Tim Stanley: 'The best result for a divided America is if no one wins midterm election outright'
The weather in Washington DC is ugly; the flag on my neighbour’s porch drips with rain. The TV is loud: everyone in news talks in capital letters nowadays. “THE MIDTERMS ARE ON AND IT’S A REFERENDUM ON TRUMP!” Fox says he’s our last hope. MSNBC says he’s the Antichrist. I wonder if Trump would be doing better if he wasn’t Trump.
Conventional wisdom says that the Democrats will win the House of Representatives. Presidents almost always get a kicking in midterm elections and Trump doesn’t have the popularity to mitigate this. His surprise win back in 2016 has painted him as a strategic genius, a “winner”. The reality is that the Republicans have already lost winnable elections on his watch and the president’s notoriety has put a ceiling on his party’s support. In race after race – congressional and statewide – the Republican candidate is stuck at about 45pc, which is roughly the president’s job approval.
The Republicans say what matters is who turns out to vote, and Trump’s people are ready to go. That may be true, but where exactly are they? Geography is vital. Trump’s base is believed to be concentrated in rural areas, the south and old industrial towns. But many voters in the suburbs – and much of America is one giant suburb – are sick of (what they call) racism, sexism and corruption, and are just as determined to vote.
The pollsters say this battle of two bases will probably see the Republicans cling on to the Senate but the Dems take the House. The result: no one wins. And that might be the best outcome of all. A Democrat House will hold the president to account but a Republican Senate will stop the House from impeaching him, an act that could throw the country into something like civil war.
The Republicans ought to be more popular. The economy is breaking records and, although the recovery began under Obama, Trump’s tax cuts and deregulation help.
Yes, the rich benefit the most, but this is America, not Europe, and there’s a tradition here of believing what’s good for business is good for the average Joe. This isn’t just a return to the 1980s, it’s a return to the Roaring Twenties, when businessman Andrew W Mellon ran the Treasury and President Coolidge stripped back the state.
The difference is that Calvin Coolidge was famously “silent” whereas Trump can’t shut up. His successes – peace and jobs – are the stuff of the American dream, around which he could build a national consensus, but his rhetoric cleaves the country down the middle. On the other hand, Trump’s controversies deflect the media from scrutinising stuff that could really hurt him (he has sought to reverse more than 70 environmental rules), while anti-Trump hate has driven the Democrats further to the Left. Just as Trump’s radicalism has limited his appeal to moderates, so the Democrats could be creating a rod for their own back. Even if they do well this week, that doesn’t mean they’re on track to win the White House in 2020, especially if Trump runs against a socialist.
We can’t be certain about anything until the votes are counted, so I get on the subway and head to the National Gallery of Art, my favourite place in my favourite city in the world.
The gallery, like Washington, with its wide boulevards and neoclassical architecture, says to Europe: anything you can do, we can do better.
That notion of uplift was always meant to be moral as well as material. But, with all the talk of barbed wire and violence, this aspect of the American dream is disappearing down the drain with the afternoon rain.
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