The mid-term elections – which by and large went the way most commentators had predicted – could have been a lot worse for President Donald Trump though losing the House of Representatives was hardly the triumph he and some of his White House aides immediately proclaimed it to be. But then we have come to expect effortless hyperbole from this president, and would have been truly shocked if he or they had uttered words of humility.
It is too soon to tell how the political dynamic will change in Washington, but change it presumably will. Especially with the Democrats controlling each of the House committees, such as Ways and Means, Judiciary, Intelligence and Oversight – all, by the way, led by youngish activists rather than mere ancient moderators – most likely to pose awkward questions to Trump on a range of currently sensitive and potentially damaging issues.
The trap for the Democrats, which Trump’s advisors will be only to happy to spring, given half a chance, is that by taking positions that are too adversarial or overtly political they will give the administration every excuse for saying, “We told you we can’t work with these negative people”. The media will presumably remain the ‘enemies of the people’. The Democrats should not seek to challenge for the title.
Will Trump publicly moderate his rhetoric, or privately take a more conciliatory line? Both seem unlikely on the evidence of the first two years of his administration – all the more so because presidential campaigns are going to be fired up in earnest over the next few months.
Still, Trump will be well advised to reach across the aisle in order to get certain legislation enacted, as much as sounding statesman-like may tax his self-restraint. Even so, there are social policies – infrastructure spending and benefits (other than health) come to mind – on which both parties could agree, so long as each declines to turn Capitol Hill into a battleground.
Disgruntled electors sent a clear message to the White House: let’s calm things down and get on with the business of solving problems rather than waging wars and scoring points. It was not an unmitigated triumph for the Democrats, since Republicans not only held on to the Senate but also managed to increase their majority by two (helped in some cases by some artful gerrymandering of electoral boundaries), but moderation seemed to be the order of the day.
So it is back to business as usual in DC, some will say.
Well, that would not be so bad, given the alternative currently available. Even Wall Street seemed relieved, judging by the immediate 300-point gain in the Dow Jones Industrial Average. Anyway, this is not the first time an administration has faced a hostile body up on The Hill, and centrists – if that is not now too pejorative a term – now occupy more of the space in which most American voters feel more comfortable – so long as there is enough bipartisan cooperation to get things done. The rest of the world will feel less uneasy, too, knowing that this unpredictable and bellicose president may now have to contend with the restoration of that recently much reviled phenomenon called ‘checks and balances’.
Time will tell whether a more consensual and constructive form of politics will emerge. One suspects that it won’t be too long before we find out.
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