The Midterm Election of 2018
[Follow Clay Jenkinson’s podcasts, his Jeffersonian approach to American history at Jeffersonhour.com. Every program ends with an essay called “The Jefferson Watch.”]
So what did the midterm election of 2018 tell us? I’m going to try to make sense of it from a purely analytical view.
If, as President Trump said repeatedly, he was on the ballot in 2018, the results are mixed. The election was certainly not a ringing endorsement of his character, behavior, policies, and the first two years of his Presidency. But it was not a severe vote of no confidence either. A serious repudiation would have required something like a 50-75 vote swing in the House of Representatives, and a gain of a Democrat or two in the Senate. And endorsement would have required a gain of 10-20 Republicans in the House, and a filibuster-proof Senate, that is, 61-39 or better for the Republicans. Frankly, I don’t think you can conclude much from the 2018 election except that anti-Trump feeling brought about significant Democratic gains in the House of Representatives. I think Trump is right when he declares things went pretty well, considering.
Many people, and I am one of them, saw this election as “the most important of my lifetime,” America’s chance to “take back the country” from Trump and Trumpism before it was too late. If that was the goal, in my analysis, it failed. As soon as the election ended, Trump fired his Attorney General, appointed a Trump protector as acting Attorney General, lashed out at everyone he perceived to be his enemy, including career Republican Congressmen who lost to Democratic challengers, had a journalist banned from the White House press corps for asking an unwanted question, and that was just Day One of the post-2018 “repudiation.” Elections matter. The country has not been taken back. If you were looking at this from Mars or Jupiter you would have to say America seems, on the whole, taking the entire national, state, and local vote into account, to be mostly OK with Trump and his antics. Depressing, isn’t it, unless you are one of the tens of millions who think Trump can do no wrong, those who believe the liberals, progressives, feminists, professors, foundation heads, establishment, and deep state types had and have it coming.
In some ways Trump is a political genius. He found a way in 2016 to neutralize 17 other Republican candidates for the Presidency, some of them very heavily subsidized by the Establishment, and get the nomination. He did this by ridicule, innuendo, character assassination, bullying, and making wild pronouncements that were as entertaining as they were irresponsible. He won the nomination not by appealing to the “better angels of our nature,” as Lincoln put it, but by appealing to our darkest fears and aggressive impulses. It worked. And he has continued to encourage some of the least enlightened energies in American life for the first two years of his Presidency. This has driven the Left and the Establishment to the brink of madness, which of course was part of his plan all along. Donald Trump is the 45th President of the United States, our first Revenge President. His tribe—an angry army of 45 million people—is taking great glee in giving it to the liberals and the deep state types. Every time Trump uses the word “nationalist,” or calls CNN reporters “the enemy of the people,” he is throwing kerosene on the rage of the Trumpites. Trump’s “forgotten Americans” are so tired of being put down by the liberals, so sick of being dismissed by those who say they are rubes out in the heartland clinging to their guns and the Bible, that they are having the time of their life watching the Great Leader break one Presidential taboo after the next.
In the 2018 election Trump knew he was likely to lose the House of Representatives. And he did, though not by some sort of overwhelming repudiation. He lost the number of seats that virtually any sitting president would lose in his first midterm election. My point is that he knew this was likely to happen, so he concentrated his vast demagogic energies on the United States Senate, and gave his time, in the weeks before the election, to Senate candidates in red states like Texas, North Dakota, and Montana. On the whole the strategy worked. The Senate is now more firmly in control of the Trumpites than it was a week ago. There won’t be any more cliffhanger confirmation votes for life-tenured judges and justices.
Trump is no fool. He knows that no President has ever been impeached by the House of Representatives AND convicted by the Senate, not Andrew Johnson, not Bill Clinton, and it is quite possible that Richard Nixon would have found 34 Senators to vote against such an extreme Constitutional maneuver in 1974. Trump knows that the new, moderately-Democratic House of Representatives could impeach him once a week for the next two years and the Senate would protect him. Can any of you think of any scenario under which the current United States Senate voted two to one to remove Trump from the Presidency? We know that it cannot happen, even if Trump did shoot someone dead on Fifth Avenue, and Trump certainly knows that. So he is almost daring the House to impeach him—a pointless and important move that would not accomplish its goal and would meanwhile stir up the enraged Trump tribe to carry their AR-15s into the streets of America. I am not trying to be dramatic. I believe that if the House impeached President Trump, we would see widespread militia violence in America. The bombs sent to a dozen Trump critics just before the election were a warning sign.
So what if Trump fires Robert Mueller? He gets away with it no matter how loudly every responsible person in the United States howls. What if he closes the US-Mexican border by executive order? What if he arrests 50 journalists? What if he lobs a few cruise missiles into Iran just to show them we can topple their regime any time we might wish to?
It’s hard to know just what Trump wants for America. He seems to want us to disengage from our alliances throughout the world, to become fortress America, to become a mean-ass monolithic nation state that tells the rest of the world to go jump in the lake. He seems to want to punish all the sophisticates and the liberals who have belittled and shunned him throughout the course of his lifetime. If you want to watch the exact moment when he determined to become President, no matter what the cost, and to use his power to be The Anti-Obama, to repudiate everything Barack Obama did and represented, just watch the clip of President Obama ridiculing Trump (in his presence) at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner in 2011. If Mr. Obama had kept his mouth shut that night, I do not think Donald Trump would be President of the United States.
The Trump coalition has a whiff of fascism about it. Trump is very careful to make pronouncements that could be construed as fascist, and then to pull back just enough to make the anti-Trump alarmists look ridiculous for trying to convince the nation that the sky is falling, the sky is falling. Donald Trump’s greatest talent is for ridicule, and nothing satisfies him, and his angry mob of “forgotten Americans,” more than making Elizabeth Warren go apoplectic.
So let me be very stark in my conclusions. First, it would be a terrible mistake ever to underestimate Donald Trump. Is there a line he would not cross? He has ridiculed the disabled, Gold Star families, a US Senator who spent years in a Hanoi prison camp, a woman who came forward to inform the country that it was about to put onto the Supreme Court a man capable of sexual assault, the people of Puerto Rico. And on and on and on. Second, the midterm election may not be the sign of hope, the triumph of checks and balances, that the left and the mainstream media have posited. Third, I believe Donald Trump has now consolidated his personal power and he intends to use it, not to do good things for America, though he is not necessarily averse to that, but to damage everyone and every entity, institution, ethnic group, or nation state that has dismissed him as a clown and a dangerous buffoon.