Relative to Previous Midterm Elections, Trump’s 2018 Loss Was Significant
Given how well the economy has been doing, Trump, if he were a “normal” president, would have expanded the Republican House majority, not lost it, says CEPR’s Mark Weisbrot
GREG WILPERT: It’s The Real News Network and I’m Greg Wilpert, coming to you from Baltimore.
People in the U.S. and around the world are still trying to figure out what last Tuesday’s midterm election means for Democrats, Republicans and the people of the United States. This was probably the most highly anticipated midterm election in modern U.S. history. Voter turnout figures, at least, seem to reflect this. 49 percent participated, which is the same rate as during the 1966 election. In comparison, only 36 percent turned out to vote in the last midterm election of 2014. In the end, Democrats gained 27 seats in the House of Representatives, winning a slight majority there. In the Senate though, they lost at least three seats, allowing Republicans to expand their majority from 51 to 54.
Democrats, though, went into this midterm at a significant disadvantage. In the house, they had to deal with gerrymandered districts that mostly favored Republicans, and in the Senate, they had twice as many seats to defend for re-election as Republicans did. Joining me now to help make sense of this result is Mark Weisbrot. Mark is the Codirector of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, DC, and the author of the book Failed: What the “Experts” Got Wrong about the Global Economy. Thanks for joining us again, Mark.
MARK WEISBROT: Thanks, Gregory.
GREG WILPERT: So one of the big debates that has been whirling around as a result of the split election result, if you can call it that, is which side, Democrats or Republicans, had a better night on Tuesday? Clearly, Republicans lost ground, even though the economy is doing very well. Here’s what Trump had to say in this regard.
DONALD TRUMP: America is booming like never before. Doing fantastic. We have Larry Kudlow here, and he said the numbers are as good as he’s ever seen numbers at any time for our country. But he’s a young man, so he hasn’t seen that many numbers.
GREG WILPERT: Factoring in this expectation that Democrats were probably going to have a good night, how do you interpret these results?
MARK WEISBROT: Well, I think it was a real defeat for Trump. He campaigned very hard and he was quoted in The New York Times, I think on Saturday. A journalist asked him, why didn’t you campaign on the economy? Unemployment is almost a half century low at 3.7 percent and you have decent wage growth now for the first time in a long time. And he said, well, that’s not very exciting. And what he means is, really, his appeal to his base is based on hate, fear and racism. And that’s what he campaigned on. And he was really defeated. Now, there is some confusion I think in the media about what this loss of the House means, because the president’s party usually loses seats in the in the Congress, in the House.
But if you look at the history of this related to the economy, so Obama lost even more seats, 63 seats, that is, the Democratic party lost 63 seats in 2010, but unemployment was 9.4 percent. And they were just coming out of the Great Recession, millions of people had lost their homes. This is not comparable to that. What this is comparable to would be 1998 for Clinton when unemployment was not as low, it was 4.5 percent. And he was, by the way, a month away from being impeached at that time, so it’s not like he didn’t have troubles and a lot of people organizing against him. And the Democrats actually gained a seat during that time. They gained seats in that election in the house.
So really, by any historical measure, Trump, if he were a normal president, the Republicans would have gained in the House, I think, or maybe lost very little. But they wouldn’t have lost 27 plus seats, we don’t know exactly how many yet, they wouldn’t have lost the House.
MARK WEISBROT: During remarks to the public following the midterm election, both Nancy Pelosi, who is generally expected to become the next speaker of the House, and President Trump both said that they welcome bipartisanship for the next period. Here’s what they had to say.
NANCY PELOSI: We will strive for bipartisanship with fairness on all sides. We will have a responsibility to find common ground where we can, stand our ground where we can’t, but we must try.
DONALD TRUMP: I would like to see bipartisanship. I’d like to see unity. And I think we have a very good chance – and maybe not on everything – but I think we have a very good chance of seeing that.
GREG WILPERT: So Mark, what do you think of this? Do you think that this is possible, is bipartisanship even desirable under this president?
MARK WEISBROT: Well I don’t think it’s likely. I don’t think those words really mean anything. That’s just a standard thing that you say when you call a president to congratulate them on their election. It doesn’t really mean anything at all.
GREG WILPERT: So what do you expect, then, to happen now that the Democrats have control over the house? What direction or what kinds of fights do you foresee in the coming two years, let’s say, until the next presidential election?
MARK WEISBROT: Well, I think there will be investigations. The House is going to control the committees, the Democrats are going to control the committees in the House and they’ll investigate. There’s plenty to investigate in terms of the president’s tax returns, for instance, they can ask for that. Mnuchin said at least once that he would turn them over, but President Trump is not likely to want to do that. So I think there will be a lot to fight over and I think that it’s going to be a deeply polarized as it is now. But now, the Democrats have more weapons to go after him.
GREG WILPERT: So let’s turn to foreign policy. Foreign policy is generally considered the business of the president. However, one of the issues where Democrats could, in theory, intervene is the ability of the president to wage war. That is, specifically in U.S. support for Saudi Arabia’s war on Yemen, which according to recent estimates, has killed as many as 80,000 Yemenis and it’s threatening millions with death by famine. Representative Ro Khanna of California and Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont recently, together with other congress people, introduced a resolution to Congress to halt the war. And here in The Real News interviews a few weeks ago, Ro Khanna explained one of their main obstacles to passing the resolution.
RO KHANNA: The reason we have not had success is, look, the Saudi lobby is very strong. It’s perplexing to me, given that 15 of the terrorists who hit us in 9/11 were of Saudi background, given that the Saudis have shown an utter contempt for human life in Yemen, given that the Saudis have political prisoners that violate international norms. So I think we have to make the case to the American people. They certainly wouldn’t condone an alliance with the Saudis.
GREG WILPERT: So Mark, how do you see the chances of the Democrats being able to impact Trump’s foreign policy now, specifically in passing this resolution, which as Ro Khanna were saying, has been very difficult to pass, but now that the Democrats have a majority, perhaps it’s more likely? What do you think?
MARK WEISBROT: I think it’s very much more likely. This latest version that Ro Khanna introduced to the House, the version of this bill under the 1973 War Powers Resolution which gives the Congress – specifies, I should say, because they already had it from the Constitution – but it specifies that the Congress can cut off this military involvement of the United States in this war. And this bill, you have the co-sponsorship, from that time or currently, until the new Congress takes over, these are the ranking members of International Relations Committee, the House Armed Services Committee, the House Judiciary Committee, the Minority Whip. So all of these people are now going to be in charge of these committees and that’s going to give them a lot more power in the house to get this resolution through.
This is really a historic vote. I think it’s the most important thing since the Congress cut off funding for the Vietnam war, because first of all, they haven’t really used their constitutional power and the power specified under the War Powers Resolution of 1973 to actually cut off U.S. military involvement. And you have a companion bill led by Bernie Sanders and other Senators as well, Mike Lee and Chris Murphy in the Senate, and that got 44 votes in February and Senator Murphy said that it would have gotten a majority if it weren’t for this so-called alternative bill, which just said that the Secretary of State had to certify that the Saudis were not killing civilians unnecessarily. And of course, after that, in August, they bombed that school bus and killed 40 children and then Mike Pompeo certified it.
So that isn’t going to work. They’re not going to be able to get away with that this time. They’ll probably get a majority in the Senate. So this is a very, very big thing. And I think overall, if I can just say something about the overall significance of this defeat of Trump, I think it’s very important because I think it is going to be a turning point in terms of his downhill slide. He’s obviously a menace and he’s unstable and he’s everything that people call him, and most of the country doesn’t think he’s fit to be president. But on the other hand, he got there even though he lost the popular vote by nearly 3 million votes, and he’s used this office to stir up all this hatred and he might go to war at any time, you never know, because he’s that type that would do that if he thought it would help his presidency.
And so, I think this is all a very, very, very important struggle. And it’s not, I think, the way a lot of people see Trump and what he represents is some kind of big upswell of right wing and racist activism. And I don’t see that as the case. I think he landed in the presidency for a variety of reasons, but it wasn’t like Reagan or Nixon, who both were riding some kind of a backlash against antiwar or civil rights or social movements. And this is something that really is different, and it rests on disenfranchisement, on voter suppression, on gerrymandering. And all of these things are going to change, I think. Over the next couple of years, you’re going to see some serious changes and I think this is the beginning of it.
GREG WILPERT: I mean, just one issue that I’m thinking of, though, in terms of the Senate, if it’s really being controlled by a larger majority now by the Republicans, maybe as much as 54 seats. I mean, it would seem to me that would be very difficult for Congress as a whole, they’re probably going to be paralyzed to pass an effective resolution against the war. That is, the House might pass it but certainly not the Senate, especially if the Republicans believe that this is something that will help Trump and will help them be reelected to not only have a war in Yemen but maybe have a war someplace else as well. What do you think? I mean, isn’t that also a possible outcome? That is, a gridlock in Congress and therefore another war somewhere in order to help Trump to get reelected in 2020?
MARK WEISBROT: The Senate is a problem, but on this particular issue there were five Republicans who voted against the administration. That is, they voted for the Bernie Sanders resolution in February and that was before the Saudis murdered Khashoggi. And a big part of the foreign policy establishment even said that we have to get out of Yemen and that we have to re-examine our relationship with the Saudis. So I don’t think that the Senate – obviously it’s serious problem, the Senate going to be a problem. Problem is that 20 percent of the population can elect 80 percent of the Senate. That’s a serious problem and you have this big rural-urban divide. So Republicans can possibly hang onto that, but on this particular issue, I don’t think that will block a majority.
GREG WILPERT: Okay, well we’re going to leave it there. I was speaking to Mark Weisbrot, Codirector of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, D.C. Thanks again, Mark, for having joined us today.
MARK WEISBROT: Thank you, Gregory.
GREG WILPERT: And thank you for joining The Real News Network.