With the midterms over, two questions loom: What happened? And what does it mean? The first is vote tallying, some analysis. The second is more complicated, putting puzzle pieces together, figuring out exactly what happens next, where these results lead us.
A moment of reflection will surprise you. Republicans may not have lost what they think; Democrats may have gained more than they bargained for. Follow me.
What happened? In short, after considering all other possibilities – a jarring yank to the socialist left, a ground-pounding affirmation of President Trump’s policies, an emotion-laden blue wave, sober-minded red wave – Americans did exactly what they have done in midterms since World War II.
Average number of US House seats lost to first-term presidents at the midterms is 28. And – like clockwork – Americans flipped exactly 28 House seats from Republican to Democrat this cycle. By comparison, President Ronald Reagan – on his way to becoming a legend – lost 26 seats in his first midterm, permitting US House control to stay Democrat.
Notably, Reagan had six extraordinary years thereafter, working with his Democrat counterpart, Tip O’Neill. Here, in fact, may be a model for the next six years, whether Republicans flip the House back in 2020 or not. Worth considering.
What else happened? More than 110 million Americans voted this midterm, record turnout. What does that mean? It means President Trump did something no other president has done. He motivated, elevated, and punctuated an idea: Americans should vote. Yes, many voted against him as he nationalized the cycle, but he infused new blood into the process of participatory democracy, not a bad thing.
Big question: What do these results really mean? Here is what they mean – and do not mean.
First, control of the US House by Democrats means they must lead – with legislative ideas. If they do not, they will be held accountable in 2020 for impeachment talk, meandering investigations, do-nothing primping and dawdling. As a rule, it is harder to lead than to be an armchair critic. The monkey is now on their back.
More, with President Trump’s press conference offering an olive branch, and Republican control of the Senate, spotlight is on Democrat leaders to stand up and deliver – as Tip O’Neill and Ronald Reagan once did together – work with new purpose, intent and cooperation, or become the party of complaining, continuing recrimination, and dead-end calls to street violence. The choice is theirs. Reagan and O’Neill offer a good model, it served both well.
Second, control of the US Senate by Republicans is not a small matter. It is bigger than most realize. Senate control assures a check on the House, so left-canting Democrats cannot produce leftist legislation, forcing it to a president’s desk, threatening to override his veto.
Senate control has other advantages. The president alluded to one within recent hours. If a Democrat House diverts and swerves to impeachment talk, investigations for publicity, pandering to an overwrought base, the Republican Senate can simply return investigative fire with inquires into Democratic misdeeds, trail racked up by the past Administration. That evolution would be a mess, foregone stalemate. That is why most members of both chambers will steer away from this course.
Most importantly, the US Senate holds power to confirm nominees – to the US Supreme Court and every high judicial and executive post. The President should line up his nominees – judicial and executive – and let the whir of that confirmation machine sound. It is time.
In addition, Republican control of the Senate assures no half-baked treaties will ever find their way out of that chamber. As treaties – on trade and security – are reached, from China to North Korea, perhaps even more widely – the Senate will likely align with their President for ratification.
Other big – easily overlooked – meanings attach to this midterm election. They are good. In all likelihood, Democrat victories in the 28 House seats vents all that burdensome, carry-over-emotion from our 2016 presidential election cycle. It needed venting; it was getting a bit heavy.
We may now hope the enervating, everywhere edgy, extra emotion from 2016 has fled the balloon, leaving us better at the old process of civil dialogue, ready for less emotional interactions on street corners and public spaces. Just in time for Thanksgiving and Christmas, not bad.
Another advantage attaching to this cycle is easily overlooked. Honestly, we are lucky – all of us. An uneventful trip to our local polling station affirms the fact. We live in a place where free and fair elections are still the norm, where we can calmly assemble, methodically record preferences, know that they will be tallied with integrity, and can have confidence in that magical thing – a republic which reflects the will of her people, has for more than 200 years.
That deliberative process – our national election process – is a marvel, envy of the world, and source from which we may – and all should – take quiet comfort and a degree of national pride. Another reason for patriotism, plain and simple.
Ironically, these midterm elections have been the most expensive ever, arguably the most argumentative ever, and billed as the most important in a century, but with things settled, most should breathe a sigh of relief.
The world is not ending, nor will it. Our two philosophically disparate parties will wrangle – and hopefully take the high road more often than low. Once again, the grand and extraordinary experiment in democracy, great gamble on which our Founders staked their liberty, property, lives and families, has proved they were right.
They trusted us – in these elections as in prior – to carry the torch forward. We have done so. Now, it is up to our leaders – on both sides – to live up to expectations we and our Founders have in them. Time for them to lead, cooperate and serve the higher purposes to which they recently pledged themselves. Let’s see if they can do it, let’s be glad we live in America, and let’s call it a day – shall we?