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Towards Trump 2020

Published in Insights, The New Zealand Initiative’s newsletter, 9 November 2018

Few outcomes of the US midterm elections could have been predicted with certainty. Except that President Trump would call the result a “tremendous success” no matter what. And he did just that.

If losing control of the House of Representatives is such a tremendous success, one might wonder what keeping it would have been.

Semantics aside, the President has a point. From his perspective, it could have been a lot worse.

It is true that a Democrat-controlled House will make governing harder for the President. The Democrats will have new tools at their disposal to investigate Trump and his cabinet. They will also stop or slow legislation and be reluctant to authorise the President’s pet projects.

Then again, governing against the House is not a new experience for Trump. To a degree, he had similar issues with his own party over the past two years. Otherwise he would have made more progress on issues such as Obamacare or immigration.

What probably matters more to Trump is expanding the majority in the Senate. Also a Senate in which some of his fiercest critics from the GOP are no longer members. Senate votes on, say, new judicial appointments should go much more smoothly for the President – and cement his legacy.

In his post-election news conference, Trump surprised everyone with the announcement that he and Vice President Mike Pence would run again in the 2020 election. He was clearly encouraged by the midterms result to declare his bid.

In key states, the Democrats fared worse than they had hoped. They must be disappointed their rising star Beto O’Rourke failed to unseat Texas Senator Ted Cruz. Even more frustrating would have been losing their Florida Senator Bill Nelson to his challenger, outgoing Governor Rick Scott.

Swings against Presidents are common in midterm elections, but the swing against Trump was weaker than against, say, Barack Obama in 2010.

There is no reason to believe that this week’s result would weaken Trump’s chances for the 2020 election. They are unchanged, and political prediction markets stayed calm. On PredictIt, a Trump victory remained priced at around 42 percent.

It is an election result that changes little. Governing America will be just as difficult as it was before. Trump’s rhetoric remains grandiose and aggressive. And we are likely to see a second Trump/Pence term.

That’s why Trump called it a “tremendous success”.

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