Despite record voter turnout and a staggering $5 billion political spend between both parties, Democrats' hoped-for 'blue wave' failed to materialize on Tuesday. Instead, the reality was closer to a purple wash.
Democrats won a slight majority in the House - they were up 26 seats at last count, three more than the 23 needed to flip control, with more races expected to be called in their favor on Wednesday - but Republicans picked up seats in the Senate, solidifying what had been a razor-thin majority. Almost all of those seats were won by staunch conservatives who are expected to back the Trump agenda. Meanwhile, it's unlikely that the Democrats will come anywhere close to the 40 seats they would have needed to signify a "tsunami-like" victory. However, at least one Democratic narrative was validated as 18 of the 29 Republican districts that flipped to the Democrats were won by women, cementing the 'year of the woman' narrative.
Both parties can claim important victories in gubernatorial races. Republican Mike DeWine bested Richard Cordray in Ohio, and Ron DeSantis defeated Democratic challenger Andrew Gillum in Florida, solidifying Republican control over two key swing states. But Democrats wrested control of governors' mansions in Wisconsin, Michigan and Kansas.
Republican won several important victories in the Senate and ousted a handful of Democratic incumbents, per the FT:
In the Senate, the Democrats lost ground after its incumbents were defeated in North Dakota, Indiana and Missouri. At last count, Democrats were also trailing in Montana and Florida, with the latter race possibly set to go to a recount. The only real upset for Democrats in the upper chamber was the defeat of Nevada's Dean Heller, who lost to Democrat Jacky Rosen. But the Senate victories were strong enough to vindicate President Trump's controversial campaign strategy, which saw the president hold a blitz of campaign rallies across the US, while elevating immigration to the race's defining issue.
Still, the Democrats' takeover of the House suggests that they will almost certainly use their subpoena power to investigate everything from Trump's tax returns to his financial ties in Eastern Europe to his purported "relationship" with the Kremlin. It also signals that Trump is in for a two-year struggle as partisan gridlock will almost certainly hamstring parts of his agenda.
Here's a summary of the night's big wins and losses, courtesy of the Guardian.
- In the House, Democrats secured the 218 seats needed to regain control.
- Democrats won Republican-held seats in Colorado, Florida, Kansas, Minnesota, New York, Pennsylvania and Virginia.
- In the Senate, Republicans have expanded their majority, and Trump declared the night a “tremendous success”.
- Missouri Democratic senator Claire McCaskill lost to a Republican challenger.
- A Republican also ousted senator Joe Donnelly, Indiana’s only Democratic statewide officeholder.
- Texas Senate candidate Beto O’Rourke, who became a Democratic superstar this election, narrowly lost in his race to unseat Ted Cruz.
- Republican senator Dean Heller also lost his seat in Nevada to a Democratic challenger.
- In the governor’s races, Democrats gained seven new seats.
- Wisconsin governor Scott Walker, an influential Republican, lost his seat to a Democratic challenger.
- Andrew Gillum, Democratic candidate for governor in Florida, lost to Republican Ron DeSantis.
- The governor’s race in Georgia was too close to call, with Democrat Stacey Abrams saying she would not concede to Republican Brian Kemp, the state’s secretary of state. It could result in a runoff.
- A record number of women won races across the country, and candidates of color and LGBT people have also broken barriers.
- Voters passed ballot measures across the country with new laws on voting rights, marijuana, taxes and more.
And as the FT pointed out, for Trump, there might be a silver lining. The paper noted that many of those ousted were moderates who had resisted the Trump agenda. By flushing these lawmakers out of the party, Trump may have just solidified his dominance of the Republican Party.
While many mainstream political pundits refused to acknowledge it, this fact wasn't lost on Trump.
Those that worked with me in this incredible Midterm Election, embracing certain policies and principles, did very well. Those that did not, say goodbye! Yesterday was such a very Big Win, and all under the pressure of a Nasty and Hostile Media!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 7, 2018
Tremendous success tonight. Thank you to all!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 7, 2018
Received so many Congratulations from so many on our Big Victory last night, including from foreign nations (friends) that were waiting me out, and hoping, on Trade Deals. Now we can all get back to work and get things done!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 7, 2018
Seeing President Trump's Wednesday morning "victory" tweet, and hearing reports about his jubilant White House reception, some Democratic pundits were inclined to accuse the president of embracing an unrealistically positive take on the night's events. But even as their "blue wave" fizzled, Democrats were inclined to do some wishful thinking of their own.
If the Senate didn’t exist you would think this is a massive blue wave,” Brendan Boyle, a Pennsylvania Democrat who won re-election to a third term told the Financial Times. "In the House, governor, and state legislative races, we’re seeing big Democratic wins. But in the Senate, against that deep red map, not at all."
Nancy Pelosi, who will almost certainly reclaim the title of speaker of the house now that Democrats have taken back the chamber, tried her hardest to play down the disappointment Democrats probably felt as Trump's party expanded its majority in the Senate while staving off a Democratic super-majority.
"Today is more than about Democrats and Republicans," said Ms Pelosi. "It’s about restoring the constitutions’ checks and balances to the Trump administration."
Trump will retain the ability to appoint conservative judges (and replace several cabinet members including Attorney General Jeff Sessions, is widely believed to be on his way out) thanks to Republicans' expanded Senate majority (Republicans picked up two Senate seats, though ten races remain undecided), but with Democrats reigning in the House, there's no question that life for Trump is about to get a lot more difficult.
"Life is going to get far tougher for President Trump," said James Knightley, chief international economist at ING Bank NV. "The split Congress means that there is more likely to be gridlock, which will significantly curtail his legislative agenda. Bi-partisan action may be possible in areas such as infrastructure spending, but for the most part divisions between and within the parties mean that progress will be difficult."
In summary, voters are about to become reacquainted with one of the defining features of the Obama era - that is, intractable gridlock in Washington (profiled here) as partisan warfare becomes the defining theme. While analysts believe there might be room for cooperation on infrastructure spending, Trump will now need to focus on what he can accomplish out of the executive (and, when it comes to appointing judges, the judiciary) branch. Passing major legislative priorities, which was already hard enough with his fractious Republican majority in the Senate, will be nearly impossible.
But investors didn't seem to mind, as US stock futures surged Wednesday morning as the market celebrated the triumph of its "base case".
But legislative priorities aside, Washington will now turn its attention to the 2020 campaign, which has already unofficially begun.