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The beginning of the end of Trump? - Anthony Manduca

The Democratic Party’s capture of the House of Representatives in the US mid-term elections has ended President Donald Trump’s unchecked hold on power. The US now has an important, and much needed, counterweight to Trump, and American democracy is the winner.  

The mid-term results also showed the world that the majority of Americans are willing to say no to Trump’s undermining of the free press and the rule of law, his so-called ‘America First’ policy, his demonising of migrants, his constant lying, his shameless sexism and his divisive and hateful populist language.

According to polls, the Democratic gains were fuelled mainly by women, young and Hispanic voters. In these elections, held every two years, the entire House of Representatives was up for re-election – a therefore truly national contest, which is why the Democrats’ victory is important – as well as 35 Senate seats (out of 100) and 36 Governors out of 50 states.

As expected, the Democrats did not win in the Senate – because many of these elections were held in states that voted solidly for Trump in 2016, and the Demo­crats were defending 26 out of the 35 seats up for grabs. The Republican majo­rity in the Senate – which could actually be increased as three seats are too close to call – means that Trump can expect his appointments to the federal government as well his judicial nominees to be approved.

It is interesting to note that one of the new Republican Senators is Mitt Romney, the 2012 Republican presidential candidate, who was elected from Utah. Romney, a critic of Trump who believes in traditional Republican values, could well turn out to be a thorn in the President’s side. 

There was some encouraging news for the Democrats in the elections for Governors, with the party capturing a number of states from the Republicans, including Michigan and Wisconsin – two states that played a crucial role in electing Trump in 2016, after having voted Democrat in the previous six presidential elections, as well as Kansas, which voted for Trump two years ago by 20 percentage points.

Trump will act like a cornered rat

In Florida, where the Republicans held the Governor’s seat, and which voted for Trump in 2016, a recount is likely as the race is too close to call. And in Georgia, a traditional Republican stronghold, a run-off election will probably be held between the two top candidates, as state law requires the winning candidate to get over 50 per cent of the vote. Ohio, however, a crucial state which voted for Trump in 2016, voted Republican in the Governor’s election.

What happens now? First of all we can forget about Trump toning down his rhetoric, reaching across the aisle or acting in a presidential or conciliatory manner. He is simply not capable of doing this, which I believe will be the cause of his defeat in 2020. He has already hailed this election as a “big victory” and has not made the slightest effort to reach out to the Democrats.

It is true that both President Bill Clinton and President Barack Obama lost heavily in the 1994 and 2010 mid-terms but easily won re-election to the White House two years later. However, unlike Trump, these Presidents cared about appealing to centrist voters and reaching out to their opponents.

I clearly remember President Clinton giving a press conference after the Republicans won a majority in the House of Representatives in 1994 when he said: “They [the Republicans] had a good victory. Let them enjoy their day.”

Trump may continue to live in denial but life has just changed fundamentally for him. Since all legislation needs to be approved by both the Senate and the House, he will be unable to pass any laws without the support of the Democrats. He will have to learn to compromise if he wants to get things done in Congress, something he has not done over the past two years.

In foreign policy, the President has more authority than Congress, so unfortunately we shouldn’t expect many changes in this area. However, the Demo­crats in the House are expected to push for a tougher stance to be taken against Russia, Saudi Arabia and North Korea. Their best way to influence policy will be through oversight, and they will have the power to call hearings and, if necessary, subpoena witnesses, as they will now head all the House committees.

It is through their control of such committees, in fact, that the Democrats can really hold Trump to account. The Demo­crats can launch another congressional investigation into allegations of Russian interference in the 2016 election, look into the Trump business organisation, order Trump to publish his tax returns, investigate the loss of thousands of lives in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria and look into alleged violations of government ethics by Trump appointees.

The Democrats will also do whatever they can to protect Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation, which could well be in peril after Trump sacked Attorney General Jeff Sessions last week.

What about impeaching Trump?

The Democrats can do so with their House majority, but Congress will not be able to remove him from office without a conviction by a two-thirds majority in the Republican-controlled Senate, which is very unlikely.

One thing is for sure, we can expect more polarisation in US politics and society, and we can also envisage Trump, who hates losing, to act like a cornered rat, which is not good news for either the US or the world.

This is a Times of Malta print opinion piece

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