Midterm Election Wins Bolster Trump’s Mandate

Voters affirm Trump's agenda as Republicans expand Senate majority
November 7, 2018 Updated: November 11, 2018

President Donald Trump celebrated the midterm elections as a “tremendous success” for his administration after Republicans expanded their majority in the Senate, maintained an edge in governorships, and handed control of the House to the Democrats by a slim margin instead of the predicted blowout to the so-called “blue wave.”

With winners called in all but one statewide race, Republicans were on pace to gain three seats in the Senate and defended their lead in governorships by a two-seat margin. Trump called the party’s performance “very close to complete victory” and told reporters at the White House that he would rather see Democrats with a slim majority in the House, since Republicans would be blamed if they failed to convert a slight lead into legislative success.

An expanded majority in the Senate will allow Republicans to continue confirming Trump’s nominees to key posts. In addition to confirming two conservative Supreme Court justices, the Senate has confirmed an unprecedented number of conservative judges to the lower courts during Trump’s term, potentially reshaping America’s judicial system for decades.

The victories are sure to reinforce the mandate of a president who nationalized the midterm elections by rallying his supporters to vote for Republicans as though his “America First” agenda was on the ballot. That message resonated with voters, who elected 9 out of 11 candidates Trump campaigned for, according to his own tally.

“We did this in spite of a very dramatic fundraising disadvantage driven by Democrats’ wealthy donors and special interests and very hostile media coverage, to put it mildly,” Trump said at the White House on Nov. 7.

The president told reporters at the White House that he won despite historic odds. The parties of first-term presidents tend to lose seats in both chambers in the first midterm elections. The Republicans’ three-seat expansion is a contrast to the 18 total seats lost by the Democrats in midterm elections in the Senate since 2010. The loss of 26 seats in the House, meanwhile, is dwarfed by the 63 seats lost by President Barack Obama in 2010 and the 52 seats lost by President Bill Clinton in 1994.

Having seized control of the House of Representatives, Democrats will get the chance to convert their rhetoric into action. Rep. Adam Schiff, who will likely chair the House Intelligence Committee, has previously indicated wanting to continue the investigation into alleged Russia collusion. Eager to satisfy their base, Democrats on other committees are expected to jump in with probes of their own. Many have openly spoken of impeaching the commander in chief.

But historical precedent suggests that an aggressive strategy targeting the president may backfire come 2020. Sen. Lindsey Graham, who led an effort to impeach President Bill Clinton, warned his Democratic colleagues of the perils of that approach. Republicans lost seats in the House after focusing on impeachment in 1998. In addition, any investigative action will also be countered with probes by the Republicans in the Senate, Trump warned.

“If the Democrats think they are going to waste Taxpayer Money investigating us at the House level, then we will likewise be forced to consider investigating them for all of the leaks of Classified Information, and much else, at the Senate level. Two can play that game!” the president wrote on Twitter on Nov. 7.

Any investigation of the president is likely to face the same fate as that of the Russia investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller. After nearly 18 months, Mueller has not brought any indictments related to collusion with Russia, the central theme of his investigation.

“They have found nothing. Zero,” Trump said.

The most likely impact of House investigations would be a swarm of legal issues for the White House, which is likely to fire up Trump’s base for 2020 while producing no results to satisfy Democrat voters. All the while, the Senate is set to continue to methodically confirm Trump’s nominees to the courts while holding a check on any Democrat-led legislation in the House.

A Republican governorship majority coupled with GOP victories in gubernatorial races in battleground states may also boost Trump in 2020, since governors hold veto power over redistricting measures. Republican Ron DeSantis ousted Democratic opponent Andrew Gillum by less than one percentage point in a hotly contested race in Florida; Mike DeWine won the governorship in Ohio; and Republican Brian Kemp was ahead of Democratic candidate Stacey Abrams by 1.6 points with 100 percent of precincts reporting.

Trump offered an olive branch to House Democrats as an alternative to an investigative face-off. The president endorsed Nancy Pelosi to be the speaker of the House and said that the two parties are equally invested in delivering legislation on infrastructure, health care, prescription drug prices, and veterans affairs.

“Now is the time for members of both parties to join together, put partisanship aside, and keep the American economic miracle going strong,” Trump said.

One factor that will amplify the president’s mandate is the ouster of anti-Trump Republicans Jeff Flake and Bob Corker from the Senate. The candidates who are replacing Corker and Flake, Republicans Marsha Blackburn and Martha McSally, owe their victories in part to the president, who held rallies for them in their home states. Blackburn ousted Democratic candidate Phil Bredesen in Tennessee by double digits. McSally was up by one percentage point over her Democratic opponent Kyrsten Sinema in Arizona as of 4:30 p.m. EST on Nov.7, with 99 percent of the precincts reporting.

Follow Ivan on Twitter: @IvanPentchoukov