SO what happened to the “great blue wave”? Numerous political pundits told us that the Republicans had become so toxically unpopular after two years of Donald Trump’s controversial presidency that they would be almost wiped out by a Democratic tsunami in this week’s mid-term elections.
This was supposed to be the turning point in the “resistance” to Trump, marking an indictment of his divisive leadership and the beginning of a triumphant Democrat march to retake the presidency in 2020.
It just didn’t happen. Sure, the Republicans lost control of the House of Representatives – a serious blow that will hamper Trump’s actions over the next two years. But they actually increased their majority in the all-important Senate, which is crucial in confirming Trump’s appointments to the Supreme Court and lower courts.
In the three branches of the US government – executive, judiciary and legislature – conservatives now control the Presidency, the Supreme Court and half of Congress. Two and a half out of three isn’t bad.
Presidents almost invariably lose seats in the mid-term elections – and Trump is no exception – but he performed better than Barack Obama and Bill Clinton at the same stage in their presidential terms.
So expect more of the same from an unrepentant Trump over the remainder of his first term. He certainly showed absolutely no sign of toning down his abrasive style during a quite extraordinary press conference at the White House this week, during which he argued with reporters and called one CNN journalist “a rude, terrible person”.
But it wasn’t all good news for Trump, and these mid-term results should sound warning bells for the Republican campaign in 2020. Trump’s win in 2016 was a very narrow one – remember he lost the popular vote to Hillary Clinton by almost three million votes, and only became president through the vagaries of the electoral college system. If he loses support in those vital swing states that he won so narrowly two years ago – and there were signs this week of that happening – then Trump won’t be re-elected.
But the Democrats have their problems too, particularly because their big hopes for credible presidential challengers to knock Trump off his perch in 2020 did badly. Beto O’Rourke, an energetic, telegenic leftist with a touch of Kennedy-style glamour, lost to Ted Cruz in the Texas Senate race despite spending over $70m (£53m) – more than double his opponent’s expenditure. Other potential stars of the future such as Andrew Gillum and Stacey Abrams also fell flat, despite a shower of celebrity endorsements. Perhaps the American public don’t really care much what pop singers and movie stars think about politics?
Former President Obama had a particularly poor election. Every candidate he campaigned for was defeated. After his arrogant “get to the back of the queue” intervention in the UK 2016 referendum, which probably boosted the Leave vote, he is quickly turning into the kiss of death for any campaign.
So why, despite the obvious controversies and Trump’s belligerent manner, is he doing much better than most pundits predicted? One answer is that Trump relentlessly concentrates on issues that matter to ordinary people, whereas the Democrats and most progressives are increasingly obsessed with identity politics.
Take the economy, for example, where Trump’s tax cuts have put rocket boosters under growth with an annualised increase of over four per cent – way ahead of the sclerotic economies of the EU. Unemployment is at a 50-year low, the stock market has risen over 20 per cent and wage growth is at its strongest since 2009.
American voters also view with alarm the violent crime wave that has swept Europe since Angela Merkel threw open the EU’s borders to over a million migrants in 2015. Trump is determined not to repeat Europe’s mistake and gained support by vowing to stop a migrant caravan from South and Central America from crossing the US border with Mexico.
So while Trump focuses on putting food on the table and keeping families safe, his opponents obsess over gender neutral bathrooms and which personal pronoun to use.
Identity politics is a dead end, and unless the Democrats realise this, they are always going to struggle against someone like Donald Trump, and particularly if the economy remains buoyant.