Midterm Silver Linings

With the 2018 midterm elections in the rear-view mirror, what are the postmortem results? Was it a blue wave or a red wave? Was it somewhere in between, perhaps a purple haze? The weeks ahead will provide ample time for analysis, blame, excuses, and predictions.

On the morning after, here are some optimistic thoughts, at least from a Trump supporter, looking through the purple haze for a silver lining.

Looking at the House, it could have been far worse. Democrats, at the latest count, gained 27 seats, enough to hand the speaker’s gavel to Nancy Pelosi. How much worse could it have been? Let’s look at past Presidents and how they fared in their first midterms.

Ronald Reagan lost 26 Republican seats in the House. Bill Clinton lost 54 Democrat seats. Barack Obama lost 63 seats. George HW Bush lost eight seats. His son George W. gained eight seats, but then lost 30 seats in his second midterm. So, President Trump is right there with Reagan, not a bad place to be.

On the Senate side, the GOP gained at least two seats, perhaps more after the final vote tallies. Reagan broke even on the Senate side with no gain or loss in his first midterm. Clinton lost nine seats, Obama lost six seats. Trump and the Republicans did well this week on the Senate side.

Which house of Congress is more important going forward? I believe the Senate. Keeping the House might have made it easier for Trump to advance portions of his agenda. Then again, when Republicans controlled both houses for the past two years, they were unable to fund the border wall or repeal Obamacare, two of Trump’s signature issues and campaign promises. These things certainly won’t happen now with a Democrat House, but it’s unlikely that they would have happened anyway if Republicans managed to keep the House.

The Senate confirms judges and cabinet secretaries. Justice Kavanaugh was confirmed, but barely, with a Republican Senate. Take away a few #NeverTrump GOP Senators going forward -- McCain, Flake, and Corker -- and build a bigger vote cushion. Suddenly confirmations become much easier.

Two Supreme Court justices are in their 80s, Breyer and Ginsburg, and both are solid liberal votes. If Trump replaces them with another Kavanaugh or Gorsuch, the court will be conservative majority for a generation, long past Trump’s presidency or Pelosi’s speakership. Then there are all the federal and lower courts, now with an easier path to confirmation by a more solid Republican Senate.

The White House and Congress often change party control. But judges are for life. Having the Senate in solid red territory will add a long-needed constitutional jolt to America’s judicial system for decades to come.

The House and its committees will nip at Trump like frenzied chihuahuas, but with little effect. A Republican House had difficulty obtaining documents and enforcing subpoenas against a Republican executive branch. Does anyone think a Democratic House will fare any better? Likely far worse. Instead they will yip and yap, making fools of themselves.

Taxes have been cut and the military funded. The economy is growing and as a country we are stronger and safer than during the last administration. Nancy Pelosi cannot raise taxes on her own as she needs the Senate and White House to play along, which won’t happen.

With an invading caravan filled with gang members and other assorted threats to the U.S., Trump can order the military to build his wall if Congress won’t fund it. The military is flush with cash after the two recent appropriations bills.

The House may try to impeach Trump, but good luck with that. That’s a political move that might appeal to the more unhinged House members, but all won’t commit political suicide by signing on to that. Many House members remember how impeachment turned out for Republicans trying to remove a popular President Clinton.

And don’t forget the promised FISA document releases and other revelations. This will happen on Trump’s timeline and Democrats can do nothing to stop or delay him. Trump holds many Trump cards, ready to throw at the Democrats if they don’t work with him, as his recent tweet suggests.

Finally, Trump has identified his 2020 opponent. Not a candidate but the Pelosi/Waters/Schiff Congress. Wasting time and money on nonsense, obstructing the MAGA agenda, this gives Republicans a great opportunity to flip the House red again in 2020.

All in all, a good night for Trump Republicans. For the #NeverTrump Republicans, not so good. Those that didn’t lose on Tuesday night are retiring. Those that remain are more on the Trump side than the establishment side, reliable votes when Trump’s MAGA agenda is on the line.

There were rumors that Trump would accept losing the House to solidify his position. Sacrifice a bishop to save a rook, if that benefits the long-term goals. The midterm results suggest a strategic sacrifice for longer-term goals. It will be fun to watch it play out.

Brian C Joondeph, MD, MPS, a Denver based physician and writer. Follow him on Facebook,  LinkedIn and Twitter.

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