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US mid-term polls are a referendum on Trump

Just as in the legislative arena, the party that controls Congress will have a limited impact on India. This is because President Trump’s policies on international affairs have primarily been unilateral; he consults only a small circle -- and Congress doesn’t fall in that.

analysis Updated: Sep 14, 2018 17:27 IST
US mid-term elections
US President Donald Trump at a Republican fundraising campaign in Charlotte, NC, US, August 31, 2018(REUTERS)

On November 6, the mid-term Congressional elections will be held in the United States. And because of the growing polarisation and partisanship within the country, these mid-terms will be quite important.

The US Congress has two chambers: the House (435 members, with its distribution based on the population of states) and the Senate (100 members, two each for the 50 states).

At present, the ruling Republicans control both the chambers of Congress. If they retain that majority in the mid-term, they will be able to continue supporting President Donald Trump’s agenda. If the Democrats gain control of one or both the chambers, they will be able to push back and potentially stymie Trump.

Trump supporters and opposers sharply differ over his performance as President, and, for that reason, these mid-terms become pivotal.While the candidates’ qualifications and local issues will largely decide the elections, it will also be considered as a referendum on Trump’s presidency.

It is hard to tell who will win. But it’s clear that the “swing” and “toss-up” districts and states will decide the outcome. Of the 435 House districts, three leading US polling firms classify between 80 to 100 as “swing” districts and 30 to 40 as “toss-up” ones.

In mid-August, the polling firms were projecting that the odds were approximately 50-50 for both the parties wining the majority in the House. Another research firm set the odds of the Democrats winning control of the House at five out of seven and the Republicans at two out of seven.

The bottom line is that the experts give the Democrats the edge for winning back the House. Given the results of the most recent polling, it won’t be surprising to see the Democrats actually win big nationally in the House. The recent conviction of Paul Manafort, the President’s campaign manager, for bank and tax fraud, and Michael Cohen, the President’s personal attorney and “fixer”, pleading guilty to several criminal charges related to his financial malfeasance, will only help the Democrats.

In the Senate, 33 out of the 100 seats are up this election cycle. As many as 24 of these seats are currently held by the Democrats and only nine by the Republicans. The polling firms also believe both the parties have almost equal chances of winning the majority in the Senate. Given the large number of Democratic seats at risk and the fact that there are Democratic seats in the toss up category, it seems likely that the Republicans will retain control of the Senate.

From a legislative standpoint, it doesn’t matter who controls the House. The Congress has been suffering from a sort of dysfunction for nearly a decade now, with little compromise between the two parties, and hardly any legislation passed. President Trump will continue to govern as he has, primarily through executive orders. A Republican majority in both the chambers will aid and abet those orders and will help pass legislation to support the orders. Split control would mean endless battles with one chamber blocking or reversing the other’s actions. The control of the House will matter only in terms of support for the president’s agenda.

The most intriguing possibility is the Democratic Party controlling both the chambers, which would undoubtedly lead to attempts at curbing Trump’s immigration proposals. And, it might even bring articles of impeachment now that Cohen has stated that when Trump was a candidate, he directed him to pay two women to silence them about his affairs with them.

Just as in the legislative arena, the party that controls Congress will have a limited impact on India. This is because President Trump’s policies on international affairs have primarily been unilateral; whether it is the tariffs, treaties or tirades against nations that have earned his disfavour, he consults only a small circle — and Congress doesn’t fall in that.

In sum, the US mid-term elections matter not because they will bring about dramatic changes in law-making, but because they will change a few of the law-makers. That will influence the tone and tenor of the national debate and dialogue in the country.

What will be the outcome of these elections? The citizens of the United States and the world will know on November 6. After that, there will be no more conjecture but just the consequences.

Frank F Islam is an entrepreneur, civic leader, and thought leader based in Washington DC

The views expressed are personal

First Published: Sep 14, 2018 17:25 IST