Wednesday marked the first day of the 2020 presidential election campaign in the United States, and after Tuesday’s midterm elections, the entire focus now in Washington and for Americans will be on deciding who will challenge President Donald Trump and the Republic party — and how.
And if you’re looking to those midterms to determine exactly the state of play in US politics, the results offer something for both sides in the deeply divided nation to draw inspiration from — and build a presidential campaign upon for 2020.
While the definitive results won’t be known for several days, two very different pictures are being drawn, one tinged red where the Republicans increased their standing in the US Senate, the other coloured blue, where a wave of Democratic support won back control of the House of Representatives.
For the Democrats, it’s an impressive result, notwithstanding that the minority party tends to fare better in midterm elections.
Its performance in Senate races, however, fell short — the Republicans increased their majority, leading President Trump to tweet that the midterms were “a Big Victory” for his party.
But what do the results mean in practical terms now in Washington where the Oval Office and Senate are Republican-ruled, and with the Democrats in control in the House of Representatives?
Many had hoped that the results would deliver a repudiation of the divisive and populist — even racist — politics advocated from the top. That hasn’t exactly happened, and Trumpism remains popular in states that Trump took on his way to victory in 2016. The 33 seats up for election in the Senate were mostly in safe, red, and generally less-populated states. Even in the more populated states like Florida and Texas, the Democrats came close — just not close enough.
The lesson then for President Trump is that there still seems to be enough angry white men out there to continue speaking to come 2020.
But there are lot of angry women and minorities who drove a Democratic wave, turning urban centres almost uniquely blue. And for Trump to be re-elected, he has to gain traction in those constituencies.
Politically, the Republicans can continue to appoint judges to remake the judiciary across the 50 states at federal level highly conservative and focused on family-oriented issues and stricter sentencing.
In a divided Congress, moderation and deal-making is the norm, but these are not normal times as, for example, the bitter appointment process of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh showed last month. And there is little room for compromise to get things done.
With the Democrats in control in the House of Representatives, there is a new and dangerous political reality facing President Trump.
Democrats will take control of key committees in the House such as the ways and means committee and the judiciary committee. Those committees have powers of subpoena that would enable them, for example, to demand the release of the president’s tax returns, or investigate his financial dealings with foreign powers.
While the Democrats did campaign on maintaining the Affordable Healthcare Act — dubbed “Obamacare” — the party is now in a position to stabilise if not entirely protect the legacy of their former president.
The Democrat-controlled House will also decide whether to launch impeachment proceedings against President Trump once Special Counsel Robert Mueller does release his report into Russian collusion and events surrounding the 2016 election. But any impeachment attempt will likely fail, given that it would need two-thirds support in the Senate to pass.
For President Trump, it becomes far more difficult to thwart or impede the release of potentially damaging information from Mueller — or any other committee — about his financial dealings, business network or election campaign.
Given that the campaign for 2020 starts now, President Trump will feel that the Senate results allow him to offer more of the same, while the Democrats will paint him into a very red corner, leaving Americans to decide in two years’ time.