Taking Stock of the 2018 Midterms

Another Election Day has come and gone after the American people rendered a split decision on the Republican Party’s total control of Washington. As expected, the House of Representatives will be in Democratic hands for the first time since 2011 come January. Republicans managed not only to keep, but expand their Senate majority, knocking off a least three vulnerable Democratic incumbents in states that voted for President Trump in 2016.

What does this election cycle portend for Congress and the future of America’s two major political parties? Here are a few key takeaways:

Gridlock will almost certainly increase on Capitol Hill, perhaps as early as next week when lawmakers return to hold a lame-duck session of Congress to dispense with unfinished business. Although Trump and House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi said on Wednesday that they will pursue a bipartisan agenda and could possibly work together on an elusive national infrastructure plan, any initial comity is unlikely to last. Just hours after praising Pelosi, Trump upped the ante by firing Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

And once they assume the majority next year, Democrats will investigate everything from Trump’s tax returns to his business and possible political ties to Russia. Thorny immigration issues will inevitably arise, possibly as soon as next week. Plus, any bill passed by a Democratic-run House can easily be stopped by a Republican-led Senate.

More Republicans in the Senate means Trump—and GOP Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky—can push even harder. Despite the loss of Dean Heller in Nevada, the party picked up seats in Indiana, Missouri, North Dakota and possibly Florida as well.

Undecided Senate races aside, Trump and McConnell should have no problem accomplishing their top priority: confirming conservative judges to federal courts. A larger GOP majority also gives the president more power to overhaul his cabinet, which he wasted no time setting to with Sessions’ dismissal. He also won’t have to contend with internal naysayers as Sens. Jeff Flake and Bob Corker, two vocal Trump critics, are retiring at year’s end.

2016 foretold the future: Democrats continue to gain strength in urban and suburban areas, Republicans in rural ones. These electoral shifts may not amount to a “realignment,” as some observers are suggesting. But the trend lines are clear.

Take Minnesota, where on election night Democrats flipped two Republican-held districts in the Minneapolis suburbs, but lost two rural-based seats. Indeed, of the 32 seats Democrats definitely flipped (ballots are still being counted in some states), 31 are considered urban or suburban; some were represented by a Republican for decades. Contrast that with the 2006 midterms when Democrats took back the House by winning many of the districts that propelled Trump to victory in 2016.

The Senate tells largely the same story. Many forecasters thought incumbency might save such vulnerable red-state Democrats as Joe Donnelly in Indiana and Claire McCaskill in Missouri. Instead, both lost handily, thanks in part to Trump’s ability to juice GOP turnout in the party’s rural strongholds.

Last but not least, both parties set themselves up well for 2020, with Republicans winning statewide races in Florida and Ohio, both presidential bellwethers, and Democrats showing renewed strength in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, longtime blue strongholds that Trump won narrowly in 2016.

The joke around Washington is that the 2020 presidential campaign officially began as soon as the 2018 midterm results were in. Thankfully, that contest is far enough away Kiplinger need not offer a forecast just yet.

Supreme Court Nomination Rests on Accuser’s Decision to Testify

Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination is on the rocks after a woman accused the judge of sexually assaulting her when they were both in high school, 35 years ago.

The allegations put what might otherwise have been a surefire confirmation on hold, with key Republicans initially joining Democrats in calling for additional time to evaluate the claims of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, who finally went public with her story last week after notifying congressional Democrats in July. Continue reading “Supreme Court Nomination Rests on Accuser’s Decision to Testify”

McCain’s Legacy: Fierce Independence

The death of Arizona Sen. John McCain after a year-long battle with brain cancer leaves Congress, the Republican Party and U.S. foreign policy without a crucial leader.

There’s little that hasn’t been said about the “last lion” of the Senate, who spent 35 years in Congress and made two unsuccessful bids for the presidency, winning the Republican nomination in 2008 before losing to then-fellow Sen. Barack Obama in the general election.

Continue reading “McCain’s Legacy: Fierce Independence”

CAFE Rollback Uncorks Another Regulatory Fight

The Trump administration’s push to roll back vehicle fuel-economy standards sets the stage for a lengthy legal battle with Democrats, environmental groups and the state of California, who hail the Obama administration rules as a landmark achievement in the fight against climate change.

Once finalized, the joint proposal from the Environmental Protection Agency and Transportation Department would suspend required increases in corporate average fuel-economy standards (CAFE) after 2020, capping them at a fleet average of 37 miles per gallon. President Obama’s plan, by contrast, called for raising the standard to 47 miles per gallon by 2025.

Continue reading “CAFE Rollback Uncorks Another Regulatory Fight”

Control of Congress on the Line as Fall Midterms Loom

Control of Congress is once again on the line as Democrats and Republicans gear up for the November midterm elections. With voting less than five months away, where do the two parties stand?

The race for the House is too close to call at this point. Democrats will certainly gain seats; the “out” party usually does during non-presidential elections. They need a net gain of at least 23 for a majority. Continue reading “Control of Congress on the Line as Fall Midterms Loom”

“It’s the Economy, Stupid”: Trump and GOP Hope to Ride Economy to Victory in November

The strong economy is a political boon to President Trump and Republicans as they fight to maintain control of Congress. The numbers speak for themselves.

Growth is hovering around 3%. Unemployment (3.8%) is the lowest in nearly two decades, with a record number of job openings (6.7 million) to boot. Consumer spending is brisk after starting the year sluggish. Continue reading ““It’s the Economy, Stupid”: Trump and GOP Hope to Ride Economy to Victory in November”

Democrats Avert Disaster in Crucial Calif. Primaries

With their solid showing in this week’s California primaries, Democrats cleared a major hurdle in their bid to take control of the House of Representatives in November.

 The party avoided its worst-case scenario: Being shut out of several potentially competitive races because of California’s unusual primary system, which advances the top two vote-getters, regardless of party, to the general election. On occasion, this leads to races in which two candidates from the same party face off on Election Day.

Democratic leaders fretted about this possibility more and more as primary day drew nearer, envisioning a scenario in which their abundant candidate pool cannibalized itself to Republicans’ advantage. California Democratic Party Chairman Eric Bauman said he expected Democrats to be shut out of “at least a couple” of what should be competitive races in the fall.

Elevated Democratic turnout and machinations by party leaders to steer voters toward candidates they think had the best shot of winning, in some cases by badgering others to drop out of the race, allowed the party to avoid disaster.

The outcome ensures several vulnerable Republican-held seats are still in play, including seven that 2016 Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton won. Democrats need to gain at least 23 seats to win control of the House, which Republicans wrested from Democratic control after the 2010 midterms. They can’t flip the House without California.

But it was far from a victory for the party. Democrats burned through a lot of cash just guaranteeing their candidates slots on November’s ballot. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) has spent at least $5.6 million in the Golden State this election cycle, at one point even giving money to Republican candidates in the hopes of splitting the GOP vote.

There was a silver lining for Republicans, who are not accustomed to good news in the state leading the “resistance” to Donald Trump’s presidency.

GOP candidates received a majority of the vote in all but one of the state’s key battleground districts. Granted, they underperformed compared to previous election years. Meanwhile, Democrats will likely do much better in the general election, when their voters are more likely to show up.

But Democrats have only proven they will be able to compete come November. They are targeting 10 seats, which Republicans will not give up easily. One vulnerable Republican, Rep. David Valadao, who represents an increasingly liberal district that voted for Clinton in 2016 and President Obama twice, already looks like a strong bet for re-election.

Furthermore, Republicans were not locked out of all major statewide races, which would have depressed their turnout in the general election. Republican John Cox stands little chance of becoming California’s next governor, but he will square off against Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom Nov. 6. Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein, by contrast, will have no GOP challenger since fellow Democrat Kevin De Leon came in second on Tuesday.

Democrats and Republicans are both spinning the results. In reality, the status quo won. Neither party gained a clear advantage, and the fundamentals of this midterm election did not shift: The House of Representatives is up for grabs; Democrats will gain seats but are not guaranteed enough for a majority; and Republicans will vigorously defend their turf.

Pay attention to the generic ballot, which is starting to swing back in the Democrats’ favor after months of improving numbers for Republicans. With Trump in the White House, the GOP is running on one of the strongest economies in years. If that doesn’t help vulnerable Republican incumbents win re-election, nothing will.

Donald Trump’s Jekyll and Hyde Approach to Syria

Keeping up with President Trump’s constantly evolving position on Syria isn’t easy. Just ask his generals.

Earlier this month, the president called for a quick end to America’s military involvement in Syria, arguing the roughly 2,000 U.S. troops currently in the country should be out within six months. Alarm bells sounded at the Pentagon, whose top brass informed the president such a drastic move would jeopardize the ongoing fight against the Islamic State. Continue reading “Donald Trump’s Jekyll and Hyde Approach to Syria”

Old Fault Lines Threaten Historic Trump-Kim Summit, Despite Optimism

The U.S. and North Korea are inching toward a historic summit to discuss the fate of North Korea’s nuclear program, one that could potentially see the first-ever meeting between a U.S. president and North Korean supreme leader.

The idea originated through a game of diplomatic telephone. North Korea reportedly invited President Trump to meet with Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un during an inter-Korean dialogue last month. South Korea in turn relayed the invitation to the White House, and Trump, to the surprise of many, accepted. The summit is scheduled to be held sometime in May. Continue reading “Old Fault Lines Threaten Historic Trump-Kim Summit, Despite Optimism”

China Dream: Beijing Charts Path to Achieve Superpower Status, Overtake U.S.

2049 will mark the 100th anniversary of the Communist Party’s rise to power in China: A century marked by violence, revolution and, ultimately, reinvention, as the country slowly embraced capitalism and opened to the world (but without embracing democracy).

2049 is also the year by which Beijing wants to surpass the United States as the world’s greatest power both economically and militarily. And China is already well on its way to achieving this goal.

Continue reading “China Dream: Beijing Charts Path to Achieve Superpower Status, Overtake U.S.”