A Divided Nation, A Divided Outcome
While there are still several races that have not yet been called, the top-line message from the 2018 midterms will be this: The United States remains a country divided between two fundamentally different political ideologies. While it was certainly a good year to be a Democrat running for office—the party seized control of the House of Representatives for the first time since 2010 –it wasn’t the banner outcome for which the party had been hoping.
By 9 p.m. last night CNN’s Jake Tapper had declared, “This is not a blue wave.”
In the House, as of early Wednesday morning, Democrats had gained a net 27 seats, enough to claim a four-seat majority with nearly two-dozen races across the country still not called. While the Democrats’ margin will almost certainly grow as winners in these races are ultimately declared over the coming days and weeks, it is clear that net gain in the House for Democrats will not match the 63 seats that Republicans stole from Democrats in President Barack Obama’s first midterm election in 2010 or the 54 the party won in 1994 after
President Bill Clinton’s first term. Even a small majority, though, is enough to put Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) back in charge as Speaker of the House. (While there are rumblings among Democrats of a challenge to Pelosi for the speakership, she’s expected to prevail.)
The Senate is an entirely different story. Even with a battleground that was unfavorable to them, at the outset of this election cycle Senate Democrats had been hoping for an anti-Trump wave that would provide them with the two-seat gain they needed to carry them into the majority. Instead, the party will be down at least two seats, having lost at least three—Indiana, Missouri, and North Dakota—of the 26 Senate seats it had in cycle and only managing to steal away only one—Nevada—of the nine seats that the GOP held before Election Day. In a development that the White House and Senate Republicans touted throughout the evening, each of the Democratic senators who lost Tuesday voted against Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), who voted in the affirmative, survived.
The Senate races in Arizona, Florida, Mississippi (a special election), and Montana still have no determined winner (Mississippi will go to a run off), but come January, Sen. Mitch McConnell, already the longest-serving GOP Senate majority leader ever, will begin his seventh term as Senate majority leader.
The Democrat wave was stronger in the states, owing somewhat to the fact that Republicans had many more governors’ seats in play—26 to Democrats’ nine. Democratic wins extended to most regions of the country. The party was able to wrest control of seven gubernatorial seats from the GOP: Illinois, Kansas, Maine, Michigan, Nevada, New Mexico, and Wisconsin. The party has held on to at least eight of its nine governorships—only the race in Connecticut has not yet been called.
One of the most closely watched gubernatorial races heading into last night was the match in Ohio between former Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection chief Richard Cordray and Mike DeWine, the state’s sitting attorney general and former U.S. senator (before he was defeated in 2006 by Sen. Sherrod Brown, who won re-election easily last night to another six years in Washington). Coming into Election Day, Cordray had an almost five-point advantage over DeWine, but DeWine defeated Cordray on election night.
Many of the races that have not yet been called are in state legislatures, but we do know that power will shift to Democrats in a handful of states. The Colorado, Maine, and New Hampshire senates all will flip from red to blue, as will the Minnesota and New Hampshire statehouses.
These results indicate Americans are as divided as ever, and exit polls confirm that notion. When asked if the country is headed in the right direction, 86 percent of Republicans said it is; 85 percent of Democrats said it is not. When asked about the most important issue facing the country, 76 percent of Democrats said health care while only 22 percent of Republicans cited that issue. Three-quarters of Republicans said immigration was their top issue compared to a quarter of Democrats. Nine in ten Republicans reported that the White House’s trade policies have helped their local community while the same percentage of Democrats think they have hurt.
So, what do last night’s results mean, practically speaking?
House leaders will use their oversight and investigative powers liberally (no pun intended). Come January, the new, Democratic-led House committees will seek documents, records and public hearings regarding some of the most controversial Trump administration policies. With a thin House majority, though, the ability of Democratic leaders to pass legislation through the chamber will be challenged. (Recall, for example, that when House Democrats ultimately passed the Affordable Care Act seven years ago, the final vote was 217-212, despite the Democrats enjoying a 37-seat majority in the chamber.) Importantly, many of the Republicans who lost last night were more moderate members of their party. The House Republican conference that takes office in January will collectively be significantly more conservative than the current conference and thus unlikely to provide votes to Democrats for most anything. Of course, even if the House were to be able to pass meaty legislation, the Republican-controlled Senate would be unlikely to approve those bills.
On the other side of the Capitol, with legislative gridlock, the Senate will continue to race through nominations to the courts and federal agencies. With a simple majority vote now all that is required for confirmation votes, a wider GOP margin gives Majority Leader McConnell more breathing room on these votes, and impairs the leverage of centrist senators such as Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alas.), whose votes in the current Congress were critical for virtually every confirmation.
All the while, the federal regulatory agencies will continue to implement President Trump’s agenda, firmly aware that a divided Congress, while able to haul their leaders in for hours-long hearings that make for great C-SPAN ratings, ultimately will be severely limited in its ability to constrain their activities.