US midterm elections

The election campaign was bitter and the results show the world’s most powerful country continues to be politically and ideologically split down the middle.
US midterm elections
File Photo

The United States elections for the House of Representatives, and one-third of the Senate were held on November 6. The Democratic Party won control of the House for the first time since 2010 and the Republican Party retained its majority in the Senate, the powerful second chamber of the country's legislature. The House is up for election every two years while Senators have a six-year term with elections being held for one-third of the Senate's hundred members every two years. The election campaign was bitter and the results show the world's most powerful country, whose policies impact the lives of peoples everywhere, continues to be politically and ideologically split down the middle.

In a one and half hour-long press conference after the election President Trump claimed success for himself and his party on the basis of 'historic precedence'. In the past the President's party has almost always lost seats in the House and the Senate. This time the margin of loss in the House was less than on some occasions in the past. In the Senate the seats that were up for re-election provided a more difficult terrain for the Democrats than the Republicans but it is nevertheless creditable for the Republicans to maintain their majority. Despite the loss of the House Trump saw the overall results as "close to complete victory" from the stand point of "deal making". Indeed, he said that this outcome was preferable to a slim Republican victory for the House for that would have led to legislative gridlock. 

In his characteristic never-shy fashion Trump asserted that "People like me and the job I'm doing". Hence, he claimed that his personal campaigning for some candidates helped them win in difficult contests. He added that those Republican candidates who deliberately kept a distance from him lost. While his assertions need to be analytically proved and such 'details' seldom concern this President in the age of alt-facts, it is certainly true that Trump continues to be popular with his base even if his overall ratings are low. Trump called on the Democrats to cooperate with him but did not show any indication that he would be willing to accommodate their concerns on either domestic or foreign policy issues despite his apparent willingness to making deals.

Trump is deeply aggrieved with the continuing investigations into Russia's so-called interference with the 2016 Presidential elections which he won, defeating Hillary Clinton. In that election, Trump won on the way the American electoral college works which allows a candidate who got the majority of the popular vote, as Clinton did, to still lose the election. That irks Trump and he obviously feels that his legitimacy is questioned if, to his lack of winning the popular vote, the allegation is added that Russian interference tipped the balance against Clinton. The control of the House will enable the Democrats to seek to put Trump on the mat on his so-called ties with Russia. It is probable that he will hit back with hobbling the investigation. The Democrats will also try to constrain him on his taxation, immigration, healthcare and environment policies, continuing the deep divisions within America. Trump's immigration and environment decisions effect the world and not only America. The Democrats will be able to more effectively take on Trump on these issues but it remains to be seen if they will put them in over all negotiation mix to try to extract concessions on them.

Trump is unlikely to modify his position on global issues especially as these elections reveal that his base is intact. There will therefore be no modification of his policies even where, as on the North Korea front, he has not made the progress he would have liked. His principal focus on China and on Iran would continue but by now he has shown that he becomes pragmatic and flexible where needed. During the press conference he said that he had allowed some countries to continue to buy Iranian oil without being sanctioned for he did not want oil prices to inordinately increase. This is of course a relief to India which along with Japan and China and some other countries has been exempted from the sanctions for purchasing Iranian oil.

Trump may go back and forth on China but his aim clearly is to ensure that it does not supersede America economically leave alone militarily. His decision to impose tariffs on select Chinese imports has naturally invited countermeasures but the trade 'war' has hurt China more. This is particularly because the US economy is doing very well with high employment. The US and China will negotiate on trade but it will not be easy to arrive at mutually acceptable solutions. This will cause turbulence in the global economy and impact on all countries including India which will have to carefully chart its course maintaining its strategic autonomy. 

These elections also gave an indication of the poverty of effective national leaders among the Democrats. That is why in the last stages of the campaign former President Obama had to take to the campaign trail. No Democrat has emerged, at least as yet, who can seriously challenge Trump in the 2020 Presidential elections. He is the pivot around which US politics currently turns and that is not only because of the office he holds. Short of a dramatic and completely unforeseen political development he is unlikely to face a serious challenge two years hence and the strongly performing economy will further ease his path.

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