With midterms over, 2020 snaps into focus
President Donald Trump’s campaign for re-election began, in effect, the day after the midterms. And it signalled turbulence ahead.
“The re-elect begins today,” Mr Brian Walsh, president of the pro-Trump America First Action committee, told Politico. “It’s all in and all on the line.”
At a defiant, combative press conference on Wednesday, it was clear the abrasive President will not stop seizing the initiative to put Democrats on the defensive, and turn House oversight into a weapon against them.
The President thrives on having an enemy, and he has a clear target. “They can play that game, but we can play better,” Mr Trump said. In answer to a question on potential stalemate, he said: “I would blame them because they now are going to be coming up with policy.”
If the Democratic Party obstructs his plan to build a wall on the border with Mexico, it would only be hurting itself, he maintained. “I actually think, politically, that’s a good thing for me,” he said.
A glance at the electoral map shows what else the Democrats are up against in 2020.
Despite a record-breaking turnout that helped them flip enough seats in the House, some key defeats were sobering, especially those of Mr Beto O’Rourke in Texas, and Mr Andrew Gillum in Florida.
Main issues to watch
With Democrats in control of the House, the Obama-era Affordable Care Act seems safe from Republican attempts to abolish it, or make key changes to it. But there will be a battle over healthcare; Democrats will propose reforms to Obamacare but President Donald Trump and the Republican Party may not agree.
INFRASTRUCTURE, IMMIGRATION AND DRUG PRICES
The Democrat-led House will propose legislation on infrastructure, lowering prescription drug prices and immigration reform. In all these areas, the parties can find common ground – but there are key differences.
President Trump, for instance, wants funding for his border wall; the House is unlikely to sign off on it. There is a risk of government shutdowns as Congress hits a stalemate on a number of issues.
The Senate does not need House approval to stack the judiciary – which is at the core of the conservative agenda. Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell said his top priority is filling vacancies with Trump nominees. The Republican Party is also eyeing another potential vacancy in the Supreme Court. The court’s leading liberal Justice, Ms Ruth Bader Ginsburg, is 85 – and fell and fractured three ribs this week.
THE RUSSIA PROBE
In the months ahead, the probe into Russia’s interference in the 2016 polls will come to a head. If special counsel Robert Mueller is fired, the probe is wound up, or it produces a conclusion casting doubt on Mr Trump’s conduct, some Democrats may clamour for impeachment – but this is unlikely to succeed in the Senate.
Across the country, the divisions that became stark in 2016 still hold. Democrats did well in urban and suburban areas, and Republicans in rural areas. Most of the Republican-held Senate seats that the Democrats must win in 2020 to have a hope of a majority are in deep red states such as Oklahoma, Mississippi, Nebraska and Idaho.
Within the party, too, there is tension between moderates and progressive socialists. Meanwhile, it can look to America’s demographic shift – but it is a slow dividend.
In April, a report by the Centre for American Progress and the Bipartisan Policy Centre, estimated that by 2020, the percentage of eligible voters who are white and without a college degree, will fall from 46 per cent in 2016 to 44 per cent. Voter segments that favour Democrats, such as college-educated whites, African-Americans, Hispanics and Asians, are forecast to climb by one percentage point each.
Thus in 2020, more young people will be eligible to vote, and they will be a diverse lot. This longer-term structural change is to the advantage of Democrats – if the voters can be coaxed to actually vote .
Democrats need to do a better job wooing white working-class voters and getting more black people to the polls, especially in states such as Michigan and Ohio, which have sizeable black populations and a lot of Electoral College votes.
This is not a straightforward matter. Disenfranchisement of voters, especially those who vote Democratic, is still a problem in many states. The still-undecided governor’s race in Georgia is a case in point, with thousands of voters possibly prevented from voting.
Republicans also face the challenge of expanding their appeal beyond the President’s base. “Republicans have a huge problem with non-white voters that imperils their ability to win national elections and should not be ignored,” said the Five Thirty Eight website.
The President’s own appeal remains visceral and cult-like. At Wednesday’s press conference, he read out the names of Republican candidates who had tried to distance themselves from him, or spurned his “embrace” – and lost.
Mr Trump is so popular with his base that pre-election surveys showed farmers in many Mid-western states, who have been hurt by the US-China trade war, still overwhelmingly preferred him.
If the President can reach some kind of solution and wind back on the trade war, he can dodge the worst effects of it on his base, and they will remain loyal in 2020. That could mean, whatever the outcome for the presidency in 2020, that the Democrats may not be able to win back a majority in the Senate any time soon.
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