The net effect of this will likely be political gridlock, as both sides are increasingly polarised and unwilling to budge on fundamental principles.
More government shutdowns like the two witnessed earlier this year are also a possibility.
The other significant consequence of a flipped house is the ‘subpoena power’ Democrats would gain due to their increased role in Committee.
Currently, every House Committee is chaired by a Republican.
Republicans, understandably, have very little interest in delving into some of the Trump Administration’s potential wrongdoings.
Democrats, on the other hand, would likely drag Trump’s Presidency through the mud with a plethora of congressional investigations into his relationship with Russia, sexual assault allegations,conflicts of interestand scandals within his administration.
A midterm switch in the House of Representatives would completely change the dynamics of President Trump’s first term, which is why it is such a crucial election for both parties.
The Senate is considered the more prestigious chamber of Congress.
There are only 100 members—two from each state—who are each elected to six-year terms.
Vice President Mike Pence is President of the Senate as designated by the US constitution.
He casts the deciding vote if the chamber is split 50–50 on a decision.
Therefore, Democrats will need to gain two seats in November to have a working majority, while Republicans only need one.
Figure 2: Current Senate Makeup
The unique powers vested in the Senate include approving nominations for executive positions, ratifying treaties and having the final vote on a trial of impeachment.
In February 2017, the highly unpopular Betsy DeVos was successfully nominated as Secretary of Education, after Vice President Pence cast the deciding vote in a 50–50 tie.
No Democrat voted to confirm Secretary DeVos.
Republicans then changed the rules of the Senate to eliminate the filibuster and forced Gorsuch through with a 54–45 vote.
Other confirmations that only narrowly passed include Budget Director Mick Mulvaney (51–49),Attorney General Jeff Sessions (52–47),), EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt (52–46),and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin (53–47).
A key Senate nomination hearing is currently taking place forpotential CIA Director Gena Haspel.
Her nomination is expected to come down to a few votes with some Republicans considering bucking the party line.
With a revolving door of fired appointees, it is inevitable the Senate will be involved in many more confirmation hearings.
There are persistent rumours Trump could fire the Attorney General, Deputy Attorney General, Secretary of Housing or the EPA Administrator.
If the Democrats were able to flip the Senate in November, they would have the bargaining power to demand nominees closer to the political centre.
A blue Senate could also mean the first rejection of a cabinet nominee since 1989, a rare occurrence which has happened only nine times in American history.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell knows how important it is to keep hold of the Senate for precisely this reason.
“I’m hoping we can hold the Senate, and the principle reason for that, even if we were to lose the House and be stymiedlegislatively, we could still approve appointments, which is a huge part of what we do,” Senator McConnell said.
But how likely is a Democratic Senate victory?
In short, highly improbable.
While on paper gaining two Senate seats appears an easy task, 26 sitting Democrats are up for re-election, as opposed to only nine Republicans.
As VoxSenior Politics Reporter Andrew Prokop explained, it is far beyond certain whether the Democrats will keep the seats they already have, let alone gain any on Republicans.
“There’s an obvious reason Democrats are focusing so much on the House of Representatives this year—the Senate map is horrifically bad for the party,” Mr Prokop wrote.
“Ten of their seats at risk are in states Trump won, and five of those are in states Trump won by 18 points or more. In comparison, only one Republican senator in a state Clinton won is on the ballot.
“Overall, Democrats would need an extraordinary amount of good political fortune to retake the Senate.”
Essentially, to win the Senate, Democrats will need to flip Arizona and Nevada while not ceding a single seat to Republicans.
However, if they do not gain a majority this time around, they have a much better opportunity in 2020 when 20 Republican Senators are up for re-election, compared to only 10 Democrats.
Image Courtesy: Reuters